EVER WONDERED WHAT IT'S LIKE BEING A REAL-LIFE PROTECTOR OF THE PLANET?
We chatted to Gwen Potter, countryside manager looking after the Northumberland Coast and resident ranger on puffin patrol for the National Trust!
We found out about the best bits of her job, how we can all help to protect the UK’s puffin population and even what she has in her sandwiches!...
Hi Gwen! Please introduce yourself...
I’m Gwen and I help look after puffins, seals and other wildlife on the Northumberland Coast.
How did you end up becoming a Countryside Manager at the National Trust?
I love nature, animals and being outdoors! I tried lots of outdoor/animals jobs like helping out in a vets and at nature reserves when I was in school and my favourite thing was looking after wild animals instead of pets. I learnt more about animals by studying zoology at university and then wildlife conservation so I could care for wild nature. Since then I have worked in Devon, Wales, the Scottish Highlands and Norfolk but my favourite place is here on the Northumberland Coast.
What’s the best bit about your job?
I like doing work that makes homes for wildlife or helps us find out how they are doing - seeing a barn owl swoop over your head or a puffin and knowing you helped to protect it is hard to beat. I enjoy working with our fabulous rangers and volunteers and learning from each other because everybody has good ideas. I also love meeting friendly visitors and finding out about their day and what they have been up to.
Our new Frugi x National Trust collection for SS21 has been inspired by puffins, can you tell us how important they are to the UK and how can we help to protect them?
We have about 10% of the world’s puffins here in the UK - that means for every ten puffins you count, one will be from the UK! We know this because one of our ranger’s jobs is to count the puffins every year and we have to do this by looking to see if they have nested in their underground burrow. We try not to touch them because birds don’t really like it, so we only do it if we have to.
Our counts also tell us that puffins worldwide are struggling - there are less of them than there were. You can help puffins and seabirds nesting on beaches by being careful and staying away from birds on beaches in the summer when they are nesting, or going on litter picks.
You could also encourage your friends and family to do what they can for nature, or volunteer for the National Trust where there is nature near you. There are lots of websites and books which tell us how we can care for nature.
Can you tell us about the characteristics of a puffin in the wild?
Puffins nest underground in burrows. They have one chick and the chick will stay in the burrow until one special night - in July on the Farne Islands, the baby puffins, called pufflings, walk to the sea for the first time. They do this even though they haven’t even seen it before. The chicks look like a ball of dark grey fluff with a beak.
They don’t come back to land to nest for a few years, when they are grown up, so they are in the sea the rest of the time. The puffins are usually at sea from August to April and they will be eating lots of tiny fish called sandeels.
Their beaks are very special - they glow in UV light and the coloured part comes off after the summer - they have to grow the coloured part of their beak (the sheath) for the summer, like a nice new mask for the summer holidays.
Do you have a favourite animal that you look after with the National Trust?
My favourite changes every day, but I really like razorbills. They have a different home to the puffins on the island. They nest on the high cliffs instead of a burrow and they are black and white with a very stylish beak. The chicks have ‘vertigo’ which means they are scared of heights, then when they are big enough their Daddy calls them from the sea. They jump all the way down to the sea and start swimming straight away.
What does a typical day in your job involve?
I might have to do a bit of work on the computer or on the phone to plan our work to make really good homes for wildlife and make sure people have a good time when they visit. In the afternoon I might go and count some of the seal pups using binoculars in the winter, or help cut and rake some grass in the summer so flowers can grow and lots of bees and butterflies can drink from the flowers.
What advice could you give to aspiring young wildlife rangers?
If you have somewhere you can volunteer for nature nearby, that really is fantastic - or look at wildlife in your local park, farm or garden and find out more about it. Wrap up against the weather and go and enjoy all the animals and flowers at different times of year - find out what tree that is, what bird or flower is that? See if anyone can help you find out. Draw some pictures of what you see or write a poem.
Talk to your friends and family about nature and the things you love. Remember that people need nature, but nature needs people too. A chat with you might inspire other people to care for nature.
If you keep doing all of this, you’ll be a nature lover and then you’ll be able to be a ranger!
Finally, what do you usually have in your sandwiches?
Haha - great question. I’m vegetarian so I like some quorn with some mayonnaise and crunchy lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and olives. YUMMY!