Ranger volunteering at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
In the first of a series about volunteering for the Ranger team at Sissinghurst, Clare Saxby describes why donating a few hours a week to the National Trust is so fulfilling and introduces the estate's two full-time rangers, Peter Dear and Paul Freshwater.
A quick hello
After two decades writing for film and television in London, I moved with my family to Kent three years ago. Sissinghurst quickly became my favourite woodland walk with my dog Biscuit, we would often stop to watch the rangers working in all weathers. Inspired to write about a fictional ranger, I emailed Sissinghurst about volunteering and in no time had signed up to work one morning a week on the estate.
The ranger team
Head Ranger Peter Dear has worked for the National Trust since he was sixteen years old, starting out at Scotney and moving to Sissinghurst fourteen years ago. He is a walking encyclopedia of the flora and fauna of Kent and has a particular passion for the moths and dragonflies that now thrive on the estate under his care.
Ranger Paul Freshwater worked for many years in the City, but would spend his spare time on walking holidays far-removed from the urban grind. Several years ago he decided to change career and completed a degree in Countryside Management at Hadlow College, after which he was snapped up by Sissinghurst to spend his days outdoors.
Over the months, with Pete and Paul's guidance, I have learned an astonishing amount about the fascinating and very physical work that goes into conserving ancient woodland. Those four hours on a Wednesday morning have proved immensely satisfying (if often exhausting!) and the highlight of my week.
One of the Ranger team's most important jobs is to ensure the safety of the thousands of visitors who enjoy Sissinghurst's beautiful walks all year round. The 460 acre estate, consisting of fields, meadows and woodland, is patrolled regularly and if a tree is found leaning dangerously over a path or road due to high winds, age, or disease, Pete, Paul and the volunteers act immediately to secure it.
Recently Pete spotted a precarious goat willow leaning over Digdog Lane at the northern edge of the estate and the team went into action. Paul had to fell the tree for health and safety reasons, but explained that no part of it goes to waste - logs from the trunk will be seasoned and used for firewood and the thinner branches are bundled tightly into faggots, using Pete's ingenious homemade tool constructed of two sticks and some string! The faggots then came in very handy for lining the edges of the lakes and preventing bank erosion by enthusiastic dogs keen for a dip - that said, dog walkers are welcome to let their animals swim from the designated dog launch, on the lower lake.
Keep checking back to find out more about Clare's volunteering in the coming months.