Neil Forbes - Coastal Ranger profile

Coastal Ranger, Sandscale Haws

Neil Forbes - Coastal Ranger, Sandscale Haws

Meet Neil our Coastal Ranger at Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve.

Neil Forbes Ranger at Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve

What does your role as a Ranger for the National Trust involve?

As an Area Ranger I am responsible for planning and implementing much of the conservation and access work at Sandscale Haws. This involves writing management plans and work plans as well as designing and carrying out projects. As Sandscale Haws is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and has a plethora of conservation designations much of my work is to do with managing the reserve to benefit wildlife and co-ordinating survey and monitoring work to assess how key species are doing.

We are a small team of two full time rangers but also have a very dedicated local volunteer team who are invaluable in helping us to achieve much of our work. I also run guided walks at various times in the year and provide information to visitors on a regular basis. Overall I would say that my job is probably a 50:50 split between outdoors and office work.

Tell us more about your conservation work?

Sandscale Haws is an extremely important sand dune system with a vast area of wildlife present. We are well known as a key site for the Natterjack Toad and the population here is part of one of just thirteen remaining native populations in the UK. Whilst populations have been re-established in other areas these thirteen populations currently account for over 77% of the UK’s Natterjacks. We carry out an annual population census for this species by counting the spawn strings that are laid. In some years this can be a huge undertaking with several hectares of suitable habitat to survey.

The Reserve also has an extremely diverse flora with many specialist coastal plants and some rare and nationally scarce species present. I am currently running a project that involves carrying out management work in dune slacks habitats and closely monitoring how the vegetation responds to this. Dune slacks are the low lying hollows between the dune ridges, many of which flood for part of the year. They are a rare habitat type in Europe and many have been lost to changes in water and land use. At Sandscale Haws we have large areas of dune slacks but many of these are now mature with extensive vegetation cover whereas many of the rarer plants do best in the early stages of development. We are cutting vegetation in some areas any digging out others to try to recreate the early conditions for pioneer plants.

What’s a typical day like?

There really is no such thing as a typical day. It varies so much from year-to-year and you find with working on the coast that you often end up dealing with the unexpected. A classic example of this is the day that a dead Minke Whale washed up on the beach in the summer of 2014. We ended up having to bury it on the beach as it was too large to remove but it took days of seeking advice and discussing options before we were in a position to go ahead with this. More typically a day will involve talking to our neighbours and visitors and cracking on with some practical management work such as scrub removal in winter or carrying out wildlife surveys in summer. I also spend a lot of time in planning the conservation work and commissioning research to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the site. Alternatively we could be discussing new ways to tell the stories of the wildlife and history of the reserve – there is huge potential here as Sandscale is currently under-valued as a nature reserve. The variety of the job always keeps things interesting.

What do you do in your spare time?

Like many Rangers I love the outdoors and spend much of my free time out walking and looking for wildlife.

Tell us the best part of the job!

For me the best part of the job is to spend so much time outside on one of the UK’s finest nature reserve’s. Having worked on the site for nearly 10 years now it’s also really satisfying to see how our management work has paid off and benefitted species and habitats.