National Dormouse Conference 2019

The National Dormouse Conference 2019 took place last week on the 19th November. Organised by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and held at Reading University, the event saw hundreds of people gathered together to learn more about our native hibernating rodent, the hazel dormouse.

Why such a big event for such a small animal? In short, the hazel dormouse is an interesting animal, and rather endangered.

This was the first time I have been to the PTES dormouse conference and it was a great opportunity to learn more about dormice. I’ve been involved in dormouse box checking, and attended some training sessions on dormouse ecology and conservation in the past. The national conference was packed full of talks from dormouse experts and researchers though so I was able to learn some of the latest on topics such as the current state of dormice populations, survey techniques, dormouse hibernation, the impacts of climate on dormice and more.

Dormice endangered: the species has declined by 50% since 2000

Dormouse are different to our other native rodents, breeding slowly and having particular habitat requirements. This has made them vulnerable to some of the changes we have made to the countryside. Through some of the talks we learnt about projects to bolster our increase dormouse populations in the wild, such as the Test Valley Project and Wensley Dale Dormouse Project. We also heard about work along the M1 to protect the resident dormice while upgrading to a smart motorway, and worth to develop arboreal wildlife bridges to help dormice cross roadways and thus reduce fragmentation of populations.

The day included tea breaks and a lunch break which gave us more time to absorb all of the information, to browse the wildlife stalls and merchandise in the foyer, and to meet other people interested in or working with dormice.

This was an informative, useful and well-run conference. If you’re interested in dormice I would really recommend attending a national conferences if you haven’t yet. Those volunteering with the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme (NDMP) even get a discount on tickets, which is a great incentive for dormouse volunteers to go along and increase their knowledge!

CMA Conference 2019

This year’s Countryside Management Association national conference took place from 9th to 11th October in the stunning Lake District National Park. The conference was titled “Landscapes – the bigger picture”, a hint at big topics to be covered such as landscape conservation, rewilding and working in partnerships.

I always come back from these
conferences full of enthusiasm. There are many reasons for doom and gloom, from local budget cuts to global biodiversity losses. However that isn’t the whole story: there are motivated people out there, using innovation and partnership working to make a difference on a big scale. This year’s conference, based at YHA Ambleside in the Lake District, was a chance to learn about some of the challenges and opportunities out there in countryside management as well as examining examples of landscape scale projects and partnerships. The conference also brought together like-minded people from across the UK, and even further afield. There were many interesting discussions amongst the delegates, fuelled by the fascinating presentations and scenic setting.

Dramatic Lake District scenery, a U-shaped valley at Ennerdale
Presentation of the Gordon Miller Award for Countryside Management

Speakers from the Lake District
National Park Authority, RSPB,
Butterfly Conservation, Future Parks Accelerator, National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Buglife and more shared their knowledge and experience with us. Delegates also shared their ideas and experience through workshops, examining topics such as Farmer Clusters and the
balance between Culture and Nature.

A presentation from the Future Parks Accelerator project

We were spoilt for choice with field trips, and it was a shame we could only choose one. I chose to visit the Wild Ennerdale
Partnership Project, and although I was thoroughly wetted by both rain and river, I
definitely enjoyed myself.

In the rain on the Wild Ennerdale field trip

There was so much packed into the conference, and I really enjoyed the whole event. I hope to share more about the various presentations, workshops and fieldtrips soon.

Group shot outside the YHA Ambleside in the Lake District
Read more about the CMA and the 2019 conference at (photo: CMA)

European Ranger Congress 2020 – info released

More details have been released about the 2020 European Ranger Congress, taking place in Germany.

The European Ranger Federation have released details of the next European Ranger Congress on their website. The conference will take place from 11th to 16th May 2020 in the Bavarian Forest National Park. The theme will be “Biodiversity on the Edge – working strategies for Rangers in a rapidly changing World”.

Read more about the plans for ERC 2020 at:

For the latest on the Congress, and to read about past congresses, check the ERF website

Report: Pond & Lake Survey training at Belhus Woods

On 19th March I attended a training day on Pond and Lake Surveying skills, held by the Countryside Management Associationon at Belhus Woods Country Park in Essex.

Belhus Woods is managed by Essex County Council and features 5 gravel pit lakes as well as numerous ponds, so there was plenty to explore on the training day.

The training focussed on assessing the quality of pond and lake habitats, in particular the habitat suitability for Great Crested Newts. Phil taught attendees about the 10 different indices in the Habitat Suitability Index (HSI), which includes factors such as pond size, shading and water quality.

We then practised assessing the habitat suitability of numerous ponds and lakes out in the park using the HSI. We sampled freshwater invertebrates and
then scored these inverts to give the water quality score for the Habitat Suitability Index.

Many thanks to Phil Bolton for leading the training, and thanks to Essex County Council for hosting the event.

Report: Tree Identification training at Langdon Hills

The Countryside Management Association held a Tree Identification training day on Friday last week. Taking place at Westley Heights in Langdon Hills Country Park (near Basildon, Essex), the training focussed on the tricky part of tree ID, identifying trees in Winter: bark, buds and tree shapes!

