The National Trust has rangers all over the country who help to conserve our special outdoor places for wildlife and visitors. Here we talk to Craig McCoy National Trust Area Ranger for Morecambe Bay and Arnside and Silverdale about how his early years of being outdoors and collecting woodlice led him to a career in the countryside.
I’ve worked as a ranger for the National Trust for 13 ½ years now, 11 years at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland and 2 ½ years at Morecambe Bay. As a child I loved being outdoors and I loved nature.
Growing up in Northern Ireland I was lucky enough to spend most of the weekends on the beach, rockpooling, playing in the sand dunes or building dens in nearby woodland. I was one of those children who always had pockets full of ‘treasures’ – feathers, stones, shells or carefully looked after insects in match boxes.
I loved the freedom, being able to explore and discover things. My Mum just let me go out for the whole day on my own. She didn’t worry but I know she just kept half an eye on where I was or what I was doing.
You could say my childhood led me to where I am today. I went on to study Ecology and Environmental Management at college and was attracted to the National Trust by the fantastic variety of important wildlife habitats it looks after.
Of course now my job as ranger is so varied and a constant juggling challenge. Not only are we protecting and enhancing the wildlife and landscape value of our sites but we are also trying to encourage public access and recreation, while supporting tenant farmers with their agricultural businesses.
These different agendas will often create conflicts of interest, so the challenge is to find a way to compromise and achieve positive outcomes for everyone and be flexible.
Day to day you need to be flexible too. Just one phone call can change your plans. You might be heading out to lead a volunteer group when you find out a tree has blown over and blocked a path or a neighbour says they have livestock in their garden!
There must be very few jobs though that allow you to spend time in such amazing parts of the countryside. It feels such a privilege not only to visit them but to actually have an influence on their management. Just walking around and seeing the seasons develop and how things are responding to the work you’ve done is an amazing feeling – spotting a butterfly using a woodland ride that you’ve opened up. You just can’t beat it.
My ultimate favourite times are our Wednesday volunteer work parties. Seeing our volunteers who give up their own time and knowledge and expertise to come and help us on our sites. Come rain or shine they will turn up in good spirits and the camaraderie is amazing. We achieve so much with them.
To try to choose a favourite amongst all our wonderful sites is difficult. Our Special Places certainly are very special and each one has its own special character. At the end of a busy day though it’s hard to beat the feeling of tranquillity while sitting on the cliff top of Jack Scout, watching the sunset over Morecambe Bay and listening to the far off cries of curlews on the sands below.