In August of 2014 I visited Hallingskarvet National Park in Norway. It is a country that has always fascinated me, both through its rich history and through its rugged and untamed wild places. As I have become more involved with the work done by rangers, and now as an apprentice ranger, I have come to realise and appreciate that it is a vitally important job, not only in Britain where I work, but internationally.
To me it has been important for some time now to try visit and see firsthand the work done by rangers in other parts of the world. So I got in touch with various organisations in an attempt to make contact with a ranger who worked in Norway, and was put in touch with Petter Braaten, senior ranger at Hallingskarvet.
I was privileged to join Petter for a ‘ride along’ day, to learn from him and to see, if only for a few hours, the work of a ranger in Norway to add to my understanding of the job back home. I quickly began to realise that although our parks where miles apart, and visually very different, the role of a ranger was almost identical.
I met Petter at 8am, and we drove through a large area of the national park; a vast expanse of dynamic scenery, rivers, mountains, fields and even a glacier! Dumbstruck by the enormity of the park, it wasn’t long until Petter pointed out a familiar hovering bird of prey - a kestrel! It was some time until we reached the mountain that we would be walking.
The task was to help complete a trail by putting up way marks so as to guide walkers safely up and over the mountain, a task we undertake at Queen Elizabeth Country Park on our trails. An issue in Hallingskarvet was the encroachment of hunting cabins further into the park, something the authorities are working to control. But it wasn’t long until it dawned on me that although some of the attitudes of the public differed between the two parks (from what I understood Norwegians in the area had a much more tactile, hands-on outlook towards nature; through pursuits such as hunting and fishing and also a great respect for the environment itself) that the role of the ranger was very much the same: protecting wildlife.
Petter told me he regularly took school children for guided walks around the National Park, telling them about the rich tapestry of plants and animals which make up the surrounding environment. Much the same as QE Country Park, these talks often highlight the importance of wildlife. Engaging with communities seems to be a universal form of conservation. I was also fascinated by the quiet, calm way in which he spoke whilst showing me how he engages with young school children. As an apprentice I am always trying to learn from experienced rangers how they convey and communicate with an audience and it was a great learning experience to see a slightly different take on such techniques. However, although there were personal tweaks and touches when Petter spoke, the underlying purpose was the same as when guided walks happen in QE; to engage people.
Something Petter was keen to tell my about was the snow fox (Vulpes lagopus) reintroduction taking place in the Park. It was based mainly within the highest point of the park, a mountain village called Finse. This involved a breeding and a releasing programme in the mountains, with feeding stations mounted with motion-sensitive cameras to monitor the progress and condition of the foxes. I am happy to say that this programme has been a triumph and has successfully resulted in the re-introduction of snow foxes to the area.
I went to Norway in order to try to learn more about the work of rangers in other countries. It became clear to me that a ranger is a very important part of any community; often acting as the bridge between the specialist and the layman. Helping get the community involved in conservation seems to me to be one the, if not the, most important part of active, progressive, and successful conservation.
I am very grateful to Petter for being willing to give up some of his time to help me, an aspiring ranger, learn more about such an important job. I’m also exceptionally lucky to be part of a team from QE Country Park to visit Uganda in the summer, something I am ecstatically excited about. Not only is it a part of the world I have always wanted to see, but it will also present the unique opportunity to learn from Ugandan rangers about how they deal with the daily challenges of running and working within their parks.