Ranger Chris Wood at the 2016 World Ranger Congress

National Trust rangers at the 2016 World Ranger Congress

Ranger Chris Wood and his Lake District counterpart Clair Payne were chosen to represent the National Trust and the Countryside Management Association of England, Wales and Northern Ireland at the 2016 World Ranger Congress in Colorado, USA.

The eighth Congress was based at the Estes Park Centre in the Rocky Mountain National Park between 21 and 27 May 2016. Find out more here.

In Chris’s own words:
I have returned to the UK wholly inspired. I could go on and on (and on) about the many experiences I had, the people I met, the things that I learnt (and I do). If I could have captured the feeling in the air during the Congress, I would have filled my pockets full (along with my hand luggage and suitcase too). It has added a spring to my step, made me walk tall and proud.
" I’m asking you to raise your voice. Because the only way real change takes place in this world is with voices that are raised. You can’t do it with a whisper. You can only do it with a shout. And it’s especially important if you are not by yourself. Be part of a group of people walking together in the same direction with the intent to change the world... Be inspired and be inspiring. "
- Shelton Johnson, Ranger at Yosemite National Park

The embodiment of inspiration was demonstrated during the opening ceremony of the Congress where 330 rangers represented 63 different nations. Each nation’s rangers carried their flag, following a procession to amass outside with the Rocky Mountains towering around in attendance. 63 flags blowing in the wind, rangers from all corners of the Earth, together representing the rangers of the world. We were connected in kind, and there was a communality that tied us all together. 
A Native American ranger went on to give us all a blessing in his own tongue (poetry if ever I had heard it), and we followed by holding a minute’s silence for the 60 rangers killed in service in the past year. The names of each of them were read out beforehand, along with their cause of death. ‘…killed by poachers …killed by militia … homicide … trampled by elephant … axed to death …’ 
Shock mixed with admiration soared through my body (and still does). Being in the presence of that group of rangers, in the presence of such sacrifice was extremely moving.
Flying high above all of the flags was the International Ranger Federation (IRF) flag. Sean Wilmore, president of the IRF, told us that there are somewhere around 300,000 rangers in the world. As Sean then put it, “each of you here are 1 in 1,000, each of you represents 1,000 rangers around the world.”
Over the duration of the Congress I listened to many different speakers, attended various panels and workshops, spoke to lots of rangers and those involved in the ranger community and I continued to feel inspired.
The main message tethered throughout? That rangers matter. 
When people like Jane Goodall declare ‘I have so much admiration for rangers – my heart goes out to you all, and my congratulations’ it makes you believe. A world renowned ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace directly telling us, the rangers on the ground, we are doing a good job.

Shelton Johnson, another legendary figure and well-known ranger in the U.S (and probably the best public speaker I have ever observed) filled us all with belief in our cause. 

" Never underestimate the power of what you do and who you are because are we not here for the business of saving the Earth, saving rainforests, saving deserts, saving landscapes that we love? And so all of us are doing the exact same mission, chartered with the exact same mission. It’s in our blood, it’s in our spirit, it’s in our eyes, it’s in our heart, it’s in our soul. I am a caretaker. I work for you. I work for the public. I work for the future."
- Shelton Johnson, Ranger at Yosemite National Park

There were eye-opening conversations too. One evening I chatted to a ranger called Christian Mbina, working in Gabon, Africa. He was a proud man and adamant he was not only a ranger of Gabon, but a ranger of the World. Why? “Because I not only work hard to protect the animals of Gabon, but from this protection I help fight terrorism on a global scale.” He went on to describe how ivory poaching in Africa contributes to the funding of many terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram, who use ivory as a currency to purchase weaponries.
Messages like these stuck with me, put things into perspective, and sometimes I would think of the work I do as a ranger in the UK – was it as important as fighting terrorism, saving rainforests, dealing with poaching? Well, it may not be on the scales of those, but it is nevertheless important. We are all overcoming issues and challenges and working and striving to protect special places, conserving our natural and cultural heritage.
" I want to talk about where home is for all of us. Earth. This is our home. And I want to say this. No one, in the world, is doing more important work than rangers, looking after Earth. The Earth needs rangers. Rangers can lead the charge."
- Harvey Locke, Conservationist and speaker at the Congress

So, an experience I will never forget. 
Back to the UK, back down to Earth. The strimmer awaits, there are fences to repair, trees to clear up after heavy winds. There are events to plan, projects to plan, work programmes to plan. There’s litter to pick up, surveys to complete, visitors to talk to. The list is longer than my arm. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I am proud to be a Ranger. Let’s continue to inspire others and inspire ourselves.

‘What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.’

– Gerard Hopkins