Park Protector Awards 2021 - winners revealed!

18 March 2021

Lake District National Park’s ‘Safer Lakes’ response to the challenges of the global pandemic has seen it win Campaign for National Parks’ top Park Protector Award 2021.

Volunteer woodland warden Rod Gentry won the People’s Choice Volunteer of the Year vote for his work in South Downs National Park.

Runners-up prizes were awarded to Moors for the Future Partnership in Peak District National Park and Be Wild Buckfastleigh in Dartmoor National Park.

This year’s awards attracted nominations from 12 out of 13 National Parks in England and Wales with a range of work represented – from ensuring local people had access to food and medicine, to health and wellbeing initiatives, nature conservation and visitor engagement, much of which moved online.

National Parks in England and Wales saw huge increases in visitors in between lockdowns last year (2020) which brought many challenges but also opportunities – which Lake District National Park Authority, volunteer teams such as Rod’s and many others seized to not only care for the parks, but transform their approach to caring for the landscape and engaging with residents and visitors.

Overall winner: Safer Lakes (Lake District National Park)

Through a huge partnership working effort with local emergency services, landowners, conservation charities and a growing army of volunteers, the new Safer Lakes approach meant that Lake District National Park was better able to deal with issues which overwhelmed other beauty spots – from littering and wild camping to irresponsible car parking and fires.

A new WhatsApp group received up to 1,000 messages a day and enabled the relevant teams to respond to problems quickly and efficiently in what the Safer Lakes leads have called a ‘neighbourhood watch scheme’ for the National Park.

As well as introducing new means for improved partnership working, Lake District National Park Authority sped-up efforts to introduce an electric vehicle fleet and installed solar-panelled cameras into car parks to provide live updates of how busy the car parks were via a new website, something that was adopted elsewhere in the UK.

“Far from being a standard crisis management response, Safer Lakes is a transformational way of working, which puts the National Park in a much stronger position for the future,” said Campaign for National Parks Chief Executive Anita Konrad, who was joined on the judging panel by BBC Countryfile Magazine Editor Fergus Collins, RSPB Cymru Director Katie-Jo Luxton and Stephen Ross from Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust (RHCT), which sponsored the awards.

Anita added: “The Safer Lakes’ legacy will outlive the pandemic, with new ways of working established, new volunteers engaged and new innovative technology solutions adopted. It’s something other National Parks can and will learn with its impact extending far beyond the Lakes.”

Director of Communications and Resources at Lake District National Park Kerry Powell, who nominated Safer Lakes, said: “The scale of the multi-agency working is unprecedented for a rural landscape. On some of our nights of action, we’ve had in excess of 40 partner vehicles on one operation. Together we are stronger and our landscape is Safer – and that’s what Safer Lakes is all about. What started as a community response, will become a permanent way of working for the future.”

On learning that Safer Lakes had secured the main £1,000 Park Protector Award, Head of Visitor Services and Communications at Lake District National Park Tony Watson said: “We’re quite emotional about this news because the past year has been very challenging. Safer Lakes is something we’re really proud of. I’m confident that it is the future way of working as us, and it provides a template. If you make it about the people, you protect the place.”

Volunteer of the Year: Rod Gentry (South Downs National Park)

For the first time, the Park Protector Awards included a Volunteer of the Year public vote – which returned Rod Gentry as the overall winner for his work in South Downs National Park.

In nominating Rod, Community Ranger for Forestry England in South Downs National Park Jadie Baker said: “Over the last year, the number of visitors to the forest have been rising, many people coming to the forest for the first time and Rod has been instrumental in helping to balance the needs of the visitors and the needs of the forest.

“In managing the Friends of Friston Forest Facebook page, Rod has fostered a sense of community among its diverse user groups. The horse riders, the dog walkers, the runners, the cyclists all find a place they can be visible and have a voice, and through Rod carefully mediating the chat to keep it local and relevant, people find a common ground – a shared respect for the forest and the wider National Park and a desire to look after it.”

Rod, winner of a 3-night walking holiday in Lake District National Park courtesy of Ramblers Worldwide Holidays, said: “I was absolutely gobsmacked to find out I was nominated and shortlisted for this award and, after reading about the volunteers from other National Parks, I can’t quite believe I’ve won it. I volunteer because I enjoy it but it’s really nice to have this recognition; and the Lake District’s always been on my bucket list but I’ve not been, so I’m looking forward to that very much.”

Rod was chosen by the public from a shortlist of five volunteers, which included David Bird from Snowdonia National Park, Jess Davison from Northumberland National Park, Vicky Pearson from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and David Bream from North York Moors National Park. You can read their stories here.

Runner-up: Moors for the Future Partnership (Peak District National Park)

2020 was also a year that threatened to disrupt important conservation work, but runner-up Moors for the Future Partnership in Peak District National Park managed to adapt and innovate to continue with their efforts restoring 6.74 km2 of peatland which boosts biodiversity, benefitting local wildlife, as well as directly impacting local water quality, reducing flood and fire risk and improving carbon capture to tackle climate change. It is these incredible efforts which saw them secure one of the two £500 Park Protector Awards runner-up prizes.

Chair of Moors for the Future Partnership David Chapman said: “I am very proud of the way that the Partnership has not just kept the wheels on, but has continued to keep things going at some pace. Moors for the Future Partnership has successfully carried out over £5 million of restoration works on the Peak District and South Pennine moorlands despite a snowy carpet blanketing the moors more often than not, and coordinating this programme of works from their kitchen tables.”

He added: “The Park Protector Awards 2021 is a well-deserved recognition for their innovation and agility in successfully keeping the show on the road in the face of a global pandemic.”

Runner-up: Be Wild Buckfastleigh (Dartmoor National Park)

The Park Protector Awards awarded a second runner-up prize for Be Wild Buckfastleigh – a grass-roots project which connects families and older people to nature and wildlife in Dartmoor National Park.

Hundreds of children’s activity packs were distributed via foodbanks and other avenues, there were bird-box making workshops for older people and free socially distanced and self-guided wildlife walks. Local families were engaged with nature and wildlife, and the health and wellbeing benefits of this, through online activity including an active Facebook group and vibrant YouTube channel (with DVD copies being made for families who weren’t online).

One of the Be Wild Buckfastleigh volunteers Jo Swift said: “Our situation within Dartmoor National Park is key to the town’s identity and we understand the importance of connecting people to the place they live, even more so during the past year of lockdowns and the impact of the pandemic. We are seen as an inclusive and ambitious community project with a strong and developing relationship with Dartmoor National Park Authority and a model that can be replicated in other National Park communities.”

Thank you!

Anita said: “We were absolutely blown away by the quality of nominations this year. We knew when we launched the awards last month (Feb 2021) that staff and volunteers in our National Parks had gone above and beyond this past year not only to protect, but to share our National Parks with everyone at their time of need. Reading through the applications, it really hit home just how amazing – and successful – these efforts have been, and in many cases continue to be.”

Fellow judge Stephen Ross from RHCT, added: “2020 was a particularly challenging year for all those working and volunteering to protect our National Parks. The broad range of proposals for the awards reflected that challenge and presented the judges with a particularly difficult set of choices. All of the applicants deserved to win and to be congratulated, but the judges were unanimous in our final decision."

A big thank you to everyone who made a nomination to our Park Protector Awards and to all those staff and volunteers who work week-in, week-out to protect and improve our National Parks.