Our Forest Rangers are central to the Forest Holidays experience, but what makes them tick? This month we talk to Charlie, the Forest Ranger at Thorpe Forest.
When our latest location, Thorpe Forest, opened in May, Charlie was one of our newest recruits. In 3 short months she has made such an impact that we decided to put her under the spotlight. We asked her a few questions – and uncovered a surprisingly mischievous side to her character:
What did you do before coming to Thorpe Forest?
After a sports science degree, I worked for an outdoor centre in Wales, leading activities for groups of children and adults. Then I spent some time as a teacher, but had slightly missed the point that most classes take place indoors and that is not my natural environment. Now my classroom is the forest.
What activities do you run as a Forest Ranger?
We have all the Forest Holidays favourites such as Young Explorers, Night Vision, the Twilight Walk and Bushcraft skills. I have a couple of my own inventions too; my favourite is “Edible (or Deadible)?” where we look at what you can eat from the forest and what is poisonous.
What’s your favourite activity?
I love Young Explorers, when we do pond dipping, Gruffalo trails, nature crafts and all sorts of other fun things. It’s wonderful seeing how children react so naturally to the forest. Just as satisfying is the parents’ reaction; they are often amazed at what their children know and the inspired questions they ask.
What do you do when it rains?
The same things we do when it’s sunny; plus, we wear wellies and jump in puddles. Having worked at an outdoor centre in the Welsh mountains, where rain is pretty much a daily event, I barely notice it. We live in Great Britain, you have to embrace the weather and get on with your life.
What’s your favourite season?
It has to be autumn – the colours, blackberries and conkers, animals scurrying about collecting their winter store. I am particularly looking forward to this autumn to witness the deer rut and annual migration – we are right in their path. I will live onsite I think, just to make sure I don’t miss it.
Why Thorpe Forest for you?
I am a local girl and I love this area. We are in the Breckland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA) which means we have rare species including nightjars and woodlark. We are also on Peddars Way, which is a national trail across Norfolk. Within an hour’s drive, there’s the Norfolk Broads, the seaside towns, beautiful Bury St. Edmunds and just so much to see and do.
What’s your favourite part of being a Forest Ranger?
I learn new things all the time – and have such a laugh too. The guests are always teaching me things or asking questions that I need to look up the answers to. And I shouldn’t laugh but when you see a grown man squealing at the sight of a moth or the lady who jumped into my lap when we heard a deer bark, it is so funny. Once they get over their initial fears they think it’s funny too. Honest.
What’s your favourite animal?
I love badgers. I think if I were an animal I would be a badger. They are very sociable and very clean – just like me! Most people don’t know this but they change their bedding almost every day.
Why do you think the outdoors is so important to you?
My dad has been my biggest influence. We used to go for walks and picnics in this area and he would tell me the names of the plants and animals. Looking back, he taught me so much and, as a child, I just soaked it all up.
Have you ever slept out under the stars?
Oh yes, many times. It’s such an experience. I once climbed Cader Idris in Wales and watched the sun go down, then woke in the morning as it was rising over the mountains. It’s pure - just you and nature.
Can you build a den?
We’re building one today on the bush skills course. I get the guests to think about positioning, the best materials and stability, and then, once the den is built, they sit inside and I pour a bottle of water over the roof to see just how watertight they have made it. I have soaked a few guests!
What’s been your best moment so far?
We saw a badger! I was out with a couple of guests on Night Vision. We knew there was a sett but it was great seeing the badger close up. Through the night vision glasses it looked so close that we all ran off at one point – sometimes my professional mask slips….
And finally, what motivates you to come to work every day?
I found a quote many years ago and I keep it on my wall because it sums up everything I feel about the jobs I have had:
“Must we always teach our children with books. Let them look at the stars and the mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
Davis Polis, Naturalist