We started off indoors with tea, coffee and cake. The trainer, Phil, explored how buds, bark and tree shape can all be used when identifying trees in Winter when most of them lack leaves. Next we headed outside to practise our identification skills on some real live trees, taking a walk through some of the varied habitats found at Langdon Hills Country Park.

Continue reading Report: Tree Identification training at Langdon Hills

East of England Ranger Rendezvous: Fri 1st March

Calling all rangers, wardens, conservation volunteers, countryside students…. and any other countryside and greenspace people! The Countryside Management Association are holding an East of England “Ranger Rendezvous” in Basildon, Essex. Friday 01 March 2019, 4pm til 7pm. Come for a walk and meet other people in the sector. CMA members can just book themselves on, non-members please ask to be added to the event. Visit the event at Eventbrite for more info and tickets!

Ranger Rendezvous - Countryside Management Association event

This will be a chance for staff, volunteers and students in the greenspace and countryside sector to get together, meet others in the field and share ideas. We’ll start with a walk (4pm) at Langdon Hills Country Park, a beautiful park managed by Thurrock Council. We’ll follow up with some networking and discussion indoors (5pm-7pm). Please feel free to join is for any or all parts of the Ranger Rendezvous!


Langdon Hills Country Park sits on a hilly ridge that extends from Dunton to Vange. Its 400 acres have panoramic views over the Thames Estuary and across to London” – Thurrock Council. The park has a wide variety of habitats and links up with neighbouring Langdon Nature Reserve (managed by Essex Wildlife Trust) to form a brilliant belt of greenspace on the edge of Basildon and Thurrock. It’s an interesting site, with veteran trees (I filmed by Biodiversity Ambassador video here), ethical beehives, annual World Ranger Day events and an active Friends group. The Country Park is also hosting a Tree ID day run by the Countryside Management Association, taking place earlier in the day on Friday 1st March.

Tree ID course - Countryside Management Association

If you haven’t been to Langdon Hills Country Park before, why not join us for the Tree ID course or the Ranger Rendezvous? Or both!

The Countryside Management Association supports the development of staff, students and volunteers involved in the management, interpretation, and public enjoyment of natural greenspace and the countryside through networking, training and continuing professional development. Formed in 1966 the CMA is the largest organisation supporting the work of conservation, access and recreation professionals in the natural greenspace and countryside sector throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. To find out more about the CMA visit

Trees at Christmas

As we decorate our trees in the run-up to Christmas, you might wonder where the tradition of Christmas trees comes from?

Tree Dressing tradition:

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840s with their German style Christmas Tree.

Although we decorated homes and churches with greenery in the UK, bringing a whole tree into the home and decorating it was unknown until two centuries ago. Our modern Christmas tree tradition came to the UK from Germany, and many think of Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert who made a lot of today’s Christmas traditions popular. It iss thought that the tradition was first introduced even earlier by King George III’s German wife in the 1790s although it didn’t spread beyond the royal family.

Evergreen trees were brought into the home in Germany, Latvia and Estonia and decorated with “roses made of colored paper, apples, wafers, tinsel, [and] sweetmeats” (Wikipedia), moving to candles in the 18th Century.The roots of the German tradition go deep and are probably linked to older customs in pre-Christian Europe and further afield. There are actually many traditions around the world that celebrate trees by decorating them:

“The old Celtic custom of tying cloth dipped in water from a holy well to a ‘clootie tree’ echoes the practice in Japan of decorating trees with strips of white paper, or tanzaku, bearing wishes and poems.” Common Ground, Tree Dressing Day.

A new tradition:

Common Ground “planted a seed” in 1990 by going back to the idea of decorating living trees out in the landscape, encouraging communities to remember how much trees do for us. Perhaps a bit kinder to trees than cutting one down to bring indoors and decorate! Tree Dressing Day falls on the first weekend of December each year, and has grown to include many different communities celebrating trees in their own way.

Find out more about Tree Dressing Day at

A really, really tall Christmas Tree:

A couple in Worcestershire had a live Christmas tree, a small fir tree, and they decided to plant it outside their house after Christmas.  “I remember after that first Christmas thinking to myself that I didn’t want to just throw the tree out so I planted it in the front garden,” says Avril Rowland. That was in 1978, and now Avril and her husband Christopher have a 52ft Christmas tree that lights up their whole street!

40 years later: the small sapling has grown into a giant Christmas tree! (credit: SWNS)

London’s tallest Christmas decoration:

London’s Shard gets some festive sparkle” – the top 20 floors will be lit up in a display every night from 3rd December through to 1st Jan to celebrate Christmas. A bit like a really tall Christmas tree.

Christmas light show at the Shard – more info at

City Cruises: London on a boat

Today I’m going to tell you about a fantastic day out I had last week, spent exploring London by boat (City Cruises) with my lady love.

RangingFar- London Boat Trip 01

It started off in February, with a present for Natasha. A combo London package with a shard experience and sightseeing River Thames cruise. The shard trip was excellent, but we got diverted by a free walking tour, lunch and more. Time ran away from us so we postponed the boat trip for another day. Flash forward to November 24th.

