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8 Feb 2024

Junior Rangers at Quinag

Quinag Conservation Officer Kat Martin reflects on the importance of offering young people opportunities to engage with wild places.

Quinag Junior Rangers tree id - Katrina Martin^ Junior Rangers take a break from learning about geology and identifying trees at Quinag.

When I came across the advertised position of Conservation Officer for the John Muir Trust's site at Quinag in autumn 2022, a core responsibility that caught my interest was coordinating the Junior Ranger programme that the Trust runs in partnership with Ullapool High School. I’m now over a year into the role and it is one of the most rewarding parts of my vocation.

It goes without saying that the importance of offering young people opportunities to engage with the natural world around us is paramount if we are going to protect our ecological home long term, through nurturing a sense of custodianship that is carried into future generations.

What I particularly love about the Junior Ranger programme is that it spans the academic year with fortnightly sessions during term time. This means that we have the privilege of taking a group of S3s on a journey through various facets of the conservation and environmental sector in context of their home area and relatable to their lives. We achieve this by partnering with a variety of local individuals and organisations working in the sector who share their passion and expertise with us.

To date, activities have included bushcraft skills and conservation management of rhododendron with West Edge (an off-grid smallholding that promotes low impact living, in tune with nature), visitor engagement with the Highlife Highland Access Ranger service and Corrieshalloch Gorge Rangers, loch and river monitoring with West Sutherland Fisheries Trust, tree planting at Little Assynt Tree Nursery, crofting with Middleton Croft in Elphin, deer management with a local stalker and learning about geology with the North West Highlands Geopark. The group also attend sessions focused on navigation and identification skills. As well as working towards their Junior Ranger Award, the young people achieve John Muir Awards at Explorer Level, First Aid at Work certificates and work towards their Highlife Highland Green Leader Award.

Being involved in all these activities, the S3s learn about the environment and how to protect wild places, gain valuable skills and get a taster of what it might be like to work in the conservation and environmental sector. Regardless of whether they actively choose a related vocation or not, they leave the programme more aware of various environmental issues and an understanding of different approaches, which is equally important in our advocacy for the wellbeing of the natural world and our dedication toward protecting wild places for all.

I personally get so much out of my time with the Junior Rangers: a sense of purpose, motivation, laughter, joy, a reminder to be playful and curious, and watching a group of people learn and grow together while connecting with nature. I leave every session with a buzz, and the camaraderie that develops with time, as group bonds strengthen, is a real privilege to witness. Having said goodbye to one group already, and being half way through the programme with the current Junior Rangers, it is heartening be a part of, and gives me hope for the future.

Hand and flowers - David Lintern

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