Two weeks in the life as a Ranger

How time flies! For the past 2 weeks I have been on a work experience placement with the Hampshire County Council’s Countryside Service. I’ve mainly been with the coastal team who manage about 20 sites from Hayling Island to Southampton, but have also spent some time with the ranger team that manage Manor Farm Country Park, and on Monday I move over to Titchfield Haven to spend a further 3 weeks with another ranger team.

I’ve definitely learnt a lot about working in the land management side of conservation, and had an interesting insight into what it’s like to work for the County Council. I’ve also learnt a lot more about managing reserves and the grant schemes such as the High Level Stewardship – where you get a certain amount of money to fund particular tasks on your land – as well as discovering other things I should now go and learn or extra qualifications to gain, such as developing my ID skills especially plants and other non bird species, and getting tickets (licence) to use various bits of machinery.

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) - the rangers were very helpful and pointed out various plant species that I'll try to remember!

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) – the rangers were very helpful and pointed out various plant species that I’ll try to remember! I was told one way to distinguish this from other umbellifers is that the centre flower is a pink-y red colour.

So, my first day (4th) was spent with the senior ranger, Pete. I was introduced to the depot at Manor Farm Country Park (where the Manor Farm rangers, the coastal team rangers and one section of TVC are based) and shown some of the machinery and equipment. We then headed off to meet one of the contractors to discuss plans and visit various sites, so I had a whistle stop tour of a few of the 20 sites. It was an interesting day, and I enjoyed seeing the reserves we visited. As most of the plans discussed with the contractor involved plants – particularly wild flower meadows – I realised that knowing your plant species would definitely be a useful skill. 

Tuesday (5th) was spent with Carly, one of the rangers, and the “Friends of Westwood” volunteers. It was only a half day’s session this week, and the task was pulling Ragwort from the areas due to be cut for hay or foraged. After lunch I joined Duncan, one of Manor Farm’s rangers, and volunteers at Manor Farm to litter pick and add more wood and ragwort to the bonfire – it’s a good (and carbon neutral) way to dispose of ragwort and definitely prevents livestock from consuming it!

Wednesday (6th) was another meeting. This time Pete and I went to Havant to discuss the Hayling Island Billy Line. I’d heard about this project while I was volunteering with the RSPB so it was great to go along to the meeting and find out much more. It sounds like an exciting project, and people are already enjoying the path that has been laid so far. After lunch, we headed over to the Hayling Island Oysterbeds with a few of the people who were at the meeting to look at the top end of the path, and see the damage caused by the winter storms – the seawall is definitely in need of repair!  

Thursday (7th) was spent with Martin, the assistant ranger, and some of the volunteers on Hayling Island. We returned to the Hayling Island Billy Line to litter pick and pull more ragwort, before going to another site to collect left over fence posts.

On Friday (8th) I was given the opportunity to attend a meeting about Brent Geese and wading birds around the Solent, which was interesting and I look forward to hearing about further developments. There has been research into the areas of the Solent used by birds in the past, and there are plans to continue ‘Goosewatch’ – can’t say much more, but I look forward to hearing more!

My second week was similar. On Monday (11th) I went with Carly to several of the sites to check for, and remove the last few bits of Common Ragwort. One of the places we visited was Hackett’s Marsh, a private reserve not open to the public. It was lovely to get a chance to see it and admire the view of the Hamble. I’d always wondered what the marsh I passed on the train between Southampton and Swanwick was, and now I know as Hackett’s Marsh is it! What makes this marsh even more special is the number of scarce and rare – including nationally rare species. 

We arrived back at the depot just before the heaviest rain of the day fell, and while sheltering there found a beetle that was also taking shelter. It turned out to be a Violet Ground Beetle which was a lovely colour. 

Violet Ground Beetle

Violet Ground Beetle

Violet Ground Beetle

Violet Ground Beetle

Tuesday meant returning to Westwood with the volunteer group. We finished off removing Ragwort from the sections due to be cut for hay or foraged, cleared a path by the bridge in the woodland so it can be repaired and cut back the brambles by one of the entrances – not bad for one days work with a small group of volunteers!  Wednesday (13th) was another volunteer day, this time with volunteers from Chichester. We went to Sandy Point, a nature reserve in south Hayling to do – yes you’ve guessed it! More ragwort pulling! Can’t be much Common Ragwort left after this!

On my final day (14th), Martin and I headed to the Kench on Hayling Island to finish installing a kissing gate – something I’d never done before. The gate had been installed by volunteers at the weekend, but we had to build the box part of it. It took us most of the day, but thankfully we finished it before the rain reached the island.

Kench kissing gate

Work in progress

It was nice to remind myself of skills I’d learnt previously (such as installing fence posts) as well as learning new skills and facts.  

The finished gate!

The finished gate!

There wasn’t much time to do any birding during the 2 weeks, I still saw some birds especially on the days when I visited the Hayling Island Oysterbeds. Being at the Oysterbeds also gave us the chance to do a quick spot of birding, particularly as Chris was there, as always, with his scope set up to monitor the Gull and Tern colony. There are now 2 Common Tern chicks on the Oysterbed islands, that will hopefully survive in what seems to have been a bad year for these terns. They even survived the weekend despite the high tide reaching 5.6m! (And this almost submerged the island!). At high tide, waders are now also on the islands – DunlinRinged Plovers, Turnstones, Oystercatchers as well as a Knot have all been seen there. I also spotted a few Little Terns when making the kissing gate, which pleased me. They arrived at high tide and were fishing very close to the shore.

I apologise for the lack of photos… I shall try to remember to take more at Titchfield Haven!

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