Get to know Ajay Tegala
Find out more about what the outdoors means to National Trust Ranger Ajay.
How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
Being outdoors never feels like wasted time; even if it’s just a walk, I always feel like it’s time well spent, and I can’t imagine it not being part of my life. My relationship with the outdoors is much like a friendship: it’s very special, it has to be grown and nurtured and then if you put the time in it can be rewarding and blossom in the most wonderful way.
What inspired you to get outdoors in the first place?
As I child I always loved being outdoors and seeing new things, seeing wildlife. I always remember the first time I saw a heron by the river near where I lived. Seeing this bird (which as a child seemed huge!) lift its wings and fly up into the air, I was suddenly just really in awe of wildlife. That led to a real appreciation for the wonder of nature and how beautiful it is but also, as I grew up and learned more about the problems it faces, how fragile it is too.
I think a love of wildlife and the outdoors was something I had innately, but my parents were very good at encouraging me to do work experience on nature reserves, because they could see that I enjoyed being outdoors. Through doing that and through volunteering, I met some inspirational people and gained a whole wealth of knowledge, whether it be about trees, plants, or birds.
And how did you get into conservation as a result of that?
I got a bird book when I was very young and I noticed straight away that some birds are more common, and obviously that relates to where they live and how a lot of species have lost their habitats. I explored that a bit more and found out about nature reserves and how important they are. I knew this would not only be something I enjoyed doing, but also a way of protecting something that I care about and that needs protecting.
The knowledgeable people that I volunteered alongside were a great inspiration, and they could see that I was keen so gave me their time. This was such a wonderful gift because by having that time out with somebody who can tell you what something is straight away and why it is, you begin to learn and that’s how you begin to build your own knowledge. So, the wonderful people that work in conservation and have the time to invest in somebody young, I can’t thank them enough.
Is that how you ended up going to university and studying what you did?
Absolutely. I have fond memories of visiting National Trust properties as a child, and I did work experience at Wicken Fen when I was 15. I met the rangers there and 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 have been your best and worst experiences of working in conservation?
The worst things are usually just frustrating situations. For example, I was working with vulnerable nesting seabirds and to me it was so important to protect them and not disturb them because they’ve migrated thousands of miles; they’re on the edge of the land and the sea and they’ve got so many factors that conspire against them, like the weather and predators. But because people aren’t always aware, something like a dog running off the lead can disturb these birds that we’d spent hours watching, counting, fencing off and protecting.
But those frustrating things often lead to the best thing, which is getting people involved and making them see how important it is to think about and have care for wildlife. I remember once I was looking after a school group, and we’d just seen a bird hatch from an egg, and the schoolchildren were just amazed by it. So that’s fantastic, when you can share that love with people and inspire them, and even in the negatives you can find a positive.
How do you think you can get more people involved in conservation?
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, and to see other people experiencing the same thing, especially working on a reserve, meeting people who are coming here perhaps for the first time, people of all ages having a happy time is what it’s all about.
There’s a phrase I really like which is “people won’t protect what they don’t know about”, and conservation relies on people contributing and taking part. To protect something, you have to appreciate it, and I’m so in love with this wonderful place, I love to share that enthusiasm and I’m hoping to get more people to see it the way I do. The more people you get involved, the more you can achieve and the better it is for wildlife, which means the happier I am and other people become as well.
Do you generally prefer time outdoors by yourself or with others, and how do they differ?
Both, really. I think there’s something in the outdoors that suits any mood and any time, so I think it’s a great thing to do socially. If I’m meeting up with someone I haven’t seen for a while, then a walk is a perfect way to get out, chat and enjoy something together. Also, if you see something really exciting like a beautiful sunset, it’s always lovely to have someone to share that with. But it’s also nice to have that time on your own, feeling surrounded by it and being in your own world with your thoughts.
How has your family inspired you to pursue this lifestyle?
My parents were always keen for us to be outdoors, getting exercise and fresh air. I’ve got young nieces and nephews, and I see them spending so much time inside on games, so my mission is to take them outdoors as much as possible and show them the wonderful wildlife. One of them has now asked for an RSPB membership for their birthday, so that’s fantastic. Family time outdoors is a wonderful thing.
How do you spend your time when you’re not at work?
The things I enjoy are part of my work as well, so it doesn’t feel unbalanced. The balance may be heavily tipped towards wildlife but that’s great for wellbeing. When I’m not at work, I still like to be active and be outside. I’ll often go jogging in the morning and being sociable is important too; in work I’m often away from other people. I do like to bring the outdoors in at home, whether that’s nice photographs or paintings of wildlife on the wall, or dried reeds from work in the home to make it look more beautiful! I’m always surrounded by the outdoors.
I always try to continue protecting wildlife, so I like to help with any surveys that are going on, whether it be recording nests to build up data on bird breeding or recording bats to help map their distribution across the UK. On my in-laws’ farm, they’re making space for wildlife so I go and record what’s there too; I have a butterfly transect, and I record the birds and bats there and so on. Citizen science, I suppose you could call it.
Being on my in-laws’ farm is important for family, and if you can be of help as well it’s important! As well as helping with the business side, I like to encourage help for wildlife as well, and I love giving them space on the farm to let nature take over.
Have you got a list of places you’d like to visit or work at?
I’ve got a ticklist of wildlife I’d like to see, so there’s places to go to see different things, but that’s more in a leisure capacity. My dream would be to visit every single different habitat, from the rainforest to the desert to the deep Arctic, experiencing all the extremes and the harsh environments that wildlife survives in. Regarding working, I’d like to stay here for a few years to see the fruits of our labours and see things develop. There’s so much wonderful wildlife in the world, there’s not enough time really to explore everything!
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