South West River Rangers H.Q. Naval Dockyards, Falkouth, Cornwall, England.
Beyond the harbour walls, container ships, tankers and big cruisers moved up and down on the incoming swell, waiting for permission to enter the harbour. Whilst sitting within the high granite stone walls like a prison block, is the two storey River Rangers H.Q.
A squat building, it is constructed from locally quarried brown and black granite, which over the years, has become engulfed by vivid green Ivy which is smeared like Kelp, across the walls and up to the pitched slate roof.
Rising up from the asphalt car park, is an open stairway that leads to the first floor balcony and the entrance to the Rangers offices and training room, where today, a new class of recruits sit waiting for their course to start.
The room is warm and comfortable with occasional rays of the late
summer sun, slicing through the slatted blinds that hang down in front of dust streaked windows to then bounce off the brass buttons on the Chief Ranger’s uniform jacket; making them glint like pirate gold.
The man himself stood at the front of the class studying the latest batch of recruits. “Welcome to all of you!” He said warmly. “I am Chief Ranger Eric Derry. I have been ‘Chief’ since retiring from the Royal Navy ten years ago and from here, I manage all of our stations in Devon and Cornwall.” He paused for a moment, allowing the recruits to digest this important piece of information.
“This.” He continued, pointing to the young man standing next to him. “Is Senior Ranger Kai Ackers who is my deputy and is also in charge of our Hellfire River station!”
The class studied Kai. He looked different and wasn’t what they expected. Some 1.86m in height and weighing just over 95 Kilograms, his skin was the colour of honey and his scraggy long blonde hair and sideboards were, like his uniform well bleached by the summer sun.
On his feet, he wore Ranger issue leather strapped sandals and tied around his right wrist were brown leather thong bracelets, making him look more like a surfer than a Ranger; it was an image the recruits approved of.
“Today, I have asked Kai to say a few words to you on the role of a Ranger.” Explained the Chief. “Just to give you a younger person’s perspective of the organisation; things have changed a lot over the years!” He added with a knowing chuckle. “So, without further ado, I will hand matters over to Kai!”
Kai looked at his small audience.
"So you want to be Rangers!" He said, looking at their eager faces.
They nodded their heads enthusiastically in confirmation.
“Why?” He asked a guy who had skin the colour of white marble.
“Because I believe that the environment is worth saving!” Came the reply.
“And you?” He said to a small girl with curly black hair.
“I’m interested in marine biology!” She answered simply.
“And you?” He said to a tall fellow with a freshly shaved head. The guy thought about his response for a moment before answering. “Because I had nothing better to do and this sounded interesting and perhaps worthwhile!”
Kai smiled; he liked the answer.
“Being a River Ranger isn’t the Hollywood lifestyle that our marketing people make it out to be!” He told them with an easy grin. “You will spend most of your working day wet through. Food breaks out on the job are few and far between; sometimes you will even forget to eat or can’t find time to eat and if you are at a small station, you will probably be on call for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week!”
He looked at their faces to see if what he had said had put any of them off before continuing.
“I drive a 12-year-old ex-army jeep and my mother buys me some of my
clothes. Not because I have a bad taste in clothing you understand, but because the pay isn’t very good, after all, we are a charity!”
He checked their faces again and spotted one or two grimaces.
“But being a Ranger IS worthwhile” He stressed. “Of course, your main role is to look after the waterways and protect the ecology of the river but also, you have to deal with natural disasters like getting rid of animal carcasses that have been washed up on a beach. The stench of a rotting corpse can be overwhelming, which is another reason why you sometimes don’t eat when you’re out on the job!” He joked, but nobody responded.
He noticed Chief Derry pull a face as if to say, ‘Whoa, slow up, give them some of the good stuff before they all run out of the room!’ which made Kai smile inwardly.
“Alright, it’s not all bad!” He conceded. “You do get to spend most of the day outside cruising around in a RIB or kayak; which is pretty cool and you are also able to top up your tan during the summer and wear a fancy uniform like mine!”
He got a smile from the class this time, especially from the kid with the shaven head who seemed to understand that the role of Ranger wasn’t a picnic.
“Look, the duties of a Ranger are really very simple!” He continued. “We are here to protect marine life, fish and wildlife by preventing pollutant contamination of our waterways!” He slowly glanced around the room, theatrically raising an eyebrow in an ominous arch before adding. “Pollutants come in all shapes and sizes, so we are always on the lookout for them!”
From outside, again came the sounds of the busy harbour. Screaming Gulls glided through the air and boat engines, accompanied by the deep baritone hum, hum, of a melodic ship’s horn, drifted in through the open window.
“But there is more!" He added with yet another warm smile. “As Rangers, we do a lot more than just keep the waters safe and clean. For instance, some of our stations, act as first responders for the lifeboats!”
A smile flittered across the faces of the class, the job of going out in a big orange lifeboat to rescue people, sounded like fun.
Kai continued. “This course will teach you what you will need to know about being a River Ranger, but actually, it will be of no use if you don’t like working outside, don’t mind getting soaked on a regular basis and don’t have a passion for protecting our rivers and the environment; If you do enjoy those things, then the job of a Ranger is just for you. Back to you Chief!”
“Thank you Kai.” The Chief nodded his head at the Senior Ranger in thanks.
“So, there you have it.” He turned to the class. “It is a challenging job, but I am sure it is one that you will be more than capable of dealing with.........any questions before we start on your course?”
The recruits had some questions which Kai and the Chief answered, but in the end, time was getting on and Kai still had jobs to do back at the station, so he wished them all well in their new careers and departed for the Hellfire.