Monday, May 11, 2009

IT HAS BEEN SIX WEEKS SINCE I arrived to work as a seasonal Ranger at Culzean Country Park (for those of you who may not know Culzean is pronounced cull-ane). I had all these great plans to write every day about my experiences here; maybe some poetry; keep my blog up to date – nah – just didn’t happen. First of all, there was so much to do and so much to learn about the job. This is a huge place with lots of daily practical duties for Rangers to do, like patrolling, moving stuff around the park, setting up for events, opening up and closing the public facilities every day, cleaning toilets and, my pet hate, picking up all of the rubbish that some folk can’t be bothered taking away or putting in the bins. When we are out and about we have to always carry a bag and a litter stick to pick up plastic bottles that some ignoramus has dropped at their arse or tossed out of a car window – thankfully, in the park, this is not an overwhelming occurrence, however, on the beaches … ? It seems that what attracts some people here is the very same thing they feel free to spoil for other folk.
We go out on patrol every day and check all the different areas of the park including the shore; usually we are given a different area to check each time. This is the most difficult task of the whole job, having to walk through this most beautiful of places on your own for a couple of hours listening to what birds are nesting where, looking for herons’ nests, checking the fence is unbroken on the deer park, or for fallen trees or branches likely to cause problems, or checking if pathways need repaired – I get paid to do that. I remember my primary school teacher telling my mum: “Joe is quite intelligent, but get distracted easily and he can be a wee bit slow to catch up, but he always gets there in the end”. It has only taken me forty-bloody-years to finally find a real and worthwhile job. Boy, Miss Prior wasn’t kidding was she?
The physical work as a Ranger can be quite heavy at times. I am in my fifties now and having spent the last twenty-odd years behind a desk has left me a bit flabby and unfit. As it is, I have lost a fair bit of weight these last few weeks and I do feel fitter every day, but it has been very tiring sometimes and that is the main reason my plans to write have gone to the wall.
I mentioned the learning we need to do; this is because one of the main elements of the job here is taking groups on educational walks. This means learning how to deal with different groups and how to deliver the walks and talks effectively. I have much knowledge and understanding of how natural systems work and how they relate to each other in the greater biome, but I do have gaps in my knowledge when it comes to identifying some of the individual creatures that we come across in the Park, and Culzean has a rich biological diversity. The Park is, therefore, a great place for me to further my own learning. Most of what we need to know is to hand and there is plenty of support from the permanent Rangers who are an excellent and knowledgeable bunch.
Working with the groups here at Culzean is not the same as being in a class with a group of university students, the dynamic is very different. When out with a group it is in an open classroom, there is so much more going on around the group and you have to use different skills to keep the focus on what you are trying to get across. In general, I think the kids love the freedom of the open green spaces – it is also a change from their normal enclosed classroom activities and they respond to that, mostly positively. I suppose I should make a request that all schools participate in such outdoor learning practices. Even in cities there are parks and local green spaces that could be used. Most Councils have Ranger Services, maybe they could be used more in local educational walks – lots of schools now have wildlife gardens and those who don’t should think seriously about creating one..
Culzean has two environmental education groups of their own, the Young Naturalist Club (6-11) and the E.C.Os (12-16). There are about 80-90 local kids combined and they are all enthusiastic and keen to learn while having fun. The E.C.Os do a lot of volunteering in the Park and help with some of the work that requires a lot of hands – they are invaluable to the Park.
Mid-April to Mid-June there are the primary and secondary school groups who come to Culzean for educational walks and talks. There are a lot of these every week and many different walks to learn (I have seven of these walks to do between Wednesday and Friday this week). We need to deliver the walks in a way that keeps young people interested and at the same time add extra knowledge and understanding to their school learning. Some of the walks consist of: mini-beast hunts in the woodland, pond dipping for younger children and pond ecology for older ones; general woodland walks for primaries to search and identify, and more advanced woodland ecology walks with practical work for secondary schools. There are some great sandy beaches and rocky shoreline here at Culzean. Rock-pooling is very popular among all age groups and the pools at Culzean are rich in marine life. Most times we can catch a selection of different species of starfish (we have three different types here); shore crabs; velvet crabs; hermit crabs; goby fish, butterfish; leafworms; bootlace worms; pipefish (related to sea horses); urchins; sea hares and slugs; sea anemones, shrimps; prawns. We don’t take the very young children onto the rocky shore, just on the flat sandy beach and do shells, stones and seaweeds; maybe play the seagull game and, or, read them the Lizzie the Limpet story. I finished off the Limpet story last week by asking the children: “now, what does Lizzie need to watch out for?”
No reply.
“Could it be the tide?” I asked, hopefully, pointing to the sea.
“What’s the tide?” asked a six year old.
Jimmy Cliff’s excellent reggae song: there are more questions than answers, sprang right to mind.
Oh well, it is taxing, but very enjoyable work here at Culzean Country Park.

Speak again soon.

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