Discovering: A Day in the Life of a Ranger

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Duncan Macdonald

As we head into Spring and the easing of lockdown restrictions it’s a good time to be reminded of how the huge number of visitors that came to National Parks last year affected our habitats and our roles through the eyes of one of our Rangers: Duncan Macdonald of Cairngorms National Park.

September. I’ve moved out of my bedroom. We’re sleeping on the landing, so that my wife, an artist, can work on the full height of her canvasses. It’s daylight. The sun streaming through the un-curtained window wakes me up. I feed the cat, put the kettle on and get my 10-year-old son up and ready for school. It’s panic time as we scramble to the front door, clutching our packed lunches.

I deliver him to Alvie Primary School, then I head for wherever my rota sends me. Today it’s a good gig. I’m off to the wild and beautiful end of Badenoch.

We start off at Pattack Falls. I love that little walk up to the falls. It’s no wonder they took a pounding from the visitors, this year. We tidy the car park and look for anything to report back. I love Strathmashie for its ravens; you can’t have Dun da Lamh without them. I can hear them and look up to see five birds circling with three buzzards. What’s all the noise about? And then I spot an adult Golden Eagle, low in the sky. I know it’s going to be a good day.

We pop into Wolftrax for a word with Christian and to swap news. We do a litter sweep of the car park, Blue trail and Squirrel trail, chatting to visitors, bikers and campers as we go.

Gorstean has been hit heavily by fly tipping, camping fires and general littering. We get on the phone to line managers and other land managers to organise the clean-up. Drum an Aird has been grim, too. I guess my reward is being able to be there and to make a difference. We try to educate, to explain how to behave and get across the messages of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Most folk listen. And our team of eight Rangers has been one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. But it has been a strange year…

Then it’s on to Laggan. Last week, we were in the Community Woodland and we heard a sound like a little wolf-whistle. It was one of the highlights of my season; a Yellow Browed Warbler. That’s a big tick for Laggan.

Next, down to Garva Bridge, clearing up anything we spot on the way. Our sandwiches are interrupted by the arrival of an English couple, on the hunt for Golden Eagles. I scan the sky and then I see one, but it’s just the start. We see another nine eagles. At one time, there are four together, displaying, talon-grappling, soaring high then skimming the tree-tops. Extraordinary. The best day of eagles for me, apart from trips to Mull and Skye. And worries recede about the impact of the electricity substation and pylons.

It’s a glorious drive back. I head to Aviemore for cat medication, then home. At the end of the day, I’m back in the bed on the landing, waiting for the sun to go down so that I can sleep.

As told to: Liz MacFarlan


It’s wonderful to see so many people discovering National Parks as part of their recovery from lockdown. Take some time to learn about our 4-step guide to visiting safely and… Help us. Help you. Recover.

National Parks UK 4 step guide to visiting safely

Laggan, Cairngorms National Park
Laggan, Cairngorms National Park


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