Countryside ranger: Fraser Williamson

Area Ranger, Chartwell and West Kent

Fraser Williamson - Area Ranger

Fraser Williamson, area ranger for Chartwell and West Kent, he explains what it's like to work outdoors at the place which inspired Octavia Hill to found the National Trust.

Area Ranger, Fraser Williamson, in the Chartwell countryside

What’s the best thing about being a Countryside Ranger?

I get to enjoy the natural environment every day and make a real difference - whether through management of a particular species, restoration and improvement of habitats, creating new opportunities for wildlife or simply wildlife recording and observation.

It's about working with eco-systems, understanding natural processes, halting declines and identifying opportunities for nature and wildlife. I am privileged to work with a great team of dedicated volunteers that continue to inspire me.

Our team come from all backgrounds and with a diversity of experiences they all bring something different to the table. We have a fantastic team dynamic, there’s a lot of fun to be had and working in a group makes the difficult times easier.

Yes there are times when it’s not so good; a cold wet day in winter when you’ve lost all feeling in the fingers for instance, but it's more than made up for at other times and even then it beats staring at a screen in a stuffy office.

Where will the paths take you this summer?
Summer trees at Toys Hill, a National Trust countryside site in Kent
Where will the paths take you this summer?

What does a typical day look like for you?

There is no typical day which is what I like about it. It very much depends on the time of year and the type of environment we're working in.

I help to take care of woodlands, freshwater habitats, farmland and grasslands. In winter we concentrate on woodland work such as coppicing or thinning as there is likely to be less disturbance to wildlife.

In the spring we start planning our meadow and grassland work and we may carry out under-planting or over-seeding. In the summer we must ensure rides and paths remain clear as everything grows at a faster pace. This is also the time we carry out work on fencing and countryside furniture as well as carrying out all our ecological and biological surveying and recording. It is this survey and recording data that helps inform our management plans.

Summer is also the time of year when we see more visitors, so footfall is high. Last summer, we saw a huge increase in visitors as people looked to get outdoors during the pandemic. It was great to see so many enjoying Toys Hill, but flowers and fauna did suffer some damage where people didn't stick to the paths. We maintain our paths regularly, and visitors can help by staying on the track. 

What is your favourite memory in the outdoors?

That’s tricky. Before working for the National Trust I lived in the Far East for over a decade, spending much of that time on expedition super-yachts and travelling all over the world. I travelled to uninhabited islands in remote archipelagos and led adventure expeditions into remote rain forests and the mountainous regions. Antarctica is simply breath-taking due to its complete rawness and purity.

Diving with hundreds of sharks in the Galapagos has to be up there, as does waking up one morning in a primary rain forest in Borneo to the sound of a Tapir in camp and discovering a 15-foot python curled up on top of my sleeping bag!

In the UK, I enjoy seeing any wildlife in its natural environment. I always smile at the little opportunist robin, that we all know and love, who will arrive and perch next to us as we're clearing in the woodland. Its great to see the return of species such as Red Squirrels, Pine Martins and Beavers throughout the UK thanks to various conservation projects.

We have wildlife cameras in a variety of locations and its always interesting watching the nocturnal activities of wildlife that we so rarely see.

How would you encourage people to discover nature near them?

I think people discover more as they take the time to learn about and understand the environment around them. For the little ones, the National Trust's 50 Things To Do Before You're 11¾ helps introduce children to a range of interesting outdoor activities.

Volunteering with the National Trust is a great way of discovering and learning more about wildlife and nature in your local area as well as helping conserve the environment.

As your knowledge and understanding grows you will notice more and consequently search for more. You'll be surprised how quickly your enthusiasm can escalate. Start small, by learning to identify a few common flowers and trees and the environment they're found in - you'll soon start to understand the habitats and wildlife potential around you and the part each species plays within it.

Visiting Toys Hill 

We hope to see lots of people out enjoying the wonderful West Kent countryside this summer. To help us look after this special place, we ask drivers to park on the hard standing area and not spill out on the surrounding roads. For walkers, the area can be accessed from the 35 miles of National Trust footpaths that zig zag across the Kent/Surrey border.

Wearing appropriate footwear will enable you to stick to the paths whatever the weather. Take a look at the Countryside Code for more tips on how to keep this area safe for everyone to enjoy.