What do rangers do in winter?
If you see one of our rangers roaming across a beautiful landscape on a sunny day, it looks like a pretty idyllic job. But when you're up on a headland cutting back brambles while icy rain hammers down, it's rather a different story.
Luckily, there are plenty of jobs to keep them busy. Also, their passion for protecting wildlife and natural habitats in the places we care for sustains them on the gloomiest of days.
Seal pup watch
Looking out for the seals is a full time job for ranger Ajay Tegala and his team of volunteers during the coldest months of the year. In previous winters, over 2000 Grey Seal pups have been born at Blakeney Point in Norfolk.
Blakeney National Nature Reserve is managed as a coastal wilderness, making it a perfect breeding ground.
Ajay explains: ‘Our sandy, gently sloping beach is a fantastic nursery ground for the seal pups. We fence off the beach, to protect them from disturbance by visitors.
‘In winter our volunteers spend their day on the beach, keeping an eye on the seals and talking to visitors about the pups.’
'We also conduct weekly counts to monitor the number of pups that are born, which enables us to compare success from year to year and with other breeding colonies. We erect a fence each year to protect the seals.
'We help researchers by collecting DNA samples, which gives us information about the genetics of the seals that breed here – how closely related they are to other British and European Grey Seals. We have learned that the seals breeding here probably spread from Lincolnshire, rather than further afield, supporting the theory that as the population grows, seals are spreading southwards along the coast.'
Further north, the winter weather can pose a problem for Sam Stalker, our lead ranger in the west Lake District. Floods can wreak havoc on the 120km of mountain paths that we care for in the region.
In 2015, the storms brought record rainfall to the Lake District, with 314mm of rain falling over just two days
Sam’s 12-strong ranger team looks after 39,000 acres of Lake District countryside, including England’s highest mountain – Scafell Pike.
In the winter months, Sam’s team of four upland rangers spend days clearing out drains on the footpaths.
Sam says: ‘In heavy storms you’ll get a torrent of water washing down the path. If we don’t clear the drains the water can wash the path away.’
Winter woods and grasslands
Down south, in the gentle Chiltern hills, Ashridge Estate’s lead ranger, Lawrence Trowbridge and his team take advantage of the winter wildlife lull.
With nature in its dormancy, the rangers set to work on the estate’s special habitats. They carefully select and fell certain trees, to make the woodlands safer for visitors. By doing so, they also rejuvenate veteran trees and create new spaces for wildlife.
Lawrence says the winter is also the time to manage the chalk downland.
'By cutting scrub and coarse grasses, we create the perfect conditions for rare flowers and butterflies to thrive in the following spring and summer.
‘Visitors think we have great job in the summer but not in the winter. The truth is, it’s a challenging job all year round. However, come rain or shine, working on this 5000 acre estate always puts a smile on my face.’