Tom Schmit has worked as a ranger in the Upper Sûre Nature Park since the summer of 2021. He is the first ranger in Luxembourg and his mission is to look after the park, protect the fauna and flora and educate visitors. His trusted weapon of choice is communication!
With its picture-postcard unspoiled natural landscape, numerous rivers and never-ending forests, the Upper Sûre Nature Park became the new playground of the first ranger in Luxembourg on 1 June 2021. Information, raising awareness and surveillance have become the key words in the daily life of this young man who spends most of his time roaming the plains of this vast and extensive landscape in the north of the country
This persona and the name "ranger" may have an American ring to it, conjuring up images of large national parks and armed guards in uniform. We imagine a young man on horseback with khaki pants, a beige shirt and a wide-brimmed hat with a high cap, but we could be mistaken! The Luxembourgish version of a ranger is not a cowboy armed to the teeth, fixated on protecting the nature reserve at all costs and searching to penalise visitors. On the contrary... his weapon of choice is communication!
He's not a sheriff
In similar vein to his foreign colleagues, this professional rides the boundary between humanity and nature and spends much of his working time in the great outdoors. In summer, you’ll regularly find him strolling across the beaches of the lake of the Upper Sûre to inform, raise awareness and, where necessary, alert visitors in case of any failures to comply with the rules.
When the sun shines bright, large crowds of visitors flock to this area around the lake from all over the country. Sadly, this influx of people has negative consequences on the region, from chaos on the roads to mountains of rubbish on the beaches. It's at this point that Tom Schmit, the local ranger, has to remind people of the rules of conduct and to warn them of their irresponsible behaviour, which is often unintentional. The objective of the ranger is not to punish visitors but to communicate with them, because dialogue and providing explanations are essential tools when dealing with people.
This newly created role offers a wide range of advantages. The ranger is able to keep a watchful eye on the Upper Sûre Nature Park, raise awareness of the site and intervene in case of inappropriate behaviour.
The ranger therefore plays a key role in the co-existence of the Upper Sûre lake. He acts as an intermediary and contact person for the inhabitants, tourists and local administrations.
A versatile role in the heart of nature
The nature park is now able to offer visitors and local residents access to a well-informed contact person for a broad range of issues concerning the water, environmental and landscape protection regulations in force. From a total of 122 outings this year, mainly at the weekend, visitors have reacted very positively to the ranger's honest, friendly and informative approach. "Tourists really appreciate discovering more about the region. Meetings have repeatedly shown that tourists are happy to receive information about the region and the offers available at the nature park", stated Tom Schmit.
The ranger's role is broad in its scope and essentially driven by environmental awareness. When he strolls through the valleys, he helps to maintain the heritage of the site by checking hiking trails and signs as well as tourist facilities (benches, rubbish bins, etc.). He also helps to monitor the new protection zones in the lake of the Upper Sûre and the programme of complementary measures.
In fact, his field of work is as vast as the terrain that he covers. He organises guided tours and workshops to raise awareness: the guided tours cover all sort of topics, such as drinking water, water protection and nature conservation. Moreover, he can also support the emergency services in the event of forest fires and other urgent situations.
Tracking down the ranger
Even though the Grand Duchy does not have parks as large as the United States, the Luxembourg ranger works in the five member municipalities of the Upper Sûre Nature Park (Boulaide, Esch-sur-Sûre, the municipality of lake of the Upper Sûre, Winseler and Wiltz) as well as in the municipality of Goesdorf, which is a candidate for membership.
His daily tasks revolve around protecting nature and the fauna and flora, monitoring the region and communicating with visitors. But who is this ranger? How did this young man have the idea to turn a passion into a profession? We managed to track him down and asked him a series of other questions! Read the fascinating interview with the first ranger in Luxembourg.
What does it feel like to be the only ranger in Luxembourg?
I am proud to have been given this opportunity as a ranger. From a personal perspective, it doesn't matter that I'm the only ranger in the country. The work I do is important to me, and that’s what matters the most.
How did you become a ranger? Do you have to take a particular academic route to become a ranger?
The position immediately caught my attention and I sent my application straight away. After several interviews, I received a call informing me that the Upper Sûre Nature Park was going to offer me the position of ranger. I did not receive any specific training for this role. As a student, I worked with many stakeholders in the region, with whom I now work on a daily basis as a ranger. I also travelled to Canada, where I worked as a landscape gardener for about a year. I reckon that my passion for nature probably helped me to get this job.
After one year on the job, what are your impressions and how would you describe the overall experience?
Actually, I have only been working at the Upper Sûre Nature Park for six months, but I can confirm that I have a wide range of responsibilities. The tourists, who come mainly from outside the Greater Region, are happy to receive information about the park and really appreciate my work. However, it is sometimes difficult to deal with visitors who have been coming to the region around the lake for several years. In certain circumstances, there is a lack of respect towards their fellow citizens and nature. They misunderstand my role and demand the right to live their own lives.
"The work I do is important to me, and that’s what matters the most".
Tom Schmit, ranger in the Upper Sûre Nature Park.
How do you operate? Do you need any special equipment?
To carry out my duties, I do not need any special equipment as such. I travel through the region wearing the uniform provided to me by the nature park; it allows me to be easily recognised. During the summer, I realised that this outfit was more than enough for tourists to easily identify me and they understand that they could ask me for information. Initially, I travelled around the site on a bike. I soon realised that on foot it's easier to talk to people and answer their questions. However, the Nature Park has given me an electric van to get to meetings on time!
Please can you share an anecdote with us about something you have experienced during your first year.
During the summer I was walking between the Fuussefeld and Burfelt beaches, close to the Belvedere viewpoint, when I saw a man lying on the ground. Initially, it was difficult to see what was wrong but when I spoke to him I quickly realised that he was in a lot of pain and that he was not very responsive. I realised that he was a tourist and was stubbornly refusing the need for medical care. Despite this fact, I called the emergency services. The man quickly received medical attention and within moments two ambulances and a helicopter were on site. As his situation had worsened, he was immediately airlifted to hospital. I found this situation very stressful but, in the end, my intervention allowed the person to receive urgent medical attention.
What types of violations do you witness the most?
Ignorance and the lack of respect.
Most visitors who come to enjoy the lake are unaware that there are certain rules regarding behaviour. Nevertheless, I hope that the many discussions that I have had with people this year will bear fruit and improve the situation over the coming years. For example, it's not a very good idea to light a fire, especially close to a forest.
Also, if several people are gathered in the same place, then respect should be mutual. Empathy and compassion are often found lacking. In many cases, people are either too noisy or do things that disturb others.
What message would you like to pass on (in general)?
Communication between people must be maintained irrespective of the situation: a criticism should not always be badly received. People must be aware that they are rarely alone in certain locations. They should take this into account, and that is why we must remain respectful towards the people around us. Mutual respect is important. Also, we must work harder to protect the environment. Sometimes, it may just be a small drop in the ocean, but many small drops can change the tide of opinion...