Ranger, Lake District
Sarah is an Upland Ranger and just like all our rangers, it would take more than working a strenuous day to dampen her love for the job.
What made you want to be a National Trust Ranger?
My parents visited Coniston in a caravan when I was very young, so maybe my love of the Lake District started the same way it did for Beatrix Potter. It must have made an impact as my fasciation for woods, lakes and all things outdoor fun continuously grew. I was fortunate to also enjoy school and academic work but I knew I wanted to have a hands-on job! With some investigating into courses, I went to University at Ambleside and now I have the perfect job.
So the job was the obvious next step?
Yes and no. One step was painful but fortuitous. I was heading to another University in Spain and I broke my ankle the day before the course started. It meant I also had to turn down my summer job as an outdoor instructor, which I’d thought would keep me close to nature. As it turned out, being out of action meant I was in the right place at the right time, to find out a National Trust job was available, and I started in one of our campsites, and then moved to train as a ranger.
What does your role as a ranger for the National Trust involve?
It depends upon the time of year. In the Summer we can go higher and further so although the paths are busier with visitors, summer is the best time to do repair work and manage the paths in the high fells. It does mean longer days, sometimes walking an hour and a half, just to reach our worksites high up on the fell.
We work under the partnership project ‘Fix the Fells’ whose core objective is to protect the spectacular Lakeland fells from erosion by maintaining and repairing paths. We are usually a team of 4 or 5 and although sometimes working on the same 10metres of path for a week, which might sound repetitive but the job is different every day. I am constantly amazed by the resilience in nature and we work to help conserve and support that. We use traditional techniques, such as pitching, to make path lines more sustainable and in the process more resilient to the high levels of footfall they receive. All the materials and tools are carried up and there is heavy lifting so it’s a very physical job. Thankfully occasionally we make use of helicopters to take bags full of stone up to where we are working, but that still needs off loaded and moved into place.
In winter we have limited access, so we work alongside our other ranger teams on projects down in the valley bottoms. This adds great variety to the work we do and I enjoy repairing dry stone walls. We get to use our specialist stone work skills in different settings and learn many more skills.
Why is it the perfect job?
Although every day in the Lake District isn’t sunny, it is consistently beautiful. Even the bad weather is brilliant and there are constant changing patterns from rain, clear skies, sunshine – which of course gives us a few rainbows. We need the mix and balance of weather to help nature follow its natural course. In fact, we need to be up there during the rain, especially the heavy downpours, to see how the rain behaves and how the paths react and shift.
Do you think your work is noticed?
Good question. We fix paths and walls to look as natural and in keeping with the area as possible, helping the local species and creating a sustainable access for thousands of visitors. Managing a landscape which protects nature and welcomes visitors is a continuous job. We have been called the path fairies; rarely seen but you can see our work. Large storms can do serious damage such as Storm Desmond back in 2015 when many paths were completely washed out. There are so many different rights of way to be repaired, it has taken several years but we also try to improve drainage to make them more resilient to storms in the future.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m an active member of a local mountain rescue team. I decided that as my job allows me to have such an in depth knowledge of the fells I would put it to good use by helping people. In fact, I’m rarely anywhere, except the fells, accompanied by my dog, Rowan, who is now 8. She also joins us at work most days and of course, inspects everything we do! You could also find me swimming in some of the many lakes on offer up here…and I’m a regular cake baker which is great, as everyone gets share to keep us going while we work!
Tell us the best part of the job (apart from helicopter lifts)?
The difference we make. The National Trust is a conservation charity and as Rangers, our job is the conservation of the natural land, the fells and valleys, lakes and walls, forests and animal habitats. No one person can reverse environmental damage but if everyone is doing something, we can protect our natural world for the future. I get to do as much as I can, every day. I love working in the fells. It’s an area I’m incredibly passionate about so to be able to work in it day in day out is great.