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OUTDOOR LIFE

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A UK NATIONAL PARK RANGER

For former nurse Sophie Brown, retraining to work as an assistant ranger within the UK’s National Parks has granted her an opportunity to turn a passion into a new career. Here she takes us through a day in her life working at the South Downs National Park.
Sophie Brown, National Park Ranger
7.30am: I wake up and grab some fruit for breakfast, before gathering what I need for the day and getting in the car. In the summer, I also make sure I’ve got sun cream and a sun hat: I have a massive, wide brimmed one as I get sunburnt so easily. My team is based at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton. Each ranger team is given a patch of the National Park, and then each ranger takes a section of that. As an assistant, I get to bounce around all of them.
A South Downs National Park Ranger
8-8.30am: Arriving at the workshop, I load tools and any fence posts or gates that we’ll need into a trailer or the back of a 4x4 before heading off to the site. My typical day differs a lot by season: in the summer, we focus on infrastructure, so there’ll be lots of getting out with volunteers, putting up gates and fences or clearing rights of way.

Once bird nesting season is over in autumn/winter, we start doing some of the more intense habitat management, such as scrub clearance and tree felling. Spring - which is personally my favourite season - is when we’ll get surveys done. This year my team worked on nightingale and lapwing surveys. They’re both in serious decline and we’re trying to figure out what the issues are and how we can help them.

One of the best moments so far this year was when a colleague and I were doing a survey. We were feeling a bit down because we hadn’t spotted any nightingales and then I spotted a juvenile white-tailed eagle. There’d been a reintroduction programme for them on the Isle of Wight and they’d been spotted around the wetland area we were surveying, but I still couldn’t believe my eyes. I also have a real passion for birds and have loved them since I was very young.

Day in a life of a National Park Ranger
11am: If it’s hot, we’ll have our tea break in the shade. In the summer, we adapt our day and timings depending on the heat and what we can tolerate.
1pm: We stop for lunch. Before I left home this morning, I packed my lunch and topped up my large Thermos water bottle. When you’re out on sites for work, you can’t guarantee there’ll be anywhere to go and buy lunch, so it’s important to be prepared.
National Park Ranger in the rain equipped with Columbia waterproof gear
4-4.30pm: We’ll drive back to the workshop to unload the tools, before finishing for the day and heading home. Although I’ll normally work from 8.30-4.30pm, things don’t always go to plan. I’ve had occasions where I’ve turned up to a site and had to start an hour later than hoped, because I had to chase sheep back into a field. You still have to make sure the work gets done, so you do need to be flexible in this role.

It’s important to have good communication skills too and nursing really helped provide me with those. Usually when you get complaints from members of the public, you have to come from a place of empathy to really understand where they’re coming from. It’s a lot more productive to have a conversation, rather than an argument.

When I get home, I have a little 10–15-minute wind down routine. I’ll immediately take off my hot, heavy work boots and go barefoot out into the garden with a glass of squash, where I’ll watch the bees buzzing around the flowers. I just love being outside and although I now work in nature, I don’t always get the time to sit back and watch. You can learn so much that way though.

11pm: I’ll get into bed with either a physical or audio book: either will get me straight to sleep. With this job, because you’re out and about a lot, I never really have a problem nodding off.