Tara details her day to day work as a Countryside Ranger in East Lothian.

Born and brought up in Durban, South Africa before moving to UK as a teenager where she discovered a love for the outdoors Tara then studied for a Degree in Biology with Marine Biology at Portsmouth University including spending a year as an exchange student at the University of Rhode Island USA.

Following graduation Tara worked for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in their Marine Team and International Designations team before travelling extensively including working in Northern Canada studying riparian zones, undertaking reef surveys in Fiji, waitressing in bars and restaurants in New Zealand and Australia and working on dive boats on the barrier reef and SE Asia. 

In May 2002 she started as a seasonal Countryside Ranger at John Muir Country Park and was made permanent in 2005.

Tara said: “My job is very varied and that’s why I love it! Taking school and community groups out in their local environment and  teaching them about their local area and what they can do to help conserve it and the wider world. We work with a lot of volunteers who undertake conservation tasks on sites such as path maintenance, cutting back vegetation, wildlife monitoring and many more which is great for us to have extra hands but also really good to get people out and active enjoying their local area and fostering a sense of ownership.”

The countryside rangers are also involved with running events for the public, junior explorer holiday weeks, wildlife tours, cycle tours and hikes.

Tara also said: “Monitoring of the natural environment is one of my favourite parts of the job where we get to spend time quietly in nature doing bird counts, butterfly transects or measuring the area a rare plant covers.  Monitoring is very important to assess the health of the sites and also the greater environment. For example it helps to map the spread of species such as the speckled wood butterfly which was very rarely seen in East Lothian and has now colonised the area. We also undertake maintenance on sites or if the job is too big, arrange for the right people to come to undertake the work. Then there are the left field things such as injured animals, seal pups on the beach, stranded dolphins and last year you may remember a dead humpback whale washed ashore which we needed to remove from a rock beach with no vehicle access.  I enjoy these random days at they are a challenge and I love to problem solve”.

Covid -19 has affected the work of the Countryside Rangers significantly. During lockdown they were heavily involved with ensuring that car park barriers were maintained and that sites were as safe as possible for visitors walking to the areas.  Once lockdown restrictions eased our countryside sites became very busy posing new challenges for the Countryside Rangers. The explosion of “wild camping” required the team to engage with the public to explain the appropriate and ‘leave no trace’ way to camp. 

Tara said: “One message that seems to have got through to people is to take your litter home - we had significantly more visitors and litter but thankfully it was mostly put in the wheelie bins on site rather than left on the beaches and where people camped – win for us!”

tara sykes countryside ranger



Published: Wednesday, 4th November 2020