Friday, 31 July 2015

Keep off the Grass!

The Park-Keeper hated children, especially boys; especially the kind of boy who has dirty knees above black wellies, a grubby jumper that's much too big and half a green moustache dangling below his nose.

After an always impolite exchange , the "parkie" might get a tempting rear view of his visitor that would haunt him for hours. Just where there should be a firm imprint of an adult boot there was pocket and from it dangled the India rubber band of an outsized catapult. Worse still, the little beggar's gas mask bag was stuffed with freshly picked blooms from the flower beds.

Of course, I was that boy, in fact there was a whole gang of us and our mutual enemy was "The Parkie". I don't really remember why or when we became enemies, we never had a proper conversation, or exchanged names. The first thing he ever said to me was,

"Oi, You! Get orf the blooming grass!"

All my life I have hated signs that say "Keep off the Grass" and "No Ball Games". I spent my childhood wilfully walking on grass and playing mini-cricket on village greens, but now I am The Parkie!

As a Countryside Ranger, I often have to shout at people from a distance; "Get back on the path!" or "Put that dog on a lead", or "You can't do that here". They probably hate me.

Adults know why these rules exist, but they only obey them if it suits what they want to do. Children see the world as one big playground, just made for them while students soon learn that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and will take that route even if it runs through a flower bed.

Rangers can make their own lives easier by building the paths where people already walk. These are known as "desire lines". They have nothing to do with the queues outside nightclubs. The other thing we do is fence people onto the paths, but they don't like that. Hedges are a much more acceptable route.

"You can't do that here!" is a more difficult area to deal with. It is much easier to get co-operation or compliance if you can add "But you can do it over there".  On our Countryside sites we operate zoning, although it may not be obvious at first as we do not like too many signs and notices. Picnic areas, shelters, nature trails, dipping ponds, fishing lakes and wild areas naturally attract the people to them who want to carry out those activities. If people get lost, you can just show them the way.

Your average Ranger is a poacher-turned-gamekeeper who really doesn't enjoy conflict with the public. Just remember though, that there is an exception to every rule. Don't push it! Beneath that tough exterier beats the heart of a man who means every word he says.