Associate feature: One Small Step
Scotland’s 2021 summer visitor season is now well underway. Gone are many of the international visitors that contributed significantly to our economy, replaced by a new “staycation” wave released from the restrictions of the health emergency.
This change in visitor profile presented many well-documented challenges to our rural communities and to our tourism infrastructure. Addressing these issues exercised our politicians and the agencies charged with managing the myriad aspects of the tourism sector
Two policy documents were published almost simultaneously in March 2021.
The first, Connecting people and places –a policy statement on rangering in Scotland set out a strategic context for the future of ranger services in Scotland. 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.
The overlap between these policy documents is significant, recognising the shortfall in current funding provision and also the role rangers have in promoting and protecting Scotland’s wonderful natural heritage.
These policy statements were further reflected in current party political manifesto commitments to engage more rangers towards tackling both the “staycation” issues which had blighted our countryside during 2020 and the longer-term needs generated by planned investments in tourism infrastructure and climate emergency actions.
During 2020/21, significant Scottish Government funding was made available through the Better Places - Green Recovery Fund. This was accessed by many agencies wishing to employ seasonal rangers as part of their response to visitor management issues they faced.
While many of these “new” seasonal ranger posts were recruited into an existing ranger service where training and appropriate line management support was available, there were a good number of new employers without that background.
The job these seasonal rangers are expected to do is a very demanding one. They are a front line service interacting between local communities and visitors, promoting the local natural heritage and protecting it at the same time, encouraging responsible behaviour and taking enforcement action when needed.
Meeting these conflicting demands takes skill, knowledge and experience which, in many cases, was rewarded by a 20-week contract.
The policy statement on rangering in Scotland recognised the long-established and key role rangers can play in supporting government objectives in health and well-being, learning, tourism and inclusive economic growth. This role is underpinned by our national network and the national identity shared by rangers across Scotland.
As a membership organisation, the Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association (SCRA), has long championed professional standards within our sector and promoted these standards not only in Scotland, but throughout the international ranger community.
Recruitment of these seasonal rangers is one small step towards restoring viable staffing levels following the decades-long decline in ranger numbers. Between 2008 and 2018 there had been a reduction in ranger posts of over 35% plus many seasonal posts deleted from establishment numbers, especially in local authorities.
However, SCRA believes it is vital in promoting the professional standards of our sector, that a percentage of these new posts should become permanent.
In order to attract and retain a suitable calibre of candidate, there must be a career structure in place which offers progression. The absence of such is now the norm.
The ideal of entry-level posts which nurture and bring forward the next generation of Scotland’s rangers is required to ensure a succession capable of building on the work and achievements of our current post holders.
Opportunities sporadically occur, for example through modern apprenticeships, but these are too few in number.
The visitor management strategy for Scotland sets out “…to develop a Scotland–wide strategic and co-ordinated approach to visitor management fit for the 2030 vision”
This should lead to a strategic approach to guide the annual recruitment of seasonal rangers in a way that addresses the visitor management issues but also secures the best possible outcome for the investment of public funding.
The presence of a permanent ranger, supported seasonally with new recruits, is a model which offers many benefits. In particular, the opportunity to maintain year-round community engagement, identifying and making plans with the community to tackle the different visitor management issues as they arise year on year.
Leading to an understanding of the needs and priorities of the community and managing a ranger service which recognises these in a way that retains the trust and support of both the local community and visitors to the area. Very difficult on a 20-week contract - unless you can hit the ground running with appropriate training and line management support to implement a ready prepared work programme.
As ably demonstrated through the 1970s and 80s, a well-managed and resourced local ranger service can change visitor behaviour for the better, a theme more recently revisited in the creation of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
The absence of rangers during lockdown coincided with a sharp rise in anti-social activity which was largely unchecked and spiralled into open hostility and a terrible loss of amenity.
Of the many hard lessons learned over the last 18 months, Scotland’s leaders must now build on the recognition that rangers have an important role in managing the interface between visitors, our parks, our scenic areas and designated landscapes.
Set in place a sustainable funding model for ranger posts allied to the long term strategy advanced by Visit Scotland and show confidence in the national network of rangers to deliver their key role in the green recovery plans.
This feature was sponsored by the Scottish Countryside Rangers Association.