I want to be a ranger ...

The city worker's dream is within reach, thanks to the demand for managed wild habitats.

To abandon a well-paid career for a working life in the country is an occasional dream of many a city dweller who has spent too many years staring at a computer screen whilst longing for the sight of buzzards wheeling in an open sky. Most probably dismiss such thoughts as a fantasy, but at agricultural colleges up and down the country a curious phenomenon has emerged: the middle-aged professional retraining for a new career in nature conservation.

"I was always interested in conservation, even in my childhood when it was just called natural history," says Julian Cross, a 44-year-old student at Lackham College in Wiltshire. "I'd go out to the Chilterns with my father to hunt butterflies and I could identify all the wild flowers, but when it came to a career, none of that seemed relevant." Instead, Julian became an archaeological illustrator, escaping only at weekends to satisfy his love of nature.

But attitudes to conservation and the countryside have changed dramatically since Julian left school. Our national parks and forests are visited by millions each year. Unspoilt stretches of the coastline have been acquired by organisations such as the National Trust; downland has been taken out of cultivation and given over to public access; green lanes and ridgeways are now busier than they have been since the advent of the motor car. This new view of the countryside as a popular amenity rather than an agricultural resource has been matched by an increased concern for its proper conservation: coppicing is on the increase, new hedges are being laid, dry-stone walls repaired, and rare habitats preserved as sites of special scientific interest.

Such changes have created a demand for country rangers, wardens and custodians trained in ways that might seem strange to some traditional estate managers. They must treat members of the public as welcome visitors, not trespassers, even when a child is swinging on a fragile gate. Their concern for wildlife must extend to birds of prey and other species that a gamekeeper would classify as vermin. They must be prepared for constant scrutiny of all they do, and to justify even the felling of a tree. Experience with people, enthusiasm, and a proven interest in conservation are the qualities required; even those with roots set deep in city pavements may prove to be suited to the life.

For Julian, the first step towards changing his career was to join the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, Britain's leading practical conservation charity, which co-ordinates activities involving more than 80,000 volunteers each year. Working unpaid at weekends, Julian learnt how to build cob walls and coppice hazel woods. Also, for the first time in his life, he met countryside rangers and other full-time conservationists. Many, he was astonished to discover, had previously been soldiers or accountants. Now they had, it seemed to him, "the most fantastic jobs in the world". And, as they all assured him, it was not too late to join their ranks.

Most jobs in nature conservation now require a qualification in countryside management, available at most agricultural colleges, and mature students are generally encouraged. Julian had little difficulty in being accepted on a two-year part-time course at Lackham, leading to an advanced national certificate. The academic course is wide-ranging, with an emphasis on business studies: managing a National Trust estate, or even a remote wildlife preserve, is no refuge from the modern world of market forces.

Julian is now about to start his final term at Lackham. The past two years have not been easy, since the need to spend two days a week at college made it impossible for him to keep his job, and a grant of just pounds 600 a term has proved inadequate for even basic needs. Thanks to his artistic skills, he has managed to survive by doing picture restoration, but many fellow students have fallen by the wayside and returned to their old careers. Nor does Julian expect that it will be easy to find a job, for cut-backs have affected countryside management as surely as they have the world of archaeology. The difference is that he has yet to meet a burnt-out conservationist. "It's a way of life," he explains. "A vocation to be proud of." And he's just heard of a post that may become available: warden of a water mill with riverbanks and woods to manage. "Now that," he says, "would be idyllic".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?