A day in the life of a Ranger in Aberdeenshire
Jackie Cumberbirch is a Ranger for Forest Enterprise Scotland, based in Moray & Aberdeenshire Forest District.
What does being a Ranger involve?
“It’s my job to assess what wildlife is present in Clashindarroch forest and woods in north and central Aberdeenshire before forestry work such as cutting trees (providing wood and timber for use in our daily lives), road construction and tree planting starts. I carry out surveys and, if required, make plans that will schedule forestry work to minimise impact or if necessary stop forestry work from impacting on protected animals or plants.”
How far in advance do you plan the work?
“Most of our forestry work is planned a year in advance. That means I have time to gather wildlife information about a work site from local biological databases and from any groups or individuals that have any wildlife records. This collaborative work helps us to manage the forest to sustain and build up wildlife populations.
“For example, I get a lot of help from the team at the Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) project, who often accompany me on site visits, inform me of their records and show me how best to interpret them on the ground. Likewise, over the last few years, members of the North East Raptor Group have helped us to understand how raptors use the forest so that we can find and protect nests.”
How do you carry out the surveys?
“I take an initial survey in the spring and summer. For example, I look on the forest floor for rare plants, badger setts, droppings, feeding signs and any archaeological remains. I also look up and around at dead and living trees for active nests or squirrel dreys, trying to build up a picture of what wildlife is using the forest. We might also use camera traps and get additional advice and support from proactive wildlife groups
“Based on the findings, animal breeding cycles, weather and soil conditions and so on, I advise my forest operations colleagues on work plans and when operations should occur to minimise any impact on the wildlife present.
“A second site survey is carried out just before any work, usually 4 – 6 weeks before the work starts. The law protects some wild animals from disturbance or harassment, and from disturbance of their breeding sites or resting places. It is also against the law to pick some plants or to damage certain archaeological features, so developing a work plan can be a very complicated process."
What do you do if the survey shows wildlife present?
"We reschedule the work if necessary or mark off the restricted areas using tape. Most forest harvesting machines have a computer map systems within the cabs which when in a restricted area set off an alarm to warn the operator.
“In the Clashindarroch this year we delayed work due to a goshawk nest and wildcat activity.
“We also train operators to make sure they are vigilant for wildlife as it is all our responsibility to protect wildlife. Working with Scottish Wildcat Action, we distribute ‘Wildcat Den Awareness’ leaflets to all forestry contractors and hauliers working in the area so that everybody is vigilant for wildcats – and not just in the forest. Ongoing research undertaken by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of Oxford University, and part-funded by FES, has revealed that GPS-collared wildcats use both Clashindarroch forest and the surrounding farmland and that they can use small piles of branches and buildings within the forest for dens."
What changes have you seen in forestry management over the years?
“Clashindarroch forest is huge – almost as big as Aberdeen itself – and we’ve been managing it since the late 1920’s. Originally created as a commercial plantation to provide timber for local sawmills, conifers were planted throughout the next four decades, including some of the higher hillsides and tops.
“Planting policy changed in the 1980s when people began to realise that plantations were important places for wildlife - and for recreation. The forest still provides timber and is accredited as part of the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme, which guarantees that timber production is carried out in accordance with principles of sustainable forest management.
“Three sites around the edge of Clashindarroch were planted with native broadleaves in 2000 and now form the Darroch Wids. We are gradually planting more broadleaves along the riparian corridors throughout the forest, improving those habitats.
“We are gradually learning more about the wildlife that lives in the National Forest Estate so we can protect and conserve these amazing animals. Despite the difficulties and complications we are determined to manage the forest even better for the benefit of Scotland’s wildcats and for all of Scotland’s woodland species.”