A day in the life of a Recreation Ranger
Ruari Watt is a Recreation Ranger for Lochaber Forest District. Ruari is passionate about the outdoors and loves to help others get the best experience out of a forest visit. Here he tells us about his work to restore pinewoods, training volunteers in conservation work and mountain tourism, and the best place to visit in the area.
Tell me about being a Recreation Ranger. What’s your working day like?
My roles varies a lot. Some days I could be in the office planning or dealing with enquires from the public, or out doing path inspections in the hills. Other days I might be working in schools, or in meetings planning big events or projects.
What projects are you are involved in?
I work with local schools to deliver sessions that meet the schools needs depending on their topics. I also deal with events permissions, working with event organisers to ensure that their events run on the National Forest Estate are safe and successful. I find this really rewarding as Lochaber is an area so focused on outdoor life, and events are really important. In an area without many of the attractions of a larger town or city, events are an important social meet up and motivation for many locals, and bring many visitors into the area.
You work with the Nevis Landscape Partnership. Tell me a little about the achievements and highlights from the partnership.
A group of partners work together to manage the Glen and Ben Nevis area – it is a National Lottery funded organisation, and the main partners are Highland Council, SNH, Nevis Partnership, John Muir Trust and Forest Enterprise Scotland. They are supported by volunteers, geologists, mountain guides, and many other interested groups and individuals. All in all, it is a good bunch of people with a great range of skills, experience and enthusiasm.
The partnership has a wide range of projects and working together is really rewarding, we are more ambitious and we can deliver better results.
Our main focus is the Pinewood restoration project, which aims to increase the cover of native woodland - particularly the Scots Pines which are scattered around the whole Glen - and The Dun Deardail project, which is an archeological excavation of a vitrified hill fort, and we have some exciting events planned.
We are also involved with the Nevis Training programme through training volunteer rangers, running events as part of their Community Engagement programme, and Outlandia – an arts project based out of a very fancy tree house on Cow Hill!
You mentioned the Pinewood restoration project. Can you tell me about this?
This project is led by our environment team, and I help get the public involved. Scots Pines are historically a feature of the landscape, culturally iconic and an important habitat for wildlife. We have been removing spruce from hard to reach areas of the lower slopes of the Mamore mountains and allowing natural regeneration of native woodland, and we will be planting scots pines grown by local schools and community groups, from seeds collected in the Glen.
You work with Volunteer Rangers. What does this involve?
In 2015 we began working with volunteer rangers. They spent 10 weeks working in the area, learning a range of skills in conservation work and mountain tourism. They worked with a range of partners in the project, and got involved in some pretty exciting jobs like the North Face survey – helping mountain guides and botanists climb the most difficult to reach areas of the North Face of the Ben to find out what rare previously undiscovered plants are hidden away.
We got volunteer rangers involved with planning public access around harvesting sites and doing some work on one of the busiest tourist routes in the area, the Nevis Range access road. We'd just done a big project to improve the visitor experience opening out views onto the surrounding hills and creating a nicer woodland feel.
Can you tell me about your favourite place in Lochaber Forest District? What’s special about it?
Possibly right behind our office in Torlundy! Leanachan forest is a really popular recreation area for walkers, runners and mountain bikers with some great places to go but further up the hill, folk can go climbing, hill running and skiing. I feel it’s got a great energy, and the folk I meet are generally pretty excited to be out doing what they love. On a lovely warm early summer day I sometimes meet skiers walking down through the forest having just skied down one of the gullies on the Ben, which for me sums up why this place is so good! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of leaving the forest and looking down on the town, then turning around to see the towering cliffs of the North Face of the Ben right behind. It’s amazing that people can leave the town and be in an iconic mountain landscape so easily. It’s what living in Lochaber is about for me – a great community with an active outdoor lifestyle, with such great access to incredible landscapes.
But equally, a trip over Corran Ferry to our various sites along Loch Sunart and the wider Ardnamurchan area is pretty special – it feels like I’m going to a completely different place altogether: peaceful, beautiful coastline looking out onto all these wee rocky islands, and further away the Mull, the small isles and Skye are visible. There are lovely oakwoods and I sometimes see otters fishing!
What motivates you each day? What do you love about work?
Dealing with people who want to go out into the forests and enjoy themselves for so many different reasons.
Perhaps my favourite thing is working with schools and children’s summer holiday events. Getting local kids excited about doing the things I loved going when I was wee – building dens and dams, splashing around in pools and puddles, having camp fires and running wild through the woods. I grew up locally, living on the edge of the forest and it was my playground that expanded out onto the hills and beyond as I got older. If some children can get the same experience of living in the highlands then I’m happy.
Tell me about your most memorable day on the job
Maybe sea kayaking down Loch Teacuis as part of an event we organised which part of the Wild Lochaber festival a few years ago. It’s a really remote, picturesque loch with some interesting history and lots of wildlife. It was sunny and we had some happy participants who love a wee adventure!
What’s been a highlight for you?
Mainly meeting people who want to do good things, and being in some beautiful remote places in lovely weather. Or filthy wet and windy weather, that’s pretty good too.
What challenges have you faced?
More regularly trying to find workable routes for the public around harvesting sites – its like a puzzle so actually pretty enjoyable.
What brings you to a forest when you’re not working?
Dog walks, pottering about exploring with my wee boys and their pals, trail and hill runs, mountain biking. Meeting friends to run or go riding. Probably my favourite thing however is the few times a year we get really thick snow low down and I can go for a big late night nordic ski – the snow laden trees look beautiful in the moonlight and thick snow means hardly any ones goes far into the forest meaning if I’m lucky I can find miles of untracked powder!