You ask: Phillippa Morrison-Price
My role is quite new, it has only existed for six months. I am one of four Lead Rangers who each manage an area of the National Park: eastern downs, central downs, western downs and Wealden heath.
I manage a team of three rangers and two assistant rangers in the eastern downs, from the River Adur to Eastbourne. As well as supporting the team, I lead on area-wide projects and I still have a ranger patch stretching from north of Shoreham to the Clayton Windmills.
The job is really varied. We work with landowners and partners like the National Trust or Natural England to improve important habitats like chalk grassland, we carry out landscape improvements and work to enhance access in the National Park. We couldn’t achieve any of this without the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Juggling all the different parts of my role: from keeping up with the paperwork, to being out on the ground with the volunteers to supporting the team. But that variety is also what makes it interesting!
Why don’t you let the National Park re-wild?
The South Downs National Park Authority does not own any land within the National Park, so re-wilding it isn’t really an option. The South Downs are 80 percent farmland so we need to work with our farmers to get the best for the National Park whilst promoting sustainable farming and the rural economy.
What do you think of planned changes to Stanmer Park?
Stanmer Park is an important gateway to the National Park in real need of investment – it’s currently on Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.
It’s popular now and visitor numbers look set to grow even more if Brighton & Hove CC’s Heritage Lottery Fund bid is successful in January so access into and around the park needs to be sustainable and for the long-term. Restoring the historic Green Drive will improve the experience for walkers and cyclists arriving into Stanmer and, although our planning committee acknowledged public concerns about adding a new central car park, they accepted that it is necessary to secure the future of the park.
We’ll be working with Brighton & Hove to make sure plans work from a planning and a National Park perspective.
What can be done to improve safety at Seven Sisters and Birling Gap?
It’s really worrying to see people putting themselves needlessly at risk at these sites. The chalk cliffs here can be fragile and are exposed to extreme weather, they often collapse. There are signs placed at points along the iconic Sussex Heritage Coast warning of the dangers.
Earlier this year the Heritage Coast group agreed a new joint plan for this part of the coast which includes setting out how we’ll work together to develop training and familiarisation trips for people who are involved in tourism in the area – such as language schools, hotels and B&Bs.
We don’t believe fencing off the more-than 10km of cliffs would solve the problem – where particularly high risk areas have been roped off and signed you will still see people climbing over to get to the edge.
Do you think dog walkers should be banned from the National Park?
Obviously not! Responsible dog walkers are very welcome here. We always encourage people to follow the countryside code and run our own campaign called ‘Take the Lead’ highlighting the importance of keeping dogs under control. We want owners and dogs can enjoy the National Park whilst respecting its wildlife, farmers and their livestock.
I’ve had to speak to farmers whose sheep have been attacked and I’m not sure people appreciate how traumatic it can be for them – not to mention the loss to their livelihood.
How can I become a National Park ranger?
A qualification in countryside management, ecology or environmental management is the best place to start. They you’ll need to get experience on the ground – volunteering is the best way to do this either with us or organisation like the National Trust or Wildlife Trust. We publish a list of volunteering opportunities on our website and it’s also worth keeping an eye on our jobs pages for assistant ranger and ranger posts.