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Saturday, 01 November 2014

Youngsters learn to do their bit for the future of the Lakes

WITH the rain slanting in diagonally and low clouds obscuring Windermere below, the weather couldn’t have been more appropriate for an authentic Lake District experience.

And the tasks lined up for the teenagers were designed to give them a sense of what being a National Park Ranger entails.

The Gortex boots of a Lake District National Park Ranger are big shoes to fill but the first taster day, held earlier this week, gave the teens a chance to sample one of the most sought after jobs in the country.

Anyone between the ages of 14 and 19 now has the opportunity to become one of the new Lake District Young Rangers, helping with a variety of construction and environmental tasks in the national park.

This could be anything from volunteering on the Osprey Project, communicating the work of the rangers or helping to preserve the distinctive landscape.

But before venturing into the 885 square miles that make up England’s largest national park, there were some essential skills to be acquired.

Picking up one of several pairs of shears 14-year-old Arran Chambers, from the Lyth Valley, starts hacking at the weeds threatening to engulf the pond.

“All you’re doing is cutting it down as low to the ground as you can get,” encouraged Sue Preston-Jones, the gardener at Brockhole, before explaining to the group the reason for doing this.

“What we need to do it cut down the vegetation because it helps reduce down the number of species you don’t want.

“We don’t want the docks coming in and don’t want the soil becoming too fertile so we’re piling up the vegetation because over the winter little beasties like mice, rats and hedgehogs will move in there.

“So what you’ve got are some shears and kneelers and a selection of gloves and this stuff needs to be collected together and added to that pile.

“It’s good to get as much vegetation up as we can so it’s a nice, fresh start for next year.”

In promoting the Young Ranger service national park learning co-ordinator Anne Blackburn said she was looking for youngsters with bags of enthusiasm and the group had that in spades.

Edward Pike, 16, of Kirkby Lonsdale, said: “I’m hoping to have fun and learn how stuff gets done. I would quite like to do the Fix the Fells. It’s something I’m interested in.”

As for what he thinks the responsibilities of a Young Ranger are, he said: “I think we might be picking rogue plants from the side of rivers. If we don’t look after it (the national park), even in 10 years it won’t be nice and this is an opportunity for this generation to give something back.”

The Young Ranger service has been established to teach youngsters about the national park and to encourage them to put something back through practical tasks to improve the landscape.

In recognition of their achievements the youngsters will have the opportunity to receive a John Muir Award.

Anne added: “We hope to get some volunteering hours out of young people.

“We have a fantastic and strong volunteer service but we haven’t got any under-18s involved.

“It’s to get some input from them into managing the park. It’s for them to act as ambassadors and to tell people about it.”

The county is well represented in the group, with youngsters travelling to the event from all over the county, and one from Lancashire, with the aim of meeting up once a month over the next year.

Volunteer Young Ranger leader, Ruth Kirk, added: “It’s giving them a whole new skill set and developing existing skills and giving them confidence and practical skills to put on their CV – and they’re pioneers because it’s not been done here before.”

Explaining his incentive for getting involved Blake Martin, 16, a sixth form student from Haverigg, said: “I’d like to learn more about the Lake District. The sixth form head told me about this because he thought I’d be interested.”

James Firth, 14, from Braithwaite is the son of a vet and hopes there will be an opportunity to work with animals.

“When I was younger I helped my dad with the animals and I looked after badgers and slowworms and hedgehogs.

“I’d be interested in working with the Osprey Project.”

A common interest among the group is a love for the outdoors.

Some of the youngsters, including 16-year-old George Coldham, from Wigton, are working towards Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

George, who attended the event with his 14-year-old sister Katie said: “I spend a lot of time in the Lake District and I’m curious about the whole thing.”

Beth Dutson, 16, from Shap, added: “I’ve always been interested in the fells and enjoy fell running and walking so I thought it would be nice to spend more time doing practical things outside.

“I run with Helm Hill. I know the National Park quite well but I don’t know everywhere. I’m looking forward to trying dry stone walling and Fix the Fells.”

The teens involved also got the chance to try orienteering, pond restoration and as the scheme progresses they will have the opportunity to be part of archeological digs at Ambleside.

But for the time being Anne added: “They’ve learnt a bit about the National Park and they’ve learnt a bit about what they can get involved in.

“And they’ve been doing some restoration work at the pond so it’s been a real taste of getting wet.”

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