Junior Rangers – fun in the forest
The positive work of the Cairngorms National Park Junior Ranger Project was recognised recently by being chosen as one of the finalists in the Helping it Happen Awards 2023 in the Education Award category, the winners of which will be announced in October. The Cairngorms Junior Rangers are a group of inspirational young people living in the area who are a huge asset to the National Park. They take part in a huge range of exciting activities – here is an update on one of their weekend meetups, held recently near Nethy Bridge.
In June this year, 25 Junior Rangers from the Cairngorms National Park Junior Ranger Project came to Forest Lodge in Nethy Bridge for a thought-provoking session delivered by RSPB and Bumblebee Conservation Trust. We asked some of the Nethy Bridge-based Rangers and Junior Rangers about the project and what they got up to.
The Cairngorms National Park Junior Ranger Project is an exciting, fun and adventurous outdoor learning programme for young people aged 11–18. The project coordinates annual five-day Junior Ranger discovery weeks with six high schools in the Cairngorms National Park catchment area, including Grantown Grammar, Kingussie High and Speyside High. For local young people keen on getting out into nature, there are also monthly meetups at the weekend for anyone aged 11-18. It is free of charge to participants and is delivered all over the Cairngorms National Park, allowing local young people to get out and explore different areas.
“The Junior Ranger Project is a great experience for me and lots of my friends do it. We do lots of outdoor activities which are very good for learning new skills and having fun. I want to get a job in the outdoors, so this is really good experience.”
Freya Elstone, 13, Junior Ranger
Monthly sessions are extremely varied and could be anything from helping with path maintenance on estates, biological recording, practical conservation activities or hikes through nature. At Abernethy, the Junior Rangers took part in kick sampling, where participants wade into the river to survey the creatures living in the riverbed. Annie Ives from Bumblebee Conservation Trust also led a great session involving catching, identifying and releasing bumblebees with nets. The Junior Rangers are a small but important part of the monitoring work that helps with ongoing biological recording of the site.
“My favourite bit of Junior Rangers is the camps that we do once a year. Last year we went to Mar Lodge and camped in the grounds. We hiked up a Munro, which was hard at first but it got easier at the end.”
Ruaridh Trussel, 14, Junior Ranger
The RSPB is one of over 30 fantastic partners who give up their time to run sessions in the project.
“It has been fantastic to be involved in the Junior Ranger programme and hear from the young people about the different experiences they have had through this project. Having grown up in Nethy, I was always aware of how special this area is and I am delighted that I have found a path back to work towards the conservation of Abernethy. If the Junior Ranger Project had been on offer when I was growing up here, I am certain I would have gained a lot from the vast array of experiences that are on offer.
“The Junior Rangers project provides such a wealth of opportunities for young people to gain insight into different avenues for their future ventures in life; whether these are hobbies which bring them a deeper connection to the natural world or in pursuing careers in the conservation and management of the environment.” Kirsty Pollard, RSPB Forest Ranger (Abernethy)
While the Cairngorms National Park Authority pays for some of the Junior Ranger equipment and resources, young people in the programme are also encouraged to take an active role in grant applications and are involved in decisions on what that money is spent on. Last year, the Junior Rangers successfully applied for separate funds for sets of binoculars and a wood carving workshop with local carver Wooden Tom.
Looking to the future, the Junior Ranger Project will always help any young person with an interest in employment in outdoor, practical or environmental jobs.