Raj Chettri works as an urban park ranger for Cardiff Council. He is passionate about the sites he manages and the volunteers that make it all happen.
One of Raj’s sites is Howardian Local Nature Reserve, to the east of the city centre. The nature reserve is a former municipal tip that closed in the 1970s. The local school was asked to help manage the new nature reserve and some of those same school friends formed one of the first Friends Groups in Cardiff. For Martin Doe and Nigel Ferrand it has become a lifetime’s work. The Friends have transformed the site, which is now home to over 500 species.
What is your favourite thing about the nature reserve?
Raj: It has to be the diversity. A wide range of habitats have been created over only 32 acres. The mixed woodland has all been planted, and contains many fruiting trees, which is a great resource for the wildlife. The flower meadows include five species of orchid; we have 20 different butterfly species; we have dormice, harvest mice and pygmy shrews; we have slow worms and grass snakes. The network of ponds are buzzing with life. We have so much, but the thing we don’t have is room to expand. We are a island, completely surrounded by the city, with dual carriageways on two sides of the triangle and the Colchester Avenue developments on the other. This is why gardens and people gardening in a wildlife-friendly way becomes so important.
What can gardeners do to help our wildlife?
Raj: Nature reserves can be like oases in the middle of a desert. However, anyone with space outdoors can help to create corridors to link our nature reserves together, to create a web of safe zones. Each new wildlife-friendly garden will build on all the surrounding habitats.
- Digging a pond would be a number one priority.
- Another must is to avoid making our gardens in to sealed units. Wildlife needs to move from one garden to the next, so if you must install a fence, leave a gap at the base.
- Plant native species, as these have the most benefit to wildlife, but we must also consider that climate change will alter the amount of water we receive, and we should plant drought-tolerant species.
- Stay away from covering up more land with decking, or hard surfaces. Aim to use permeable surfaces, or keep it green.
What made you want to become a ranger?
Raj: I’ve always been inquisitive about nature. I was educated in Darjeeling, India and I was lucky enough to get a job as a naturalist in Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. It was a great time to work in the park during those twelve years, as researchers started gathering the first real data about wild tiger species. Prior to this, we based our understanding of wild animals on myths, and stories from hunters and observations of animals in zoos. A German University gathered this data through darting wild animals and fitting radio collars in Chitwan.
I moved to Britain and I had to relearn everything about the local species and I gained a lot of insight helping with the cleanup operation in the Mersey.
The challenge we have as urban rangers is to make the public aware of what is in the local area and what this planet is facing. We all need to work locally, but ensure that we understand the global vision.
I recommend visiting Howardian on a sunny day for an explore, or joining the Friends of Howardian Nature Reserve to help maintain the biodiversity for the future.