Park rangers patrolling the forests around Vladivostok have different challenges to comrades in the Edale valley, observed Ted Talbot after a recent conversation with Russian ranger Dmitry Gorshkov of Sikhote-Alin reserve.
“They have leopards and Siberian tigers to look after, Dmitry told me, and then asked what sort of animals we have. ‘Badgers’, I said.”
To celebrate International Rangers Day, National Trust countryside manager Ted was telling rangers from his Peak District team about the contrasts and similarities of a ranger’s work around the world after his recent visit to the International Rangers Federation 8th World congress in Colorado.
“The issues for all of us are climate change, loss of habitat and biodiversity, inspiring the next generation, managing visitors, and the conflict between humans and wildlife,” he said, moving on to a picture of an Australian saltwater crocodile, and noting the ‘Be Crockwise’ initiative used by rangers in Northern Australia to encourage visitors not to get eaten by a six-metre-long reptile.
“It’s actually the same principle as our ‘Take the Lead’ campaign asking people to stop their dogs chasing sheep on the moors,” he said.
Former Peak District ranger Gordon Miller helped to found the International Rangers Federation 24 years ago, to support tens of thousands of his international colleagues on six continents, and to recognise their work to protect the world’s 6,600 national parks and nature reserves.
“You might get into arguments if people don’t like it when you’re asking them not to do something, but you very rarely experience violence in the Peak District,” said Gordon, now retired, although he still travels the world to help and advise his international ranger colleagues.
“But when you talk to African or Latin American or South East Asian rangers, you hear that many of them are actually working in a conflict zone, usually to do with commercial poaching.”
The latest ‘Roll of Honour’ from the IRF lists 107 rangers known to have been killed in the line of duty over the last year: park staff killed by bears, tigers and deer, rangers killed while firefighting in the USA and China, and more than 40 murdered by poachers, guerrilla groups and timber smugglers while trying to protect elephants, rhinos and ancient forests.
On visits to Africa, Gordon met widows of rangers left destitute after their husbands had been shot by poachers (sometimes linked to terrorist groups).
The IRF charity arm The Thin Green Line Foundation was set up to ‘protect nature’s protectors’ by giving financial support to rangers’ widows.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as buying a sewing machine or some cloth so the widow can support herself and her children,” said Gordon.
Rangers from the Peak District also handed over a collection of second-hand radio equipment: keeping in touch by radio helps rangers avoid ambushes from guerrillas or poachers, said trust ranger Chris Lockyer.
“In this country, you’re never having as tough a day as you think you’re having,” Chris said. “You might get stressed out when you’re putting in a bit of fencing on the moors, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing compared to the struggles people are having dealing with poachers.”
Gordon Miller pointed out how European rangers learn from the simple methods used by resourceful rangers in poorer parts of the world: planting bushes of chilli peppers deters spice-averse migrating elephants from storming through African villages, for example, and swards of tall tea plants around villages keep away marauding baboons, who like to see where they’re going.
“It really was inspiring and illuminating to know that there are people trying to do the same role as you, protecting our natural and cultural heritage in areas so far away,” said Chris.
Ted stressed the urgency of the rangers’ role at a time when changes to world climate and loss of species were affecting everyone, and said the lessons learned from rangers working in 62 countries were going to be very valuable to the Peak District and beyond.
“It’s exciting to save the world,” he said to his ranger team.
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