For former nurse Sophie Brown, retraining to work as an assistant ranger within the UKโ€™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 Iโ€™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 weโ€™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 thereโ€™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 weโ€™ll get surveys done. This year my team worked on nightingale and lapwing surveys. Theyโ€™re both in serious decline and weโ€™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 hadnโ€™t spotted any nightingales and then I spotted a juvenile white-tailed eagle. Thereโ€™d been a reintroduction programme for them on the Isle of Wight and theyโ€™d been spotted around the wetland area we were surveying, but I still couldnโ€™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 itโ€™s hot, weโ€™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 youโ€™re out on sites for work, you canโ€™t guarantee thereโ€™ll be anywhere to go and buy lunch, so itโ€™s important to be prepared.
National Park Ranger in the rain equipped with Columbia waterproof gear
4-4.30pm: Weโ€™ll drive back to the workshop to unload the tools, before finishing for the day and heading home. Although Iโ€™ll normally work from 8.30-4.30pm, things donโ€™t always go to plan. Iโ€™ve had occasions where Iโ€™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.

Itโ€™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 theyโ€™re coming from. Itโ€™s a lot more productive to have a conversation, rather than an argument.

When I get home, I have a little 10โ€“15-minute wind down routine. Iโ€™ll immediately take off my hot, heavy work boots and go barefoot out into the garden with a glass of squash, where Iโ€™ll watch the bees buzzing around the flowers. I just love being outside and although I now work in nature, I donโ€™t always get the time to sit back and watch. You can learn so much that way though.

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