An interview with Ranger Team Leader Alex Schipperen
Wednesday 16 August, 2023
Ranger Team Leader Alex works around Ballarat on Wadawurrung Country. He loves working with locals who share his enthusiasm for making our parks more inclusive and taking care of nature.
Ranger Team Leader Alex Schipperen, on the job on Wadawurrung Country. Photo Credit: Parks Victoria
How long have you worked at Parks Victoria?
Seven years – almost on the dot!
What made you want to become a ranger, and what do you like best about the job?
The first 7 years after completing my teaching degree, I taught biology at a secondary college, which I absolutely loved. I took my students outside as often as I could, but realised I wanted to have a more direct impact on my local environment. While backpacking in Australia, I met a Parks Victoria ranger in the Grampians (Gaiwerd) National Park, and that sealed the deal for me!
This job is so much about connecting people to nature, just like teaching, and seeing how amazing our environments are and what positive roles people can play in them. Working and protecting our environment every day is never a chore and I am so lucky to work alongside a great group of ranger-colleagues.
What's been your most memorable experience working at Parks Victoria?
A few things come to mind – such as attending my first wildfire. But most memorable is probably realising how happy the Ballarat community was when we opened the Dementia Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail, a project I was lucky enough to be involved in. The long-lasting positive impacts for people living with dementia and their carers have also personally changed my view on what nature can do to help us, and how we can help nature at the same time. The trail’s location previously felt a bit neglected and had become a hotspot for illegal wood cutting and rubbish dumping. Now that we’ve built the trail, it’s transformed to a healthy, thriving area, with people visiting for the right reasons.
The trail makes people feel welcome to Woowookarung Regional Park and allows everyone to come together to celebrate their connection to nature and enjoy time with family and friends. Come to think of it – seeing the endangered Enfield Grevilleas flowering after good winter rains is pretty special too, together with the Brush-tailed Phascogales I see on many mornings on my drive into work!
Brush-tailed phascogales (phascogale tapoatafa) are a species native to Victoria. Photo credit: Wayne Williams
Tell us more about your work on the Woowookarung Dementia Friendly Trail! How did you work with the community and what did you achieve?
A project like this can only succeed if everyone works together – all noses in the same direction dreaming on what's possible. It started with a special member of the Ballarat community pitching the idea of a sensory garden, which Parks Victoria embraced and took up a notch to a full Sensory Trail!
So many people stood up to support this project, from community members who co-designed the trail, to people living with dementia who tested the park furniture, different trail surfaces, features, and signage. Health experts and care homes shared their experiences of bringing groups to the trail, nursery volunteers grew the sensory plants, and even construction workers completed Dementia Awareness Training so they could better understand what difference they could make.
We were fortunate to also have support from local businesses, sponsoring otherwise expensive park infrastructure such as the Welcome Shelter and the Bush Window. Perhaps most impressive were the many, many school students that helped people living with dementia plant and water over 4600 seedlings!
Two years on, the Dementia Friendly Trail has seen more than 27,000 visitors and we’ve had interest from other park managers across the country who would like to set up their own.
Parts of the Dementia Friendly Sensory Trail are raised to make walking easier, allowing wheelchair users to touch and hug trees. Photo credit: Parks Victoria
What role do rangers and the community play in contributing to conservation and effective land management?
Rangers would be lost without the support they get from their community.
We’re fortunate to have community members who are fauna and flora experts, pick up other people’s litter when going on a walk, grow plants to revegetate disturbed areas in the bush, provide us information on illegal activities impacting the environment, and work with us to keep their garden plants inside their property. Park rangers, visitors and locals all work together, along with other agencies, school and recreational groups. This all contributes to conservation, in and outside of the parks, and makes the environment as a whole more robust.