Hushwing moving forward thanks to Springboard for Rural Skills

Andrew Barrie (left), PKCT’s strategic routes officer & Callum McNeill-Ritchie, senior countryside ranger at Hushwing Ranger Service. Credit: copyright Photos by Zoe
Katharine Johnston

Last year, with support from the National Transition Training Fund (NTTF), Lantra Scotland ran the Springboard for Rural Skills project to meet the need for a more diverse network of training instructors, with activities ranging from instructional techniques training to mentoring and formal skills assessments.

As well as diversifying the network, this innovative scheme is also addressing instructor network succession planning.  It has helped several small rural businesses to diversify and become more resilient, as well as reskill redundant workers during the Covid pandemic, with many people seeking opportunities for a career change. As Scotland transitions to a ‘greener’ economy through schemes such as NatureScot’s Better Places – Green Recovery Fund, and through projects that support sustainable land management, greater interest in careers in the rural sector has placed increasing pressure on training providers.

Springboard for Rural Skills: Growing Together follows on from last year’s project, providing an opportunity to build on its success. Hushwing Rangers – an independent land and wildlife conservation service run by Callum McNeill-Ritchie – benefitted from support for much needed instructor training for its Rangers.

Callum said: “Lockdown resulted in a freeze of many of the typical Ranger services – many were made redundant as local councils cut their conservation budgets. As the market opens up, demand for our services is on the rise again, increasing support for a green recovery.  We recently took on a major project for Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust providing pathway management on the Cateran Trail between Blairgowrie and the Spittal of Glenshee. We are also beginning to see demand for a broader range of services including visitor management and public facing events – all this will require a phase of reskilling and skill refreshing which the Springboard for Rural Skills is helping us deliver through its instructor training courses.”

So far four out of eight Hushwing Rangers have completed a four-day instructional techniques course through Springboard for Rural Skills: Growing Together. The training focuses on learning habits and behaviours, teaching styles, presenting courses and other skills that would allow staff to deliver public facing events. The training has come at the right time for Hushwing as Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust continues to encourage more community involvement in countryside management work. This includes work on the Tayside Way where Rangers are required to deliver community programmes.

Callum said: “Funding through the Springboard has been a lifeline for us and other Ranger services at a time when it is most needed. Many of us need to refresh our skills after some time away from the job, and with the rise in local government funded community conservation programmes, we need a broader range of skills to deliver the work. The instructor training courses also gives our business credibility – being a Lantra certified instructor brings with it a level of professionalism and kudos which is a positive asset for our business and our staff.

There is also the wider issue of access to training in general – the fact remains there are very few training courses available to Rangers these days. In the 70s and 80s, eight-week courses were provided by what was then the Countryside Commission. Employers found it hard to commit to this length of time, so the course was reduced then eventually discontinued. The Scottish Countryside Rangers Association nowadays run Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, but Ranger employer uptake is low. The result is Rangers rely on their ability and experience to get them by, rather than formal qualifications. Having access to certified training through Lantra is much needed across the industry.”  

As the sector returns to some form of normality, a range of interesting new opportunities have presented themselves to Hushwing, including facilitating the delivery of environmental education and nature study courses in local schools, and an innovative new project in Dumbarton providing greenspace therapy for communities affected by drug and drink related issues. In Summer 2022, Hushwing will also assist on a beaver rewilding project in Blairgowrie.

Callum concluded: “It’s amazing to think where we are now compared to last year. We are working on so many interesting and diverse conservation and rural education projects and it’s in no small way thanks to the support of the Springboard for Rural Skills – Growing Together that we find ourselves in this position.”

The NTTF was launched by the Scottish Government in 2020 in response to the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. It aims to tackle the rise in unemployment in adults aged 25+ by offering them short training opportunities to learn in-demand skills.