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Discovering the Lulworth Rangers of the Lulworth Estate in Dorset

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Who are the Lulworth Rangers tasked with delivering vitally important nature conservation, education and visitor services that enables all of us to safely, sustainably and memorably connect with the Lulworth Estate, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove near Wareham in Dorset?

Maddy Pfaff (Head Lulworth Ranger) and Wayne Munday (Fossil Coast Drinks Co) at Lulworth Cove
Maddy Pfaff (Head Lulworth Ranger) and Wayne Munday (Fossil Coast Drinks Co) at Lulworth Cove

Recently the Team at Fossil Coast Drinks Co attended a Sustainability Conference at the Symondsbury Estate organised by the Jurassic Coast Trust. One of the speakers was James Weld whose family are the custodians to the Lulworth Estate and who told us about the great work undertaken and the sometimes challenging role played by the Lulworth Rangers. It was this talk that inspired us to find out more.

We explore who the Lulworth Rangers are after spending few hours on a sunny afternoon this May with Maddy the Head Ranger and commendably also the very first Ranger.

About the Lulworth Estate

The Lulworth Estate is a 12,000 acre country estate located near Wareham in Dorset and has been the ancestral home to the Weld family since 1641. The Lulworth Estate includes the 17th century Lulworth Castle built by Thomas Howard, Third Viscount Blindon and the youngest son of the Duke of Norfolk. Lulworth Castle was originally built as a hunting lodge for the aristocracy and royalty at the time to enjoy.

The Lulworth Estate includes a 8 kilometre stretch of the Jurassic Coast that was designated a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site over 20 years ago. The Lulworth coastline includes the internationally iconic geological landmarks of Lulworth Cove, the limestone arch of Durdle Door and the sea views of the Isle of Portland.

Ever since the place of Lulworth was first mentioned in The Domesday Book, a historical ledger of property ownership commissioned by King William I (the Conqueror) in 1086 and since 1641 when the ancestors of the current the custodians, the Weld Family, purchased this historically important home. There has always been a philosophy of providing for the preservation of the natural resources and the environment for the benefit of future generations.

The ethos behind managing the Lulworth Estate is one of an endeavour to maintain and improve the widest possible variety of habitats to maximise both biodiversity and geodiversity found on the Estate. In a 2017 interview with Great British Life James Weld said,

“Although our family does own it, as part of the Lulworth Estate, I always say that Durdle Door is something I’ve borrowed from my children, rather than inherited from my father”.

The Estate has always had agriculture at its heart and is today recognised as a leader in managing the balance between safeguarding the natural environment of the area in the face of the ever-growing demand for rural and coastal tourism.

The Estate has a number of statutory designations, including Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) representing some of the UK's best sites for wildlife and geology; Ancient Monuments and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Today over 30% of the land is managed for non-commercial gain but rather for the protection and enhancement of the flora, fauna and natural environment.

The Lulworth Rangers

Who are the “Lulworth Rangers” tasked with delivering vitally important nature conservation, education and visitor services that enable us all to safely, sustainably and memorably connect with the Lulworth landscape?

Like any specialist force they are in fact a modest Team in number but more than adequately make up for this with their specialist expertise, local knowledge and sense of purpose.

The Lulworth Rangers were founded in 1994 as a four-month joint project between Dorset County Council and the Lulworth Estate to primarily develop an education program. At the time there was very little structure and understanding about the area.

The task was to improve the understanding and accessibility of this chalk grassland landscape whose geology and palaeontology dates back 150 million years to the time of Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Fast forwarding, next year the Lulworth Rangers will celebrate 30 years since their formation and the first employee hired as a Ranger in the early 90’s is now today the Head Lulworth Ranger called Maddy Pfaff.

The Lulworth Rangers today number 8 full-time rangers and 8 seasonal rangers based at the Lulworth Cove Visitor Centre. All year round the Lulworth Rangers work long hours often up and working before sun rise whether that is patrolling the beaches, feeding livestock at the farm or checking the beehives in the wild flower meadows.

During the Spring and Summer months the Lulworth Rangers provide visitor services, manage the Estate's conservation, ecology and access programmes, and run the education and outdoor activities – importantly each of the Rangers is First Aid trained.

During the Autumn and Winter months, a period of roughly 4 months, there is no let up. They are out in all weathers maintaining over 100Km of outdoor paths and ensuring many routes are accessible to people with limited mobility.

In addition, there are over 50Km of bridleways to be maintained and programs, tree planting and land management as well as on-going training and coordination with other Agencies including the RNLI and the military.

Among the skills of the Lulworth Rangers is their experience to work with third parties to undertake scientific research projects on the Lulworth Estate. Two such projects have been with firstly, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) to carry out reptile surveys of the Estates populations of Smooth Snake, Adders and the Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) one of the UK's rarest reptiles. Secondly, contributing to the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) collecting data on the abundance of bees, hoverflies and other flower-visiting insects at a national scale.

It’s this type of diligent research and conservation work by the Lulworth Rangers that now means that among the Lulworth Estate’s biodiversity are 32 different types of butterflies, 160 types of flowers and plant and numerous types of bird including the "big five" chalk downland species, resident and migrating birds. Within this population are some rare species such as the Lulworth Skipper butterfly, orchid varieties, Spring Gentian, Eyebright and birds such as Dartford Warblers, Corn Buntings, Peregrine Falcons and Ravens.

A special note should be paid to the conservation of the Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon), a butterfly first discovered in 1832. The Lulworth Skipper is one of the smallest British butterflies whose habitat is found only on the Dorset chalk grasslands, downland, coastal grasslands and undercliffs between Burton Bradstock and Swanage from June to August.

Lulworth skipper (Thymelicus acteon) female, Lulworth Cove, Dorset - Image by Charles J. Sharp CC BY-SA 4.0
Lulworth skipper (Thymelicus acteon) female, Lulworth Cove, Dorset - Image by Charles J. Sharp CC BY-SA 4.0

It would be absent not to mention that the Lulworth Rangers are the local experts in geology and palaeontology. Whether that is the Lulworth Fossil Forest of fossilised conifers, tree-ferns and cycads or other fossils. During the afternoon we understood that evidence of an Iguanodon had recently been found.

What does the future hold for the Lulworth Ranger? The philosophy and ethos does not change as the Lulworth Rangers work closely with the Weld Family to explore innovative approaches to carbon management and reducing CO2 emissions for the future.

In Maddy’s own words,

“There is something for everyone at the Lulworth Estate. If you have seen pictures of Lulworth, it's better! It's what you expect and much more”.

Having met Maddy and had the brief opportunity to discover first-hand what the Lulworth Rangers do and understand the commitment they give towards conservation, land management and visitor services it is evident that they are an essential ingredient to the visitor experience formula. Thank you for your time Maddy.


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