What’s life like being a ranger protecting Dartmoor?
PUBLISHED: 10:59 24 April 2019
© Nick Turner 2018
Every day is different. Simon Lee, Dartmoor’s Ranger Team Manager, talks to ANNE BRUNNER-ELLIS about his work as a guardian of the moor
With heather clad moorland, peat laden rivers and and granite tors in all shapes and sizes, Dartmoor is a special landscape and annual destination for 2.3 million tourists.
On a day-to-day basis, care of the moor lies with the National Park Rangers. You may see them leading a volunteer group or assisting with the annual Ten Tors school challenge.
But they also have to deal with the sharp edge realities of moorland life – sheep hit by cars, ponies fed sandwiches in car parks, litter strewn across the roads.
Growing up on the edge of the moor and of the moor, and having worked for the National National Park for 16 years, Simon Lee is well qualified to talk about Dartmoor.
“I love the moor and could not think of a better job,” he enthuses.
From a student ranger, then to a sector ranger and then , to Ranger Team Manager, Simon leads a team of ten who together form the eyes and ears of the moor.
“Communication is an essential part of our role,” he explains. “We are the connecting point between thee National National Park, local communities, landowners and visitors. 'Open for business' 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, But the role of a ranger is never the same from one day to the next. Defining it by duties is is almost impossible.”
However, Dartmoor is a living and working landscape – 90 per cent is cent of the land is used for farming and it is home to over 45,000 people.
Whilst visitors are encouraged and , essential income for local people, the needs of the farming and local communities are important; a It is a balance that Simon is constantly aware of.
“We work with the local community, parish councils and schools,” he explains. “It can be anything from assisting with community-led projects, working with schools on wildlife projects and during the snow we were on hand to delivering supplies to those living in remote areas where necessary.”
Around half of the work is proactive – repairing rights of way, putting in alleviating erosion, removing fallen trees. But the other half is reactive and it is this work that is not always easy.
“We may be the first on the scene of an accident and this – and that can be challenging,” says Simon. “It might be a walker, car accident or animal. The key is to be calm, not panic and to work through the situation step by step.”
Whilst the majority respect the moor, there are some who put themselves and others at risk.
“The cost for irresponsible behaviour is high,” explains Simon. “Litter costs the National Park £20,000 to dispose of annually and in 2017 there were 66 recorded attacks on livestock and 164 animal deaths or injuries on the roads.”
Increasing visitors represents the biggest challenge. “We work hard to keep the moor a place that is special for people and wildlife – a place without litter, a place where you can learn about the special qualities whether that be understanding the archaeological landscape or learning about the flora and fauna, a place where you can enjoy the 450 miles of rights of way,” says Simon.
“But with increased usage, especially in the honeypot areas, there is a lot more to be done to ensure that the area does not suffer.”
Working with the Rangers, volunteers make a huge contribution. “Each year, the track to Haytor Rocks, for example, sees 30,000 pairs of feet and combined with the rainfall has this has led to serious erosion,” says Simon.
“Volunteers have cleared the cross ditches and installed new ones and have been instrumental in helping maintain the area so that others can enjoy it.”
Simon sees the key to success through educating the younger visitors. For the 5- to 12-year-olds there is the Ranger Ralph Club. There are around 12 ranger-led activities annually – from a wassailing ceremony, medieval games in a Dartmoor longhouse, to nocturnal adventures on the moor.
For older children, Junior Rangers offer children a chance to develop a deeper understanding of Dartmoor, as well developing practical and personal skills.
And for the 16+ age group the Rangers are introducing a Youth Ranger Club.
“As well as enjoying the moor first hand, they are learning something about the countryside that they will keep for the rest of their lives.”
Every day Simon has his eye across the whole moor, juggling a myriad of activities.
“What makes the job so interesting is its variety and never quite knowing what will come up from one day to the next.”
Life of a Dartmoor ranger
• Rangers are out patrolling to ensure that dogs are kept under control and gates are closed especially during the lambing season and bird nesting season
• Erosion repairs
• Repairing stiles
• Mending gates
• Access surveys
• Assisting with swailing (controlled burning)
The Ranger Code asks people to do six simple things
1. Don't feed the ponies
2. Keep your dog on a lead
3. Close gates
4. Bag up litter and take it home
5. Share roads and bridleways
6. Camping: Use a campsite or check the website