Meet Ranger Jane Who Runs a Northumberland Beach School in Seahouses
Jane Dixon, founder of Ranger Jane's Beach School, is representing Northumberland, having been nominated for the Tourism Superstar award for 2023
Jane is from Keighley in West Yorkshire but enjoyed holidaying in Northumberland as a child. ‘We rented a house in Low Newton-by-the-Sea for two weeks with my parents and older sister and younger brother,’ she recalls. ‘We explored the sand dunes, the rock pools and Newton Pool bird hide on our own for most of the day, returning for lunch and an evening meal. My best memories as a child were in Northumberland and when I had the opportunity to live and work from Low Newton I took the opportunity as a challenge.’
Jane moved to Northumberland aged 39. 'My younger brother (by a year) had a fatal accident in 2003 leaving a widow and a young baby, my niece,’ she says. ‘This was a huge shock to everyone and made me focus on the important things in life so I left Barclays Bank to work for a much lower salary in Northumberland. There really is more to life than a well-paid job.’
Jane was a voluntary National Trust working holiday leader from 1995–2010 during her holidays. ‘I volunteered for a week in Northumberland, a week in the Lake District every year, and weekends in the Yorkshire Dales near Malham,’ she says. ‘I drove the National Trust minibus, made menu plans for groups of 12, bought the shopping, led tool talks with activities like dry stone walking (Lake District), pond maintenance (Northumberland), tree coppicing, grass cutting and raking and footpath repairs etc for over 10 years.’
When she moved to the area, she applied online to be a National Trust ranger in North Northumberland – based from Low Newton. ‘The coast and community warden job included 50 percent of my week working with the local community (school nature walks, big hunts, middle school litter picking and rock pooling days, scouts and guides). The role of coast and community warden was renamed “ranger” in 2014 and the 50 percent of my week working with the community was gradually reduced to only 10 hours a year unfortunately. I had seen the positive impact on children’s wellbeing these activities had made. I wanted to keep the connection with these children who 10 years later still remembered a morning on the beach with me, so I decided to take the financial risk of going freelance.’
Jane is a former coastguard rescue officer so used all of her experiences to train as a Beach School Practitioner in 2021. ‘Unfortunately in August 2021, just five weeks from setting up Ranger Jane Beach School, I suffered a detached retina, losing my eyesight in my left eye,’ she reveals. ‘I had to cancel all bookings and refund my customers explaining I couldn’t safely walk on uneven surfaces. After an emergency vitrectomy operation at the RVI, further laser treatment and two independent cataract operations nine months later I had my eyesight back and could start working again safely in April 2022. I won’t ever take my eyesight for granted again.'
Now Jane is representing Northumberland with her place on the shortlist for Tourism Superstars 2023. ‘I was emailed in December 2022 saying two holiday cottage owners had nominated me in secret,’ she says. ‘Visit Northumberland kindly shortlisted me to represent Northumberland and arranged for a videographer to spend five hours with me in early January making the 45-second film. A good friend brought her grandchildren and they were my top secret models. Matt, the videographer, drove from London, used a drone (when it stopped raining) and took video and photographs to be used in the secret shoot on the 7th January 2023 at low tide. Matt had interviewed David Attenborough previously, which was amazing to hear about.’
‘My best memories as a child were in Northumberland
and when I had the opportunity to live and work from
Low Newton I took the opportunity as a challenge'
Jane has recently been working with a food bank charity in South Shields and will continue to offer nature activities for up to 40 children on the beach, using Holiday Activity Fund money to provide a hot meal each at lunchtime. ‘I’ve also been invited to take part in Amble Puffin Festival on 27th and 28th May on the beach at Amble,’ she says. ‘The two days will include a huge public Seashore Safari each day guided by me when the tide is low – carefully and respectfully looking for sea creatures like crabs or starfish.
‘Howick Hall have invited me this year to host Wildlife Wednesdays from April to November which will be a lovely opportunity to widen my activities. I will be delivering exciting environmentally-friendly nature activities to visiting families whilst they explore the beautiful house and gardens. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Howick gardens as a licensed bird ringer, ringing barn owls, tawny owls and kestrels as a volunteer with my trainer Phil Hamner.’
Your favourite place to walk in the North East?
I have lived at High Newton and then Seahouses for the last nine years, and love every bit of coast. My favourite walk is from Beadnell to the Long Nanny Burn where the Arctic Terns, Little Terns and Ringed Plover breed from May to July every year. The National Trust has looked after the site for over 30 years; it’s a lovely place to visit in all seasons. The beach at the Long Nanny in Beadnell Bay is roped off to give the birds space to breed but diversions are in place for all visitors and residents. I’ve trained the six seasonal staff who camp in the dunes under licence from Natural England, enjoying the outdoor life. For many of these young assistant rangers it was their first paid job and many have continued to work in nature on the Farne Islands, Norfolk, Shetland and Orkney, building a career in conservation.
An item you couldn’t live without?
My Dryrobe, and a flask of tea.
A book you recommend?
I love the LJ Ross books based on Northumberland and I am currently enjoying Bamburgh. When I had my operation at the RVI in Newcastle I was listening to Louise’s audiobooks including The Infirmary, which was a murder mystery based in the RVI – a little too close to home.
Tell us about a hidden gem in the North East?
I enjoy finding quiet places most of all like Duddo Five Stones up inland from Berwick; they’re 4,000 years old, called The Singing Stones or The Women locally.
Best snack for a long journey.
A cheese sandwich. I also take water, a flask of tea, fruit and some sort of chocolate treat.
Advice you’d give your younger self?
Follow your dreams. Nobody was a female ranger when my careers adviser suggested working in a bank at age 16 as I was really good at maths. I was also the first female warden on the Northumberland Coast for the National Trust, paving the way for other female rangers.