What is a Broads ranger?
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
You’ve heard of park rangers, forest rangers, football clubs called Rangers even Power Rangers – but how about Broads rangers?
As she glides along the river, sun glinting on the reed-fringed water, Alice Bushell’s job looks idyllic. It is not quite so picturesque when rain is lashing across the marshes and the 20-year-old is wrestling with fence poles or invasive vegetation or scouring goose droppings from staithes. But Alice loves both the sunny pleasantries of patrolling the Broads in summer and the physical challenge of wrangling heavy-duty cutters or a chainsaw.
She is an assistant ranger for the Broads Authority, a job she arrived at almost by chance and can still barely believe her luck. Her patch of the Waveney from Geldeston Lock to St Olaves, is a slow-flowing ribbon of rural loveliness meandering past Beccles, Burgh St Peter, Somerleyton and Haddiscoe.
“It’s pretty amazing that I get to be out here every day,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to have this job?” Even Alice's days off have become Broads-based as she has bought her own inflatable kayak to go exploring.
As she patrols she checks for overhanging branches, submerged hazards, boats in an unsafe place or state. Each boat is equipped with flashing blue emergency lights and speed guns as well as well as ropes and tools to deal with anything from reed cutting and repairing mooring posts to removing tree trunks from the water.
Her role, as one of 12 full time rangers, five summer rangers, two winter rangers and an apprentice, is to help people enjoy the Broads safely. Rangers patrol countryside sites and footpaths as well as the water. Some arrive as wildlife or conservation experts. For Alice, everything was new. She began as an apprentice, learning to use the boats, fell trees and wield a chainsaw. She can cut reeds, remove scrub with a brushcutter (like a giant strimmer), file reports on problems ranging from speeding to pollution, check boat licences and tolls, and support the emergency services dealing with the aftermath of accidents or incidents.
She also learned about the wildlife all around her. “I heard a bittern on my first day and saw one on my second,” said Alice.
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She loves the contrast between seasons, with a packed summer of talking to people on boats and in boatyards and out on the Broads, followed by winter conservation tasks in a virtually empty landscape. There’s so much to the job,” said Alice. “Everyone sees this part, out on patrol, but not when we are out on the marshes miles from anywhere, caked in mud and soaked through.”
There is a lot of responsibility for someone barely out of her teens and Alice has seen the aftermath of a river tragedy as well as the joy that people get from a visit to the Broads. However tranquil the scene, calm can turn to crisis very quickly. “When things go wrong on water, they go wrong,” said Alice.
Her ranger colleagues have helped herd deer across rivers, saved people who have fallen into the water or grounded boats in mud flats, saved a hire boats from being swept away on racing tides, found dumped stolen property, helped deal with oil spills, freed cows from dykes and birds from fishing equipment.
Rangers also check that the legal requirements for boats to have licenses and pay tolls are being met and enforce byelaws on speed and navigating with care and consideration. They ensure mooring areas are safe, lead small groups of volunteers in conservation tasks and give advice or assistance in tricky weather or tides.
What is the most frequently asked question? “Probably ‘Can I fit under the bridge?’” said Alice. The answer lies not only in the height of the boat but in the tides and the tide-level tables in front of each bridge. “People don’t realise how tidal it is here,” she says.
She carries a speed gun but said it is usually obvious when a boat is speeding from the wash which can damage the river bank and be a danger to other boats. “Sometimes people say ‘It’s only one mile an hour over, but when the speed limit is four miles an hour, that’s like doing 50mph in a 40 zone.” If she comes across people breaking bylaws she prefers to give advice before issuing a written warning or reporting a crew for prosecution. But she has the power to investigate breaches, carry out interviews under caution and gather evidence across a watery territory ranging from tiny creeks, barely wide enough for a water-vole, to the urban quay close to Norwich’s railway station and from placid reed-fringed rural rivers to the fierce currents and tides of Breydon Water.