Longshaw rangers join the International Rangers Congress
Whilst the rest of the ranger team were carrying out winter repairs and woodland restoration work across a wet and windy Longshaw, Rachel Bennett and Lucy Holmes spent nearly three weeks meeting fellow rangers from 70 different countries at the ninth World Ranger Congress in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park.
Lead Ranger Rachel and colleague Lucy in particular, who often found it hard to spot the crocodiles, monkeys, and vultures on their murky morning safaris, have been working hard,“they were often ten-hour days so it was exhausting,” said Rachel. “And if we were going travelling beforehand on a safari, we’d be getting up at 4.30 in the morning.”
“It was an interesting experience.” The idea was for the 650 rangers from Africa, Asia, Europe the USA and Australia to listen and learn from one another. “Every day was really inspiring,” said Rachel. “Everyone there was committed to protecting wildlife, and to working with local communities to both make people’s lives better and help the local wildlife.”One of the conference themes was female rangers, and the challenges they often face.
Women rangers are quite well represented in the Peak District, said Rachel, but women only make up a small percentage of the global ranger workforce. “One of the challenges is that in some places, it’s not seen as acceptable for women to do this kind of work.” She recalled her early days as a ranger driving a large tractor when passing men would look at her in total surprise, or the times she’d been warned to be careful not to damage her nails when digging or mending fences.“Someone once asked me when I was busy digging a hole if I’d actually prefer to be putting my make up on,” said Lucy. “You just shrug that kind of thing off.” The dedication of female rangers around the world was not to be doubted, said Rachel.
In some countries, women rangers have to leave their families and communities for three-month work stretches if their National Park or conservation area is hundreds of miles from home. And the Longshaw women met the Akashinga rangers of Zimbabwe, a special team of women rangers who patrol a former trophy hunting area of the Zambezi Valley to deter and catch animal poachers. The Akashinga, recruited from women who had themselves been assaulted or orphaned, and then work with local people to encourage the protection of wildlife. Rachel explained that evidence showed that women rangers invested more of their income locally and by talking diplomatically to local people, this can help communities to value wildlife as an asset and support anti-poaching schemes. Rachel continued, "These women are on the front line against poaching, we told them how amazing they are."
“Despite the challenges, people like that are fully committed and willing to put their lives on the line for what they believe in. I think that’s a really powerful message." Whether their working day involves rhinos, red deer, crocodiles, or great crested newts, Rachel said there are many common aims for all international rangers. “We’re all engaging people in their local wildlife, and in respecting and protecting the environment,” said Rachel. “Here, both of us patrol the Peak District, one of the busiest National Parks in the world, and we want the people we meet to support what we do and love the rich wildlife we have here as much as we do. So when we ask them not to have barbecues, or to keep their dogs on a lead, we’re not trying to spoil their fun, it’s because we want them to help us protect this wildlife.” “But there are not enough rangers to protect the world’s wildlife on their own,” said Lucy. “So we have to get everyone behind the idea.”