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Is this the end for the Countryside Management Association… or a new beginning?

Matthew Chatfield

Way back in the 1980s a young ranger, still wet behind the ears, joined the Association of Countryside Rangers. The ACR was a national organisation that gave him an opportunity to go off to meet like-minded colleagues from his area, and beyond, learn about his trade, and swap stories and experiences. It was a good time, and many friends were made along the way. At some point, the ACR became the Countryside Management Association, and as the young chap worked his way up the management tree and the years went by, employers became less inclined to pay for rangers to go off to networking and training events, and – like others – he became less involved with the organisation. You’ve probably guessed who that young ranger was.

Countryside Management Association logo

Now the end of this venerable institution may be at hand – or possibly a new beginning. It seems as though my involvement in CMA has not been atypical. Despite a fairly lively magazine and website, the association hasn’t had many active members for a long time, although there have been a few regions (step forward, the south-west) where it’s been more active than others (yes, Wales, I mean you). Now the CMA is at a crossroads, and decisions are required. I realise this is a bit of a specialist article, so if you’ve no interest in the Countryside Management Association and its future, feel free to move along as you won’t really want to read the rest of this. Otherwise, and should you also want to know my personal stance in this debate, read on.

Cover, Ranger 75

CMA members now face a hard choice: or perhaps an easy one. Hard, because whatever happens it will mean saying goodbye to something long-established that many of us view with affection. Easy, because the options before us are so very limited, and have no prospect of expanding. The official information for members is here, but allow me to précis. The national committee have come up with three options for members to consider and discuss. These are:

  1. Merge with the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM)
  2. Carry on as now
  3. Change to a simpler and cheaper ‘networking & sharing of good practice’ organisation

Can we stay as we are? I’ve got to offer my admiration and thanks to the committee who managed to get this together: whatever course we take the one thing I see as indisputable is that this is a choice that we’ve needed to make for a long time. With national events no longer practical, and CMA in many parts of the country no longer active, the days of a ACR representative in each county organising events and training are long gone. Change is undoubtedly necessary because the CMA, for all its merits, is working to a model that became outdated at least ten years ago. The real cost of this approach is that as involvement of members falls below the level necessary to sustain a viable organisation, volunteers to run it become fewer and further between. That way – the way of no change – leads to stagnation and eventual dissolution. I have for some time feared that was the fate that inevitably awaited CMA. To discover that it might not is heartening news indeed. What has changed? To me, the greatest value in the organisation today (as opposed to the rose-tinted memories I have of the ACR in the 1980s) is the networking and communication aspect of it. Since those early years of my career the internet has come along and revolutionised the way we communicate, and the way that specialist communities grow up and interact. Face-to-face meetings are rarer, and more expensive. Informal communication by text, email, blog or discussion forum is now commonly used by the majority. Indeed, young people coming into the industry cannot imagine any other way of working. It’s worth noting that the CMA is still trying to operate a structure that was devised before we even had mobile phones, let alone computers. Countryside managers have never been short of things to say, but we no longer need an organisation to facilitate communication: we can do that ourselves. What we now need is a set of useful and interesting professionals to communicate with. So where now? So, assuming the status quo is not a way forward, that leaves for consideration the open arms of the IEEM. Should we step into this embrace, or reform ourselves as some kind of virtual community? To me, this seems to be a choice we don’t actually have to make: we can have both. Yes, both! In fact, we probably will have both whichever choice we make. This is because giving CMA members the chance to join IEEM on what seem to be very generous terms does not necessarily mean giving up our own networking. In fact, my view is that union will enhance it. I must now emerge from the closet and reveal myself as a long-standing IEEM member, since 1996 in fact. That body is, as many have said, a fairly academic and professional one. However, that is because the membership use it for those purposes, and is not a bad thing as far as it goes. To complement that solid professional work what IEEM members could really benefit from would be the chance to step forward and embrace the online networking culture wholeheartedly… just as the CMA has done in a small way, for example. Perhaps, actually, the IEEM is not just offering charity to another body down on its luck: IEEM knows what it is doing – perhaps it knows that it could benefit from the input of CMA members. I certainly think that a few CMA members getting directly involved in IEEM could have a big impact on that body, and a beneficial one for both IEEM and CMA members. Our chance to get it right My recommendation and vote will be to give the national committee a mandate to merge with IEEM. There could be many reasons for this, but mine are simple. I do not see any other sustainable way forward for CMA as it now stands. I do not wish to give up the enjoyable and beneficial friendships and professional networks that I have built up within and around CMA – but I don’t believe that union with IEEM will mean the loss of such networks. In fact it may be the only way to save them. Existing CMA members will not get as good an offer as this again. Rather than watch it fade to nothing we can take the network and knowledge we have built up and use it to benefit, in a modest way, not just ourselves but a wider professional community. Let’s take this chance and go forward positively.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

6 thoughts on “Is this the end for the Countryside Management Association… or a new beginning?

  • Jonny Walker

    Now that this a few years old I wonder if it is still relevant to me. Is CMA an active group that I should get involved in or would I just be wasting my time?



    • The Virtual Ranger

      Actually it’s had a bit of a resurgence recently. I’d say yes, give it a go.

  • chris taylor

    I worked up in Scotland for bit and SCRA was absolutely excellent. I was currently looking for something similar in Wales. Have just signed up (well still time to cancel!) to the CMA but it seems a bit inactive/in limbo – particularly in Wales. I would be keen to help that change because I know the benefits of just meeting other rangers.

    Then I saw the English Rangers website -this too looks inviting and active, but no such thing in Wales? Or is there? Please let me know if there is.

    Chris Taylor
    Skomer Island, Wales.

  • The merger is all about looking forward not backwards. Countryside management cannot be looked at in isolation. Many members have broader roles than just looking after the countryside, in fact some work in towns and cities. We all know that there can be more wildlife in an urban cemetery or pond than some areas of the far-from-natural countryside. Thus the name is dated and reflects a bygone age.

    But this is proposal in more than changing the name and image of the association. It is about joining forces with another organisation, which has a larger remit. The new organisation will offer members greater support and help them develop their careers and knowledge.

    Many venerable (old) members of the CMA started off their life as park or countryside rangers but, 20 years or so later, they now have climbed and crawled their way up the career tree. There is danger that as someone’s career moves on they no longer remain a member feeling that the CMA is just for rangers. The merger will welcome all those involved with environmental management, including those in the business and voluntary sectors.

    We have the opportunity to keep what is best about the CMA and merge with another like-minded organisation. All over the country charities and trades unions are merging ” so they can face the future and avoid duplication and waste of resources. We too have to look at that choice.

  • Although I am now retired I was once a member of the ACR and I remember hearing similar sort of comments as put forward by Ray HV when the ACR ‘evolved’ into the CMA and many rangers at that time thought it a bad idea. Now that the CMA might be emasculated further away from its original foundation perhaps some bright spark among frontline rangers could set up an organisation that truly reflect their concerns and ideals rather than those of desk-bound pen pushers. Perhaps they could call it the Association of Countryside Rangers!

    The Ranger responds: they already have, ERA


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