Meet Dave Morris, the National Trust Ranger for Bickerton Hill, Bukeley and Helsby Hill
Dave Morris, the National Trust Ranger for Bickerton Hill, Bukeley and Helsby Hill, all part of Cheshire's Sandstone Ridge, says he has the best job in the world. WORDS BY MANDY THIRSK PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Dave Morris is pretty enthusiastic about his job.
‘I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world.’ His job involves managing about 430 acres of Cheshire’s Sandstone Ridge, overseeing conservation projects as well as maintaining the sites and ensuring all is well for visitors. That’s no mean feat for one man.
Dave began working for the National Trust at Bickerton Hill in February 1992 running a government ‘back to work’ scheme. Since then he has taken in hand the expanding site as the National Trust purchased more land and he works closely alongside organisations such as the Habitats and Hillforts Trust and the Cheshire Wildlife Trust to maintain and restore the lowland heath at Bickerton Hill.
Visitors to Bickerton can enjoy spectacular views from Maiden Castle, an ancient iron age fort, which stretch out from the Welsh Clwydian mountain range across to the Wirral peninsular. It isn’t just the view that delights visitors: a tapestry of heathers weave soft blues, pinks and lilacs in a gentle blur of colour encapsulating the beauty of what is one of Cheshire’s finest examples of lowland heath. Dealing with the different aspects of the landscape; the woodland, the heath and the ancient hillside forts presents challenges.
‘The ancient monuments have to be looked after in a different way. They’ve got to be kept clear - all the tree cover needs to be kept off the monuments because it would damage the archaeological structures,’ explains Dave who has to ensure encroaching vegetation is kept clear.Preserving and restoring the lowland heath on Bickerton Hill, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is Dave’s most important project.
He faces an ongoing battle with the prolific birch seedlings which threaten to turn the heathland back to woodland and employs a number of methods, such as traditional grazing, to keep the balance in check.
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In April 2011, using funding from the Habitats and Hillside Trust, Dave bought in 17 Clwydian ponies and this year they have been joined by eight Dartmoor ponies. To visitors, the small, wild ponies grazing quietly adding to the heath’s beauty seem as if they could belong no place else.
However, they have an important job to do; to eat the Birch seedlings.Looking after the ponies’ well-being comes as second nature to Dave, a Welshman from Tremeirchion who has a farming background. ‘It’s a case of monitoring them for a while. The birch is new food for them but I’ve been watching them and they’re starting to eat it.’
The lowland heathland, rarer and declining more rapidly than the rain forest, is a crucial habitat for species such as adders, slow worms, common lizards and the green hair streak butterfly. This is why another of Dave’s projects, to revert a 10 acre field which was formally farmland back to heathland is so important.
‘ We started to revert the field to heathland in 2009 through various processes and now there are heather seedlings all over it. Over a period of time, it might be two, three or even five years, we’ll see the area come back to lowland heath.’ What now looks like an unsightly patch of land will become a glorious spread of heathers, gorse and billberries which will benefit both the wild life and future generations of visitors.
For Dave, it’s been rewarding to see the land develop and change, attracting new wildlife.
‘The night jar (a heathland bird) has been heard and seen here so we’re hoping it will become a permanent resident. They’re less common than they once were because of loss of habitat,’ explains Dave.
Managing the sites is a huge undertaking. However, Dave has built up a volunteer base of people and groups from all walks of life, who assist him. ‘We’ve had some very big path projects; improving paths, horse tracks and step building because of erosion - there’s so much public access and heavy rain,’ says Dave. He describes his volunteers as ‘indispensable’ and always has an organised plan of action to work from.
It’s clearly the job of a lifetime and when considering whether there are any downsides, for once Dave is lost for words. ‘I can’t imagine doing anything else.’
Dave spent 11 years in the British army before going to work at Rolls Royce as a fitter for 16 years.
He works with volunteer groups; National Trust Groups from Chester and also Merseyside as well as with corporate groups such as Barclays bank, HSBC, M&S Money as well as with a number of volunteer workers.
He liaises with Reaseheath College to arrange work experience for students studying land management as well as having GCSE pupils for work experience.