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by George Potts, Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association
01 February 2022
Associate Feature: Is there a case for a national ranger service?

Associate Feature: Is there a case for a national ranger service?

It may come as something of a surprise to many that we don’t already have a national Ranger Service. The current model promoted by the Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association (SCRA), as a membership association, is a national network of services and the use of the nationally recognised Ranger logo.

This has successfully underpinned a unity of purpose and helped maintain professional standards since the first Rangers were appointed following the use of powers enshrined in the Countryside (Scotland) Act of 1967. The national network is maintained through training events, the sharing of best practice and the activities of the Ranger Development Partnership whose members include representatives of the two national parks and other major employers.

At a national level SCRA’s recent (July 2021) telephone survey of Ranger Services identified 428 Rangers working in 158 services. This also revealed weaknesses and vulnerabilities, particularly in the funding arrangements which had led to a marked decline in Ranger numbers, and the loss of some 40 per cent of the workforce between 2008 and 2018, (SCRA, 2018), the majority of which had been employed by local authorities.

The “staycation” challenges of the last two years then highlighted this significant shortfall in Scotland’s Ranger capacity. These challenges required considerable investment of government monies from the Green Recovery - Better Places fund and the appointment of some 75 seasonal Ranger posts.

Early assessment of the impact of this increase in Ranger numbers has been favourable and well received by communities across Scotland.  This situation also sparked new life into a long-standing debate on the case for a national Ranger Service.

Two strategic documents published in 2021 mirror the issues behind this debate

The first, Connecting people and places –a policy statement on rangering in Scotland, developed by Nature Scot and endorsed by the Ranger Development Partnership and COSLA which sets out a strategic context for the future of Ranger Services in Scotland. This strategy strongly recommends developing the benefits of our current model but recognising the need, in particular, for a sustainable funding model to be put in place. As a signatory to this strategy, SCRA is firmly behind its aims and aspirations.

The second, a Visitor Management Strategy, led by Visit Scotland with a 2030 vision for Scotland’s visitor infrastructure, allied to a key commitment to “review and enhance the rangering workforce”. Any review in support of a visitor management strategy must ask if we would be better served by the creation of a national Ranger Service. For example, could it provide an adaptive and strategic approach to service delivery targeting Rangers at areas of greater need in response to visitor challenges?

SCRA believes there are significant pitfalls in any move to create a national Ranger Service. The resultant “one size fits all” model would most certainly detract from the strengths local delivery offers. This diversity promotes innovative thinking and approaches that have kept Scotland’s Rangers to the fore on the international scene and allowed an evolution that has kept the profession relevant in the modern age.

Local stewardship is crucial in building community relations and it is the common experience of Scotland’s Rangers that extending this beyond a district level substantially dilutes the positive impact local delivery achieves.

The management structure required to oversee a national Ranger Service is fraught with many challenges, not least the mountain top to city greenspace and rural to marine remits that Scotland’s geography affords. 

One remaining element is key wherever the national Ranger Service debate ends up – a national Ranger training programme. Accepting, albeit reluctantly, that a significant seasonal intake of Rangers is the current approach, then it becomes absolutely vital that appropriate training is provided.

Visitors to our countryside and parks are entitled to expect a level of professionalism when encountering a Ranger. These visitors should also expect that the Ranger’s role in promoting and protecting our natural heritage is one carried out in line with an informed approach.

Where enforcement actions are required, for example in relation to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, a consistency of approach is vital from area to area and not subject to the vagaries of local interpretation. This is best achieved through a standard of national training for a seasonal intake.

A national Ranger training course and a sustainable funding model to support the sector, that should be the focus of our efforts at both a political and professional level and allow the many capable and committed Rangers across Scotland to continue to tackle the national priorities in biodiversity, climate change mitigation and visitor management.

George Potts is chair of the Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association.

This article was sponsored by the Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association.

 

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