National Parks Green Leaders stories

National Parks Green Leaders stories

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Green Leaders is our training and engagement programme which supports young people as leading voices and active participants in the Green Economy and conservation through, for example, working as Young Rangers in National Parks.

Here are just a few of the Green Leaders who have benefitted from our Generation Green careers skills and engagement programmes…and some of those who have helped them.

Joe's Story

Champion fell runner, Joe Hudson, 21, lives near Malham, one of the most visited areas in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  A third-year development economics student at Birmingham University, he volunteered with Up Skill, Down Dale in May 2021.

‘I saw the advert for Generation Green and the role on the Yorkshire Dales’ Management Plan Steering Group shared on an Instagram story,’ says Joe. ‘It got me interested so I read about it and decided to apply for this role.’ He joined the Up Skill Down Dale team, partly to help look after the fragile landscape in Malham, an extremely popular part of the National Park, close to where the James Herriot TV series is filmed. ‘People flocked to this area last summer and during lockdown and I wanted to help look after it and protect its biodiversity,’ he says.

As well as completing practical tasks such as path repair, he says volunteering with Generation Green has given him a greater appreciation of how the park is run and taken him to parts of it he’s never visited. ‘Volunteering has opened my eyes to what the National Park has to offer, which I’ve really enjoyed.’ He’s also gained insight into the running of the park by joining its Management Plan Steering Group. ‘The plan shows you what’s going on behind the scenes, where they are looking at doing things and what they are going to do,’ he says. ‘Listening to other people’s opinions and putting forward my own was unfamiliar at first, because of the age gap between board members and young people, but I’m used to it now.’ Part of his reason for joining Up Skill, Down Dale was because he felt this type of volunteering would be a good fit with his degree. ‘I’m still thinking about a career related to development economics but whatever I decide, I know my work with the park will have helped.’

Matthew's Story

Student Matthew Hughes is 17 and lives on the coast, south of the Lake District National Park. He says volunteering with their Fix the Fells scheme has been invaluable in shaping his future plans – and providing solid achievements to include in his university personal statement.

‘I’ve always loved the outdoors and have a passion for nature and the natural world,’ says Matthew. ‘I’d volunteered with other organisations but felt I needed to acquire some further outdoor skills and try to make a difference. I have always been around the Lake District since I was born, so I decided to consider the roles they had for my age group.’

As part of Generation Green, he joined Fix the Fells – a joint enterprise between the National Park and the National Trust – which repairs eroded paths on the High Fells.

He learned coppicing, dry-stone walling and ditch creation but was also surprised by the number of soft skills he acquired on the scheme.

‘The people you work and learn from are either professional rangers, environmentalists or volunteers who are older and have amazing knowledge and experience, you have to adapt and absorb as much as you can,’ he says. ‘When you’re at school, it’s just your friends and your teachers but at Fix the Fells the people are all different, so you learn different things from the people around you.’

He hasn’t settled on a future career yet but has already added his experiences to his CV and will reference them again in his personal statement, when he applies to university.

‘What I really like about volunteering with the National Park is that it takes you out of the everyday world we’ve built around ourselves, especially with the internet,’ he says. ‘We look at the natural world and we never really get in touch with its real needs and what it requires. Volunteering fulfils that and even though it may not immediately lead you into a job, small seeds of experience, such as this project, can one day join with others and grow into one mighty oak.’

Mary-Jane's Story

Mary-Jane Alexander is Youth Engagement Officer at the North York Moors National Park. The main part of her job, she says, is to help more young people access the park and connect with nature.

‘Access sounds simple, but you have to remember there are children living in the seaside town of Scarborough, just outside the National Park, who have never even been to the beach,’ says Mary-Jane. ‘Many young people don’t know what a National Park is, and accessibility is a huge issue. But we know that being out here can change their attitudes in as little as a week.’

Outdoor engagement for young people in the North York Moors National Park is based on its Wild Skills programme, which schools can adapt for themselves. It includes anything from team building, to exploring habitats, to making a difference for nature and themselves. There are river days, which include stream dipping and learning about water quality; a survival day, where young people learn how ancestors lived off the land, and they can learn about fire management and help with practical tasks through Ranger Days. ‘These are proper jobs which need doing in the park, they are not tokenistic,’ says Mary-Jane. Through Generation Green the park has developed a mindfulness activity which groups can use, although many of those that come are keenest on Ranger Days, she says. ‘We want the young people to feel they have put something worthwhile back or made a difference.’ Some of the most rewarding transformations can come from the most challenging young people, such as those at risk of exclusion.

‘The indoor classroom isn’t for these children but, after six weeks of coming one day a week, we’ve seen so many transitions back into the mainstream school,’ she says. Part of her job is spotting what would be most helpful to individual groups of young people or adapting existing programmes to suit them.

Other schools have reported an uptick in happiness levels and a lowering of stress in anxious and unhappy pupils who have attended Generation Green programmes. Schools say participation improves attendance and even lowers litter levels because the young people have built a connection with nature.

Mary-Jane and her team have a policy of taking young people to the areas of the park nearest to their homes to do their programmes, in the hope they may find it easier to return. She remembers a school group from Middlesbrough who visited the Guisborough Forest on the park’s northern border.

‘We did some cutting back – everyone loves using loppers! – and the next week got chatting about what the young people had done over the weekend,’ she says. ‘When they said they’d got on their bikes and cycled to Guisborough Forest to show their friends what they had been doing, I was so happy. It’s a little thing but it reminds you why you love doing this job.’

Mandy's Story

Mandy Pugh is a retired geography teacher, originally from Manchester, living in Chesterfield. Through Generation Green she found her ‘perfect’ post-career position – as a Youth Engagement Volunteer Ranger with the Peak District National Park.

‘As regular conservation volunteers with the Peak District National Park, my partner and I are used to getting emails from them and spotted one asking people aged 18-25 to become Green Leaders, on a project called Generation Green,’ says Mandy. ‘They wanted to help engage young people and give them the skills to participate in conservation work and an appreciation of the landscape.’ After being told her age would not be a bar, she applied. ‘I was a geography teacher in a secondary school and have a lifelong interest in the landscape and environment,’ she explains. ‘This role involved a little teaching but no lesson plans or marking so, as far as I was concerned, it was perfect!’

She supports the ranger team to help young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, foster a love of the outdoors and it’s given her experiences to treasure. ‘I remember taking one school, which had a lot of children from families who were refugees, to the YHA at Castleton,’ she says. ‘We walked the children up Losehill and their response was amazing. Seeing them so happy; running around, discovering the landscape, was wonderful.’

Another day saw Year 10 pupils at risk of exclusion joining a bush skills programme, helping fell dead ash trees. ‘One girl managed to use a bow saw to cut up a trunk as tall as her and when she held it up, she was so chuffed, she wanted a photo taken,’ says Mandy. ‘It sounds like a little thing but it gives young people huge confidence to be trusted to work outside with tools.’

She believes the legacy of her Generation Green work will be the ‘pool of committed young people’ the Peak District National Park can call on in the future. ‘I come away each time feeling I’ve really made a difference, not just to the environment but to the young people, too.’


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