A reshuffle of Aberdeenshire Council’s ranger services is being planned in a bid to increase the number of events it can host and make better use of staff time.
The local authority-led service has six full time equivalent rangers, one based in each administrative area of Aberdeenshire and line managed by a part-time coordinator.
That includes at least three staff based within the Bennachie Visitor Centre near Inverurie.
However, with the current 2017-2020 strategy plan nearing an end, changes are afoot to bring Aberdeenshire’s outdoor offerings more closely in line with the guidelines and priorities of NatureScot, known until earlier this year as Scottish Natural Heritage.
In a draft 2020-2023 strategy plan put before councillors yesterday, officers revealed plans to pull its rangers from the Bennachie Visitor Centre and bring about an increase in volunteers and donations.
Malcolm White, Aberdeenshire Council’s specialist services team leader, said: “Following this review it has resulted in some changes to the forthcoming strategy.
“This is to bring it into line with the new Nature Scot connection people and places policy statement on rangering services in Scotland, while still ensuring it aligns with other Scottish Government and council priorities, policies and plans.
“Bennachie Visitor Centre staff have also been taken out of the ranger service and now sit within specialist services as a separate part of the team.
“This is due to the aims and objectives of the Bennachie Centre Trust not aligning with the draft policy statement on rangering in Scotland and it better reflecting current working practices and ensuring most efficient use of staff time.”
The Bennachie Visitor Centre staff run the attractions on behalf of the Bennachie Centre Trust, which works in partnership with the ranger service but is not part of Aberdeenshire Council.
The Bennachie Centre Trust also produces its own annual action too, but the council has been quick to reassure that its ranger service staff will still work closely with the visitor centre through the partnership in place between the trust and the local authority.
The Garioch ranger will continue to be based at the centre too and Bennachie Visitor Centre staff will remain in the specialist services team.
“This arrangement best reflects current working practices and will make most
efficient use of staff time,” Mr White added.
He also explained how the service, despite the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, has exceeded expectations year-on-year once again, meaning the strategy for the next three years should include ways to increase availability and promote donations.
The service’s running costs topped £324,000 last year but brought in just £7,525.
Since 2017 it has delivered 283 events, including 109 in the last 12 months, and involved 8,157 participants in those events, including 3,067 in the 2019/2020 period.
“An issue which the service faces is the limited staff resource that it had,” Mr White added.
“During the period of this strategy, 50% of events were over-subscribed.
“To try and address this, two volunteer profile roles have been created and this has resulted in five volunteers being recruited to date, which helps increase our capacity for the events we can deliver.”
In the last 12 months, it has increased its social media presence too, and during 2019/2020, the ranger service also sought to increase levels of income through donations, resulting in a boost of £2,513.
It aims to build upon that in its 2020-2023 plan, should it be approved.
In the meantime, it has resumed face-to-face work in the community following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Comments are being sought from each of the council’s area committees on the draft 2020-23 strategy prior to it being presented to Infrastructure Services Committee for approval.