A Day in the Life of a National Trust Ranger
We caught up with National Trust ranger and wildlife enthusiast, Ajay Tegala, about his journey with the National Trust and why he loves working as a ranger.
What made you want to work for the National Trust?
I felt the National Trust were a great organisation; they do a great job at looking after wildlife and they have some wonderful sites; I’ve always had happy memories of visiting National Trust places with my family, so I felt there was that positive relationship already. The Trust are good at taking on volunteers and giving experiences too, helping me on my way with training.
And how did you end up becoming a ranger?
I did work experience at Wicken Fen when I was 15 and when I met the rangers there, I remember them saying that they enjoy their job so much that they love Monday mornings! That work experience started me on the path but in order to do this, you have to be committed, so I did a Countryside Management course at university and lots of volunteering across the UK. Finally, after various seasonal roles with the National Trust, I ended up getting a wonderful job as a ranger here at Wicken Fen which is where it started for me, so it’s come full circle very nicely.
What is it about the Trust’s work that you think is so important?
Places like Wicken Fen are so important, and a very small part of the UK now because so much has been lost for various reasons, so the National Trust do a great job at looking after them. Something that really excited me about here was the expansion and breeding the livestock that we work with. It feels like giving back to nature which I really agree with, feel strongly about and am excited to be a part of.
There are a lot of threats to wildlife, whether it be increasing pressure for development, for housing, for roads, and these are all important things that we need but they are a big threat. So that’s why I feel passionate about my work here at Wicken Fen, and about realising that we can live side by side with nature quite well if we give it that space. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, one and not the other. It’s about giving space to wildlife alongside our lifestyle.
What do you love about Wicken Fen in particular?
I think lots of people have a strong connection to the place where they grew up, and as a child I loved being out in this landscape, and so working here just feels very much like home. And it’s nice to be part of something that I enjoyed as a youngster, and now am helping to push into the future.
I love the sunsets here, too. It’s very flat so there’s a lot of sky, and the weather and the light change very quickly so you get some beautiful views. It’s wonderful to be out in all the different weathers; sometimes the day can be quite bleak and other times it can be absolutely picture perfect. It’s full of wonderful wildlife as well, like deer and otters, so it’s a lovely place to be.
The landscape here is a mosaic of different habitats, from the woodland pockets to the grassy fields, to the scrubby areas in between, but the water is really the lifeblood of the reserve that flows through the middle. Early in the mornings, when it’s peaceful and you can hear the birdsong, it’s such a special time, and when I get to be out on the water it’s such a relaxing moment with the sound of the reeds going past and the general calmness of being on the water. I’m very lucky.
What do you do in your role as a ranger?
A typical day working on the reserve begins with the livestock checks, making sure that there are no issues that we need to respond to, and working as a team to solve any that arise. After that, it’s all about coming together and working on a big task for the day, whether it be repairing some of the many miles of fence that we have, or the footpaths for public access. So it’s a mixture of keeping watch on and recording wildlife, and taming it where we need to so that it’s accessible. We come together as a strong team of staff and volunteers, and there’s a strong morale. It can be quite frustrating, like if an animal has escaped and it’s pouring down with rain – as it always does at that moment! – but many hands make light work, and then you finished the day on a high knowing that you’ve succeeded as a team.
Could you describe the team?
All sorts of people from all ages and backgrounds get involved at Wicken Fen because they all have different interests, whether that’s helping schoolchildren on school trips, family events, or getting involved with us and helping to check the animals. We’ve got people that are starting out in their career, like I was a few years ago, and it’s great to see them develop. But then there are also people who have retired from wonderful careers, and are looking to get outside in the wild and do something completely different. It’s lovely to see people at different stages of life experience working together and getting something different out of the outdoors.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the variety. There’s so many wonderful things and no two days are the same. When you’re working with animals, there’s that element of surprise: we’re dealing with them in all kinds of weather, at all stages of the breeding cycle, so you get the thrill of the unexpected and watching new life begin. It’s also a great team that I’m part of, with wonderful volunteers that give their time and very knowledgeable staff, it’s a fantastic thing to be part of. There’s a great group dynamic, there’s that common passion for what we do, and when you’re working with people that are committed as you are then you really gel and have special moments together, keep laughing and achieve a lot.
How do you get around Wicken Fen?
Quite often we get about by bicycle, it’s a great way to get about because you can be more direct, it’s free, no pollution, so it’s really the answer to getting around doing our checks on the animals, and it’s a fun thing to be able to do as part of your job.
Which are your favourite animals to work with?
I really love working with the grazing animals we have here, the Highland cattle and the Konik ponies, because they’ve got all different personalities and they’re so well suited to this environment. We never quite know where they’re going to have moved to or be doing on any one day. I’m also a big lover of birds; we’ve got cranes here, and birds like the bittern, which were nearly extinct, live in our reed bed. Things that you have to search for are that little bit more rewarding.
How do you find your work/life balance?
It’s a delight that the things I enjoy are part of my work as well, so it doesn’t feel unbalanced because I’m just spending lots of time outdoors enjoying myself. The balance may be heavily tipped towards wildlife but that’s great for wellbeing. The idea that it’s good for you to be out in the fresh air is really important, and it’s being recognised now more than ever that it’s so important for your wellbeing. I’ve always felt that really, I’ve always felt that I’m happier when I’m outside. It’s not a bad life.
What would you say to someone who is dreaming of being able to work outdoors?
I’d say it’s never too late to change your path. If you’re not doing something that you enjoy, there are so many opportunities and so much wildlife that needs protecting, so the more people that get involved and the more people that can dedicate their lives to that, then go for it, it’s a fantastic thing to be able to do.
How do you think that people can help with conservation, through the National Trust or in their day-to-day lives?
In daily life, you can help wildlife in many ways. Donating money towards or visiting nature reserves – just a small entry fee is going into the protection of the site – or even be putting out food for the birds in your garden. Just giving wildlife a thought, really, rather than just going through life not thinking about it and taking the time to be inspired by it. I think the more you look at it, the more you’ll appreciate it and therefore the more you’ll want to get involved and you can begin that journey.
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