Meet the Woolacombe beach rangers

If you are visiting Woolacombe this summer, you'll see our beach rangers out and about running Rockpool Rambles, guided walks, and doing their bit to keep the beach clean. Read on to find a bit more about our newest recruits.

Names: Milo Sumner, Rosie Ellis and Catherine Wright
Job: Woolacombe Beach Rangers

What did you do before you became a beach ranger? 

MS: I was a full-time volunteer ranger with the Trust down on the Roseland coast in Cornwall, but before that I was a multimedia producer in the London charity sector. What does that mean? Essentially I was the guy that made the short snappy content you see all over charity websites and social media channels; video, photography and graphics were mainly my thing. 

RE: Last summer I worked as a beach ranger and loved it so much I had to come back. This winter I was apple picking and exploring New Zealand so will have three summers in a row! Before that I worked in Cornwall doing activities on the SSSI Penhale dunes near Perranporth for Haven Holidays, worked as a full time volunteer for the National Trust Holywell to Tintagel Properties, completed a Masters in Wildlife Management and Conservation, worked in turtle conservation in Cape Verde and sailed across the Atlantic.

CW: I’ve been working with the neighbouring National Trust team down in Hartland as a full-time volunteer building up my ranger skills and exploring the wonders of North Devon. Before that I was in Glasgow filling my brain with the latest knowledge on animal science and conservation during my Zoology degree.

What’s a typical day like as a beach ranger? What do you get up to?

MS: What DON’T we get up to! No day is the same and that’s the beauty of this work. I suppose a theoretical ‘typical’ day might involve a quick cuppa and catch-up with the team first thing in the morning, before heading out to check the beach for any washed-up oddities (plastic, whales, the usual). After that we’d walk the fence line in the dunes looking for any breakages and making repairs. At some point in the day we’ll run an engagement activity, normally a rockpool ramble on Combesgate beach which is always so much fun and a fantastic chance to get families involved with the weird and wonderful things that live in the tidal zone. Finally, if there’s any time left in the day we might carry out a butterfly survey or cut back some vegetation on an overgrown footpath. Before you know it’s time to go home and sleep the sleep of the satisfied beach ranger.  

RE: Our days are dictated by the tide so our Rock pooling will happen when we can get the public down to find the biggest, scariest crabs and company. If possible we start by checking Woolacombe beach before the crowds descend. Most days we find litter sept in by the last tide, a few jellyfish strandings and the occasional disposable barbeque or dog poo bag but generally our visitors are very well behaved. Then there is a lot to do in the Dunes and Woolacombe Warren; strimming the network of tracks leading surfers and walkers to the beach and maintaining steps. Then there is all the one off pop ups to look forward to this year like bug hunts and summer of sports so really very varied work that makes it very sad to have to leave at the end of summer.

CW: Typically, we head on down to the beach for a general clean up, checking that no plastic or mysterious creatures have appeared in the last day. Then the day becomes wonderfully varied, from running our Rockpool Rambles, to creating signs, strimming paths, and hunting butterflies in the dunes.

Why did you choose to come and work for North Devon National Trust?

MS: At the end of 2018 I came home to the UK after spending a year in New Zealand. Living and working in Wellington I was inspired by the level of concern and connection the average kiwi felt for their local environment, something that felt very different to my home town of London. I spent a lot of my free time volunteering conservation groups, and when I came back to blighty I wanted to dedicate even more time to this. So I moved to Cornwall and began volunteering full-time with the Trust. One of my ranger friends wouldn’t stop going on about how much he had loved working on the beach at Woolacombe, so when the opportunity came up to follow in his footsteps I jumped at the opportunity. Looking after nature here has its challenges in the huge numbers of people that arrive every summer, but this is also an opportunity to engage people from all over the country and send them home with lasting memories of an amazing experience. 

RE: Being a Beach ranger in Woolacombe around is the best job in the world (shh!). You have the stunningly beautiful coastline to walk, the craziest creatures to find on the rocky shore, and the surf on your doorstep (when the swell arrives!). 

CW: North Devon is such a beautiful place to work, I’m very lucky to spend so much time on the beach. I love the teams I get to work with, there is so much passion for conservation in the North Devon teams.

An important part of your job is spreading the message about plastic pollution on our beaches – what’s the strangest thing you’ve found washed up on the sand?

MS: When I was a child, beachcombing in Brittany, I found a rope sticking out of the sand where the waves met the beach. It was thicker than my arm and I couldn’t pull it out no matter how hard I tried. My dad told me it was connected to a giant plughole at the bottom of the sea and I couldn’t pull it out because all the water was pushing it down and keeping it in place. Probably for the best I never managed to shift it, it would have been a shame to drain the ocean. 

RE: A 40ft very lost Sperm Whale on Perranporth beach with sucker marks from fights with giant squids on its head. Last year we found a barrel containing oysters, a squat lobster and the biggest Fan worms I have ever seen. In 2013 I found a perfectly intact tiny broomstick from the 1997 Lego container spill. But the vast majority is very uninteresting fishing nets, bottle tops, disintegrating dog toys and single use body boards.

CW: So far nothing too out of the ordinary, so often I like to take the regular rubbish and make some sand art out of it. Recent sculptures have included shore crabs and jellyfish. 

When you’re not working, where’s your favourite place to explore in North Devon?

MS: The waves dude. 

RE: After working on the busy beaches I love to pop to Lee Bay or Morte Point for a change of pace. But now the Porthole on Marine Drive is up and running and has freshwater showers for post surf it is pretty hard to drag myself away!

CW: Fudgies Bakehouse in Woolacombe for a pasty is definitely high on the list. Apart from that, anywhere wild. I really enjoy rambling on the moor and exploring coastal villages.

Thank you!