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Meet our Apprentice Rangers

Changing Chalk apprentices on the snowy south downs
Changing Chalk's Ranger and Community Apprentices on the South Downs | © National Trust/Josie Jeffrey

Meet Molly and Rebecca, our new National Trust Changing Chalk apprentice rangers. They started their apprenticeships in September 2023 and we caught up with them recently to find out what they've been up to and how they were enjoying their time with the Changing Chalk team.

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to apply for the job as a National Trust apprentice ranger with the Changing Chalk project?

Molly: I come from Somerset originally and have always had a great love of animals, nature and the outdoors. I have worked in a variety of roles, including nursery practitioner, horse trekking guide, and horticulture assistant to name a few. I completed my degree in Clinical Animal Behaviour and Welfare and have experience training sheepdogs and gundogs. I was looking for a change in direction and hoping to find new learning experiences when I came across the role advertised online and decided to apply.

Rebecca: I’m currently based a stone’s throw from Saddlescombe Farm, but I originally grew up in Penzance - right towards the western end of Cornwall. I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world, but it really grew from exploring the wild places of my home county. This eventually merged with my interest in landscape painting and I ended up moving to London to study art at university.

After graduating, I began working as a photographer in archival collections, initially at the National Archives and then at the British Library. This work meant lots of time with beautiful maps and books, but also lots of time in a dark studio – and I started dreaming of a job outdoors and in the elements.

When the pandemic hit, I moved back to Cornwall and spent my time exploring a little rural valley, identifying wildflowers and watching birds. This experience really confirmed everything and fast forward a couple of years, I was lucky enough to join the National Trust Changing Chalk team.

What was it about the role that made you want to apply?

Molly: I was excited to have found a role that appeared to be the perfect culmination of all the things I’m enthusiastic and driven about: conservation, farming, public engagement and education, the South Downs, and learning new skills. The interview process was split into two parts: an online zoom interview and an in-person practical assessment with group tasks. The interview process gave me a good insight into the nature of the role and the team.

Rebecca: Hmmm, there are so many reasons! For me, one of the big ones was the fact that it was specifically an apprenticeship. I really liked the idea of being trained from the ground up, but also jumping straight in and learning by doing. This role struck a great balance between these things, and it felt like the perfect way to move from a totally different path. The other big reason was location – or rather, the South Downs. I’d already moved to this part of the world and fallen completely in love with the landscape.

I was walking the hills as much as I could and obsessively learning about the flora and fauna that live there. As for the interview process, it was a little daunting but overall felt very welcoming and supportive. I’d never done any kind of practical or outdoors interview so wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a really nice way to meet the team and get a better sense of the work.

What is a typical day as an apprentice ranger? Or is there even a typical day?

Molly: No two days are the same and this is an aspect of the role that I really enjoy. We get to work on different projects and with a wide range of staff and volunteers. Almost all tasks are outdoors in all winds and weather. I like that we get to see the seasons change and fully experience the nature of the day. Decent wet weather wear is a big help!

Rebecca: It feels like barely any two days have been the same. However, if there is a typical day, then it’s mostly outdoors and regularly involves some kind of chopping, planting or digging. In the last three months, there’s been a healthy amount of fencing and wildlife surveying thrown in for good measure. There’s also a lot of collaborative work with incredible volunteers and local groups – along with many cups of tea, biscuits and the occasional bonfire.

What has been your favourite, or the most rewarding, thing you have done so far?

Molly: Recently we got to make a stile from scratch with one of our volunteer joiners. It was so interesting to learn the process and follow each step to create something that will stay in the landscape for years to come. The methodical and mindful approach to creating the piece of outdoor furniture was really calming and satisfying, and completing it was very fulfilling.

Rebecca: So far, one of my favourite things has been doing surveys of the Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) in a wooded valley called Ashcombe Bottom. This area sits in the hills just above Lewes – and it’s one of the first places that I really got to know after moving to Sussex. We’re yet to see any dormice but it’s been a real pleasure finding their distinctive tracks in the footprint tunnels that are placed throughout the woodland.

What have you found the most surprising, fascinating or unusual?

Molly: I have found the knowledge, enthusiasm and hard work of volunteers fascinating. We couldn’t do the job without their support, and I feel privileged to be able to learn from and work alongside them. Their commitment to conservation and their can-do attitude is inspiring. I always enjoy hearing their stories and love the sense of community that working with them brings.

Rebecca: One of the most unusual things I’ve found is all the weird and wonderful galls there are around. Recently, I’ve been noticing them more and more in the hedgerows and woods where we work and they’re all truly fascinating. There are around 70 different oak galls in Britain alone! One of these - the Artichoke Gall - looks just like a little artichoke, but it’s really a leaf bud reacting to the work of a remarkably tiny wasp (Andricus foecundatrix).

Is there advice that you would give to others who hope to follow the same career path as you?

Molly: Be open to opportunities and say yes to anything that comes your way that might allow you to gain more knowledge, experience or insight. Most importantly, don’t doubt yourself or your ability to find your path into the industry, find joy in the process even if it doesn’t go exactly to plan and see ‘setbacks’ as a pivot in the right direction.

Rebecca: It’s a mega cliché, but you have to be yourself. Try not to get too hung up on what you think you should be saying – just try to tell your story as honestly as possible. Everyone brings something different to the table and that’s what makes a great team.

We will have another blog post coming soon from Kitty, our new Community and Participation Apprentice, so keep a look out for an update.

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