Here at Forest Holidays, there’s more to our Forest Rangers than meets the eye. We decided to dig a little deeper to find out what they get up to when they are not meeting guests.
If you have been on a Forest Holiday you will know that our Forest Rangers are a breed apart; bubbling over with enthusiasm, obsessed with nature and always on the go. It’s no surprise then, to discover that the most visible aspects of their work, activities such as Young Explorers and Night Vision, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the projects with which they are involved.
To shed some light on this hidden life, we asked David Read, Forest Ranger at Blackwood Forest, to reveal just 7 of the many other facets of his life and work:
1. For 24 days a year I’m on Scout camp.
I am a District Scout Commissioner and one of my jobs is to organise camps for the Scouts who wouldn't otherwise have one. I take the lead on the survival camp in the autumn, where Scouts camp for the weekend in shelters they make themselves. They cook all their own food, including fish they have gutted, over fires that they have to light without matches.
2. I count butterflies and bats.
I do voluntary butterfly transects (a transect is a path along which you count and record a particular species in their habitat). This is for HIWWT (Hampshire and Isle of White Wildlife Trust) and these surveys help keep a track on butterfly populations over time. I also help with surveys in Blackwood Forest – including a recent dormouse survey and installation of dormouse boxes, a survey of the bat population in the existing bat boxes and the installation of 60 new bat boxes, and a tree survey, looking for trees at risk. In short, if it lives in the forest, I have probably surveyed it!
3. I work for the Royal Family.
Sort of. I'm a DofE (Duke of Edinburgh) expedition assessor, and I assess youngsters for their bronze and silver expeditions awards. This is where I shadow groups doing 2 or 3 day camping expeditions to make sure they meet the conditions of the award. This means I'm also walking and camping for the weekend which, of course, I love.
4. I bring the countryside into school.
As a Forest Ranger running activities for guests, you could say it’s the other way round: I bring education into the forest. But as a local School Governor, which I have been for over 20 years, I have championed the development of a small meadow, woodland and pond in the school grounds for educational use. This brings learning alive – literally; and it helps the children to understand, respect and protect the natural world.
5. I roll up my sleeves and work on the land.
Whenever I get a spare moment, I'm working on reducing some of the dense birch growth in Blackwood Forest’s meadows. I've managed to clear and open up most of the meadow belonging to the old disused forester’s cottage near the Forest Retreat. This has encouraged a growth in the diversity of plants and animals and we’ve even found lizards for the first time. This part of my job is as satisfying in its way as the more outward facing things I do.
6. I play outside.
I own a canoe and a kayak, and spend a lot of my free time (I do have it) exploring the local rivers. I also like tree climbing and often climb great big trees for fun, using ropes.
7. I experiment.
You might think the natural life is as far removed from techno-gadgetry as it gets, but last year I led a project to evaluate the use of Google Glass in the forest, to see if it might be worth investing in. Guests were excited by the possibilities, particularly for taking videos and photos and for stargazing. All this, of course, was before Google decided to put the brakes on Google Glass! The important thing is being open to new ideas and in the long run I can see some real applications for this type of technology as part of the Forest Holidays experience.
You can meet David and find out more about his many interests at Blackwood Forest. His busy agenda fits around those all-important Forest Ranger activities, where you can learn bushcraft skills, look for signs of wildlife and gain an insight into the life of a magnificent Beech forest.