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12 Feb 2024

Junior Rangers at Nevis

Nevis Conservation Officer Rob Cochrane says the Junior Rangers programme is not just about learning about wild places - it's about empowerment.

Nevis Junior Rangers wood carving - Ellie Moore^ Wood carving: Learning the qualities of different woods, while also practising patience, fine motor skills and managing real-world risks. © Ellie Moore

At the John Muir Trust, we’re well known for our advocacy and outdoor learning work. We’re incredibly fortunate to have some exceptional people work with us, influencing the government to make nature-friendly policies, and helping thousands of people engage with nature conservation for the first time through the John Muir Award. We’re also well known for our stewardship of wild places. We care for eight of the UK's most spectacular wild places, carrying our exemplary land management, conserving and restoring fragile habitats while helping people to benefit from sustainable access to these special locations. That's where I come in.

In my work as Nevis Conservation Officer, I’m often found out on the hills around our Ben Nevis site working with volunteers to maintain our footpaths or carrying out habitat management to help nature thrive.

It’s not all practical work though. A key part of our mission is to help people connect with nature as well. Every second week, my role takes on a different hue as I guide a group of eight enthusiastic young people through the Junior Ranger programme. Delivered in partnership with Lochaber High School and supported by many other eNGOs in our area, the initiative is a fantastic way for us to engage with local young people in a structured way to provide them with the skills they need to enjoy the outdoors and to prepare them for a career in countryside management.

Nevis Junior Rangers pond surveying - Jenny Eyre^ Pond surveying: Opening our eyes to the natural wonders around us, and developing teamworking skills to achieve a shared goal. © Jenny Eyre

Our Junior Rangers are thriving in the programme, soaking up knowledge and experiences like sponges in a stream. From conducting nature surveys to mastering navigation techniques, honing bushcraft skills, and learning the importance of path maintenance and leave-no-trace principles, their enthusiasm knows no bounds!

One of the strengths of the programme lies in its structured approach, guided by the Scottish Countryside Ranger Association’s Junior Ranger Award. This framework provides clear objectives that are relevant to current trends in the sector, and flexibility to tailor activities to the group's interests and abilities. As a mentor, it makes programme planning a breeze, allowing me to focus on providing the best possible experience for the participants.

Nevis Junior Rangers -Rob Cochrane

^ Working together: Experiencing the benefits of exploring a wild place and enjoying each other's company. © Rob Cochrane

Beyond seeing their technical skills develop, I'm thrilled to witness the growth of social skills among our wee team. Through collaborative tasks and team-building exercises, they're developing leadership qualities and learning the value of effective teamwork—crucial skills in the world of conservation and beyond.

Looking ahead, we're gearing up for even more exciting challenges. From delving into deer management to participating in an experimental tree planting initiative and even attempting the monumental feat of climbing Ben Nevis, there's no shortage of adventures in store for the team!

Nevis Junior Rangers pathwork -Rob Cochrane^ Living the dream! Loving life in a cross drain, finding immense pride and satisfaction in a job well done, while seeing firsthand the benefits of working hard. © Rob Cochrane

The impact of the Junior Rangers programme extends far beyond the activities themselves. It serves as a gateway to countryside management, offering participants a head start should they choose to pursue a career in this field. Moreover, the skills acquired through the programme are invaluable in various workplace settings, providing a solid foundation for their futures.

Running the Junior Rangers programme is immensely rewarding, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any organisation looking to engage young people in a structured and meaningful way. The SCRA framework makes setting up a group easy, and the potential for integrating other awards like the John Muir Award or the Duke of Edinburgh Award adds even more value to the experience.

In conclusion, the Junior Rangers programme is not just about learning - it's about empowerment. It's about nurturing the next generation of conservationists and instilling in them the values of stewardship and environmental responsibility. Through their passion and dedication, these young individuals are shaping a future where wild places thrive for the benefit of all. And I couldn't be prouder to be a part of their journey.

Hand with flowers - David Lintern

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