Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.
My name is Kate Dickens, I’m 33 years old and I am a Countryside Ranger at Dean Castle Country Park in Kilmarnock. I deliver environmental education to school and community groups and I lead conservation tasks and events within the Country Park and wider district.
Where did your career start?
I started my career at Culzean Castle and Country Park in South Ayrshire. I had just left university in England and, so decided to just go for it and apply for jobs in a part of the world that I knew to be beautiful. I had holidayed as a child in Scotland quite a lot. I was employed as a Seasonal Ranger for 6 months and was lucky enough to get the same job again the following year. Then in 2008, I got the job here at Dean Castle.
Did you attend College/University?
I completed a degree in Leisure and Sport studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. I completed my dissertation on social inclusion within the countryside, focusing on ethnic minorities. The course allowed me to take modules in countryside management and undertake work experience as a countryside ranger with Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (OMBC). Whilst studying for my degree, I volunteered with OMBC and was mentored by an enthusiastic and inspiring Countryside Ranger called Jane Downall. She had a ‘can do’ attitude and always sought to teach me about the countryside.
Is there equality in this industry?
I believe so. The park manager is female, my old boss was female, and my mentor was female. You do come across sexism and not just from men. I’ve had experiences where men expect me to be incapable because they’ve never seen a woman achieve and succeed in this field of work and that’s a shame for them. I’ve also had to speak up against women who have fostered sexist thoughts, assuming that men will do the job because I won’t be able to. I’ve found that the greatest way of combatting sexism is to always have a go at a task. I might not be as physically strong as some men, but there’s so much more to this job than sheer strength. I understand what my limitations are, but there’s no way they prevent me doing a good job and being successful. Always try to conduct yourself with integrity and you’ll get the respect you deserve.
Do you have any career secrets or tips?
The more experience you get, the better your chances are of succeeding. I have to love this job because, at the end of the day, I’m here to enthuse and ignite people’s passion for wildlife and the outdoors. So get out there, look at wildlife, throw yourself into it and always have a go.
I was fortunate to have parents that enjoyed the outdoors. My dad was a keen gardener and birder. I would sit drawing birds out of books and keep a record of what we had seen on trips and holidays. Unfortunately, he died of cancer whilst I was in my first year at university. My dad taught me how to identify my very first tree, a birch. He showed me how to use binoculars to spot birds and wildlife. I didn’t realise it at the time, but he was the one nurturing me for a career in nature. The loss of my dad was traumatic, just like any bereavement can be, but as the months passed it gave me clarity. I came to realise how resilient I could be, how independent I had become and how short life could be. I wanted to spend my time doing something I loved and I love my job.
Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.