A Day in the Life of a Wicken Fen Ranger
Caring for the fenland habitat, checking cattle and konik ponies, and meeting visitors is all in a day's work for Ajay Tegala, one of our rangers.
How did you first get involved with National Trust?
As a child, I always enjoyed spending time outdoors, discovering new places and learning more about the natural world. I enjoyed visiting a number of the National Trust’s outdoor properties. So when the time came for school work experience and thinking about my future career, the National Trust seemed like a great place to consider; to see if a career in conservation was for me. So my first involvement with the Trust was a week’s volunteering aged 15. I never looked back. After completing a degree in Countryside Management, I began my first ranger job at Blakeney Point, where I worked for a number of years.
What does your job as a ranger involve?
I think the job of a ranger can be described as diverse, dynamic and – obviously – outdoors. Naturally, my job at Wicken Fen involves being out in all weathers. A large part of my role centres around our in-hand breeding herds of grazing Highland Cattle and Konik ponies: checking their welfare, observing behaviour, maintaining fences and recording new arrivals. Maintaining footpaths for visitor access is part of my role, especially in summer when vegetation grows fast. Like the animal checks, this is done alongside our great team of volunteers. Lastly, and by no means least, I love meeting visitors and groups, taking them on guided tours around the fen to share my enthusiasm for this wonderful nature reserve and the reasons why it is such an important place for wildlife and for people.
And can you tell us about some of the conservation work you carry out?
Although Wicken has a wonderful, wild feel, much management work goes into maintaining its unique habitat. Outside of the breeding bird season, we spend a lot of time clearing encroaching bushes and small trees. This is crucial for maintaining the rare Fenland habitat, preventing important plants from being crowded out. Fenland management also involves pumping water on during the winter months. Water has to be put on to the right parts of the fen at the right time for maximum wildlife benefit and recording which wetland birds utilise the wet areas is very important. We have a licence to abstract a set quantity of water between November and March. The first part of the fen to be flooded in November literally attracts birds overnight, which is always a highlight of our conservation work.
What’s the best thing about working outdoors?
My favourite thing about working outside is the wildlife moments that take you by surprise. Just by being outside working on the reserve, a wonderful wildlife moment can take you by surprise. Seeing the illusive Bittern in flight is one of my favourite things and also chancing upon a Short-eared Owl in the grass whilst out checking on the livestock, these moments are priceless. The teamwork with my fellow colleagues and volunteers is also fantastic, thinking on our feet, problem solving and working well together, we achieve so much and have a great time doing it.
What is it you love about the landscape at Wicken?
I just love the fact that parts of Wicken are remnants of a lost landscape. There are certain wild parts of the reserve where you can’t see any telegraph wires or powerlines, nothing man-made at all. Surrounded by reeds, sedge, grasses, shrubs and trees – and their associated creatures – I sometimes pretend it is hundreds of years ago. As much as I love the spring, the landscape feels very special in winter, my favourite times are at sunrise when there is a frost or sunset with a light mist and bright orange sky, watching Hen Harriers fly in to roost in the reeds.
Do you have any tips for readers who want to help protect nature and wildlife (their own gardens, parks, local green spaces)
It is easy to feel daunted and depressed by the pressures wildlife faces today, but it is so important and uplifting to realise that we all have the power to make a difference, no matter how small. No garden should be without its wildlife pond, even a sunken washing-up bowl can be valuable for frogs. Leaving an area of your lawn unmown can provide habitat for insects, which will benefit birds and bats that feed on them. Scattering native wildflower seeds is a great thing to do and can provide a nectar source for bees.