Park Protector Awards 2022 – vote for your Volunteer of the Year

  • Contributor information: CNP

Voting has now closed, with Chris Maloney revealed as the winner of Volunteer of the Year 2022. A big thank you to everyone who nominated and voted.

Five volunteers from National Parks in England and Wales have been shortlisted, covering North York Moors, Northumberland, Peak District, Exmoor and Snowdonia National Parks, following a nationwide search earlier this month.

“Every National Park relies on volunteers to not only keep things running smoothly, but to ramp up efforts to deliver more for people, nature and climate – the theme of this year’s Park Protector Awards,” explained Campaign for National Parks’ Chief Executive Dr Rose O’Neill. “We want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of those volunteers and are delighted to be able to showcase the following five which demonstrate the dedication, commitment and breadth of work carried out by volunteers.”

The shortlisted volunteers are:

Tony Evans (Northumberland National Park) 

2021 was the culmination of decades of work volunteering in Northumberland National Park for Tony Evans, as he has now retired from service. Tony’s swansong was compiling ‘The Last Black House’, telling the hidden social history of the people that built the Catcleugh reservoir through a book, exhibition, media content, tours and talks. Tony put in hundreds of hours of research to uncover the stories of the people who lived and worked in Northumberland National Park in the late 19th century, a story which has been gathering interest from people across the world. The pandemic impacted some in-person events, so Tony took the story online – creating a video and contributing to an online exhibition. Read more from Tony here.

Chris Maloney (Peak District National Park) 

Also known as ‘Keeper of the Peak’, Chris has worked hard over the past decade to build up an online following among mountain bikers to connect people to caring for Peak District National Park as they enjoy leisure time there. Via his communications channels and work on the ground, he keeps people informed of trail conditions and sensitive areas to avoid, raises funds to improve trails, repairs paths and engages people with the issue of climate change. 2021 was a very busy year as people emerged from the pandemic, and Chris’s efforts saw him reach beyond the biking community to horse riders, runners and others. Read more from Chris here.

Bob Slater (North York Moors National Park) 

Bob’s nominator described him as ‘one of the most hardworking and committed volunteers’ they have ever worked with. Bob started volunteering with North York Moors National Park five years ago as a ranger and has since become a day leader, supporting and leading other volunteers to deliver work on the ground – which, in 2021, included a backlog of work as a result of the pandemic lockdowns. From path maintenance to wildflower meadow cutting and wildlife conservation projects to dry stone walling, Bob’s line manager said: “Whatever the weather, whatever the task or problem, Bob is undaunted and just gets on and gets the job done.” Read more from Bob here.

Rachel Thomas (Exmoor National Park) 

In her role as the Chair of Exmoor Society and in previous roles, Rachel has been helping protect and improve Exmoor National Park not only throughout 2021, but for over 40 years. She pioneered a comprehensive new walks programme, which last year connected hundreds of people with Exmoor National Park. It made a huge difference to people emerging from the isolation of lockdown to be steered safely back into the National Park. Among many other things, she’s also responsible for introducing a schools programme to engage the younger generation with the importance of National Parks, and launching an awards scheme to recognise the efforts of people in the National Park in tackling climate change. Read more from Rachel here.

Jack Walmsley (Snowdonia National Park) 

Originally from Yorkshire, Jack started volunteering with the Snowdonia Society while studying ecology at Bangor University in Wales. Despite full-time studies and regular Welsh language lessons, he clocked up 120 hours of volunteering in 2021 as an integral part of the ‘Care for Snowdonia/Caru Eryri’ team. The project saw volunteers combine looking after the landscape (litter picking, path maintenance etc.) with engaging with visitors, particularly at honeypot sites such as Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa, in what has been Snowdonia National Park’s busiest of times following the easing of pandemic restrictions. Jack has also helped with tree planting, seed collecting, peatland restoration, scrub clearance and more. Read more from Jack here.

The annual Campaign for National Parks Park Protector Awards are designed to recognise and reward the incredible efforts underway to protect and improve National Parks in England and Wales. The winner of last year’s Volunteer of the Year was Rod Gentry, a volunteer Forestry England ranger in South Downs National Park and owner of the Friends of Friston Forest Facebook page, with Jessica Davison – now young ambassador for Campaign for National Parks – as one of the runners-up.

Rose added: “2021 was a very challenging year for National Parks in England and Wales as the nature and climate crises continue to impact the landscape, and a decade of budget cuts impedes efforts to welcome more visitors with less impact. Despite all of these challenges, we’ve seen some amazing work to care for National Parks, and our Park Protector Awards are all about celebrating that and sharing it with politicians and the public.

“We were particularly impressed with the nominations for Volunteer of the Year, which included many people who have dedicated many years to National Parks and a range of work, from conservation to helping visitors navigate the National Parks. We’re pleased to be sharing their stories with you now so you can help us select our winner!”

The overall winner, decided by the public vote, will receive a £500 Original Cottages holiday voucher and a one-year subscription to BBC Countryfile Magazine at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament on 11 July 2022 – alongside the winner of the main Park Protector Award and a New Perspectives Award, both decided by an expert judging panel.