Cold, grey but blessedly dry, Saturday dawned on us. We had the usual rush to escape the house at a decent hour, but finally we were London-bound on a C2C train. I browsed the Internet for sightseeing ideas that would match up with stops on the cruise – Tower, Greenwich, London Eye, Westminster. In the end it was a combination of last-minute research and luck that pulled it all together into a top day out.

City Cruises sightseeing stops: Westminster, London Eye, Tower, Greenwich.

A short walk from Fenchurch Street (French Urchin Street according to some autocorrect functions) brought us to the “Tower” pier, aptly named as it sits beside the Tower of London. City Cruises boats depart every 40 minutes, and the hop-on, hop-off 24, hour river pass lets you cruise up and down the Thames all day. We collected our tickets and boarded the next boat (the “Millenium of Peace”) heading down-river, destination Greenwich.  We watched the banks and buildings flow by from the open-topped upper deck. What made this boat ride particularly memorable was the live comic commentary from a crewmember – although not a professional tour guide, he was an excellent and amusing accompaniment to our cruise along the Thames. Topics ranged from pirates to Cher to drinking spots along the river.

Docking by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, we briefly browsed the Old Royal Naval College museum but found ourselves famished. We headed out in search of victuals and found our food at the Buffalo restaurant. On to the nearby Greenwich Market, “London’s only historic market set within a World Heritage site” ( and a quaint and quirky collection of stalls. The market was feeling festive, decked out with lights and a number of Christmas-themed wares for purchase.

We bought a few small, unique, hand-made Christmas presents and finished off with an Amaretto-flavoured coffee to keep warm. We had a bit more time before the next boat heading to Westminster, so we checked out the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – 100 steps down and then back up to satisfy my curiosity about this tunnel beneath the Thames, thanks Natasha! We explored the Old Royal Naval College a bit further too, cue photo of the Lion statue. Then we boarded a boat heading upriver.

RangingFar- London Boat Trip 03
Impressive lion statue in the Old Royal Naval College

This time we sat pretty for the cruise. This boat had a spacious indoor area on the lower deck with many large glass windows, allowing us to shelter from the cold with great views of the capital: darkening with dusk and gradually glimmering with lights. We travelled beneath the Tower Bridge, cruised past the London Eye and alighted at Westminster pier. ‎A stroll along the night-time river brought us to the Tattershall Castle, a pub boat on the river, where we mulled over our day with a warming mulled wine each. Finally, we caught one of the last boats returning East to Tower pier, braving the chilly November evening to enjoy our final ride up top on the open deck. The lights of London night slid by and we talked about our grand day in the big city as tourists. All that remained was to catch our train from French Urchin street eastward, back to Essex!

Top tip: if you plan to make full use of the 24-hour river pass ticket, you could plan to visit in the warmer months. The boats operate for longer in high summer (July-Sept) with the last cruise running as late as 19:30 giving you much more sight-seeing boat time on the Thames! Make sure to check the timetables as times vary depending on time of year and which pier you are travelling from/to.

Ewok sighted in Somerset

I spotted a species I didn’t expect while out walking in the hills above Bath on our recent trip (see my postcard from Bath!).

Natasha and I took the Skyline Tour on the sightseeing bus, alighting to walk to the Sham Castle and explore Bathampton Down. We walked part of the Bath Skyline walk – maintained by the National Trust this route circles Bath and provides fantastic views of the city. We also took a wander in Bathwick Wood (Woodland Trust) to enjoy the onset of Autumn. We were lucky enough to spot more than trees and great views on our walk however.

Is this a new species for Somerset? The Ewok is native to Endor, but this sighting may mean that the species’ range has spread to include woodland habitat in parts of Somerset. It remains to be seen if this was an isolated individual or if the species has naturalised here. Cryptozoologists would be very keen to hear about any other sightings of this elusive woodland creature. Ewoks are omnivorous and are usually found high up in trees (see Wookieepedia for more on the species).

Keep your eyes peeled!



Postcard from Bath, Somerset

I’ve got something for you.

I really enjoyed visiting the beautiful city of Bath recently, so I’m sending you a postcard.

RangingFar - postcard from Bath, Somerset

Bath is a world heritage site with a lot of history. Which of its many sights and landmarks did I choose to feature on a postcard?

  1. Front Left: The Roman Baths, with Bath Abbey in the background. Bath was a spa settlement in Roman times due to the natural hot springs here. You can still bathe in these thermal spring waters if you visit the Thermae Spa – I’d highly recommend it!
  2.  Front Right: The River Avon. We had brilliant views of the river and Bathampton Toll Bridge from the Old Mill Hotel. Canoe hire was available here so we took advantage on our last day and saw the river up close and personal! The weather was glorious and we saw a kingfisher, hooray!
  3. Reverse: Pulteney Bridge. Built in 1774, it crosses the River Avon with a full row of shops on both sides –  one of only 4 bridges in the world! If you’ve been to Florence or Venice you may have seen one of the others 😉

Now, as a gift for you – here is a free blank version of the postcard to download in case you want to send a postcard from Bath too!

RangingFar  Postcard from Bath [PDF, 7.8mb]

A Ranger blogging about nature conservation, wildlife, and travel.