Volunteer of the Year nominee: Chris Maloney - Keeper of the Peak

As the vote for our Park Protector Awards 2022 Volunteer of the Year gets underway, we spoke to one of the shortlisted nominees Chris Maloney - who helps protect Peak District National Park as 'Keeper of the Peak' about his work and why National Parks matter to him...

How did you start volunteering in the National Park? 

Keeper of the Peak started nearly a decade ago from me giving route advice against using a waterlogged path on an internet forum. “Who died and made you keeper of the peak?” was the not unfair challenge. I thought I’d turn the negative into a positive and set up the feed soon after. It was really just an extension of other things I did in the Peak; leading novice rides, encouraging shy or nervous riders into the hills with friends, all the while looking after the place and encouraging people to care about the places they ride. @KoftheP on Twitter was a quick and easy way to connect people to caring for such an important place – in such a simple way.  

Tell us about the volunteering you did in 2021 and what difference you think it's made... 

2021 was “THE YEAR EVERYONE WENT BACK OUTSIDE”. For the national parks, the lessening of pandemic restrictions led to more and more people getting out into the hills, brilliantly so. As more people came back, more people looked for guidance and Keeper of the Peak was right there, sharing updates from guides, keeping up with the trail conditions updates, but then also importantly, connecting groups like mountain rescue to wider audience as they managed the challenges of pandemic outdoors access. Keeper of the Peak is a hub to connect people and groups and as things picked up again; events, rides, activities, the feed came alive again. 

In 2021 I worked hard to build stronger communities and this started delivering rewarding relationships in 2021. Landowners and authorities have started looking beyond covid, and Keeper of the Peak has been at the centre of a lot of that – all from a daft idea for a Twitter feed!   But at the core is that Twitter feed. It's one of the first things I check in the morning and the last thing at night - keeping a watching brief on what's going on and help people to enjoy the park responsibly. It's gone beyond just mountain bikers too - walkers, horse riders, runners and more use and share the updates from @KoftheP. It's grown far beyond where I thought it would originally.

How does it feel to be nominated and shortlisted for this? 

It’s a real honour to be nominated. A real honour. And that’s because its someone who follows me who has nominated Keeper of the Peak for this. Someone has seen value in the effort I put in to improve things for the mountain biking community (and others) in the Peak District and seen how much I care about it. For them to have taken the time to put me forward means a lot and is really encouraging. Thank you to who ever it was – I really mean that. But Keeper of the Peak is just the name. The real honour should go to all those who contribute. If anything this nomination is for the entire community of people who follow and share. They’re the ones who make it work and I love that. What does it mean to be shortlisted? Well that means that others see real value in what I do to look after the Peak District National Park. I’m sure there were loads of brilliant, brilliant nominees, so to be selected is very rewarding. I hope it makes a positive difference. This says that others think it does, and that makes me very proud. 

What would you say to anyone else thinking about volunteering in a National Park? 

Do it. Don’t hesitate. You will see the most beautiful places and meet the most interesting and knowledgeable, caring people out there AND play a part in protecting all of those things. These places need volunteers. They need you. And volunteering doesn't have to be a huge time investment or a day squeezed into a busy life - there's a lot of 'stuff' that happens beyond wall building and litter picks. The digital world is growing for our national parks and they need help here.   But speaking from personal experience – we need these places too. They are so special, let’s look after them. 

Why do you think National Parks are important? 

Nothing compares to the orange sunset on the moors, or the blue peaks showing through a cloud inversion in the Lakes. From the criss-cross bridleways of Dartmoor to the remote isolation of the North Yorkshire Moors; the sea views of Exmoor to the lush Yorkshire Dales there’s a unique beauty to them all. Each has its own identity, but each together are something we should be so proud of as a nation. These are not just holiday destinations, but living, breathing working spaces each with something different to offer. They’re vital to out own national identity but also the identity of the people who live in and near them. The Peak District is part of me. Without being there in mind or body daily I am lost. And I’m so lucky it is on my doorstep. It’s sanctuary, a playground, and something which I love being close to. These are stunning, inspirational landscapes. Without them I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing and they provide so much for not only me, but the people who live in them, the wildlife and plantlife that needs the space they provide and the visitors who come to them. We’re so very lucky to have the National Parks and the people who care for them so diligently.   

You can cast your vote for Chris, or any of the other shortlisted nominees for Volunteer of the Year HERE - deadline 30 June 2022.