Park Protector Awards 2022 – winners revealed at Westminster ceremony

  • Contributor information: CNP

A huge project that looks after and repairs paths in Lake District National Park, the leader of a mountain bike community in Peak District National Park and a group of friends from Nottingham who help city dwellers experience National Parks are the winners of this year’s Park Protector Awards.

The awards recognise and reward the efforts that go into protecting and improving National Parks in England and Wales. The winners received their awards at a ceremony in the Houses of Parliament on Monday 11 July 2022, attended by MPs and Lords, National Park Authority Chief Executives and leading civil servants.

The winner of the main Park Protector Award, sponsored by WWF-UK and presented by one of the judges Dr Anjana Khatwa, is:

  • Fix the Fells: Nominated multiple times, the Fix The Fells team play an integral role in caring for one of the UK’s most-visited National Park’s well-used paths. A team of around 175 people from all walks of life, including 135 volunteers, brave all types of weather to put in thousands of hours over 2021 to monitor, maintain and repair 400 miles of path in the UNESCO World Heritage site. With 15.8 million visitors to the Lake District every year, the paths get really eroded. Without the work of Fix the Fells, which has been operating for over 20 years now, erosion would develop rapidly into the huge scars of the past, resulting in loss of vegetation, soil, stone, habitats, species and landscape beauty, and adversely affecting rivers, lakes and the flood-risk in the valleys below.

Speaking at the ceremony, Fix the Fells Ranger Annie Duckworth said: “It’s an absolute honour and privilege to receive this award. This is for the whole Fix the Fells team, the 25 ranger colleagues who build the paths, 130 volunteers maintaining the paths – the eyes and ears of the project – our five partner organisations and funders. We don’t receive Government funding for the project, it’s down to that support and dedication that we’re able to do what we do.”

This year’s main Park Protector Award runners-up are:

  • Anita Kerwin-Nye: Anita is Executive Director of YHA and was the driving force behind Generation Green, which has created opportunities for over 100,00 children and young people – from work experience and apprenticeships to day visits and residentials and built new connections with schools. A lifelong campaigner on access to the outdoors, she set up Access Unlimited in 2020 to bring together the 10 English National Parks with five national charities who all deliver residentials for young people in National Parks: YHA, Field Studies Council, Outward Bound, Girlguiding and Scouts. Outside of YHA, Anita set up the ‘Every Child Should’ campaign promoting access for young people to opportunities including nature and landscapes, and she continues to write, blog and campaign widely on these issues, including bringing her own lived experience to bear on the subjects on which she writes.
  • EcoDewi: EcoDewi’s work is focused on developing local solutions for global problems – tackling the climate emergency – through a broad range of activities. This includes pioneering Great Big Green Week, engaging 1,000 people to take action; running a programme of beach cleans; leading a ‘plastic-free peninsula’ campaign; launching a repair café; supporting residents to create mini meadows;AND creation of a new community garden at St Davids Cathedral. Their nominator said of the volunteer group: “It’s about local people helping with local issues and benefiting the local natural environment. Actions and benefits that have a much wider reach, complementing other action to support our county, nation and the planet. EcoDewi is an excellent example of how a small group can galvanise a local community to contribute towards tackling the nature and climate emergencies.”

We introduced a new award this year – a New Perspectives Award – which builds on the National Parks: New Perspectives bursary scheme and recognises the efforts of those working to amplify the voices of those less heard in National Parks.

The winner of the New Perspectives Award, sponsored by Natural England and presented by its Chief Executive Marian Spain, is:

  • AKA Health, Wealth & Oneness: An incredible initiative helping to drive community cohesion, physical and mental wellbeing and open up access to the outdoors. Working across communities in Nottingham, three friends make up AKA – Anton, Kevin and Antwon – working tirelessly to help more people connect with the Peak District National Park. Last summer the AKA team delivered new experiences for over 250 people in the Peak District National Park, all who come from inner city communities in Nottingham, from all walks of life, bringing together a mix of gender, age, race to open up their eyes to the opportunities in our National Parks.

In accepting the award, AKA Health, Wealth & Oneness Co-Founder Kevin Spriggs said: “We’re really happy that the work has been recognised and people are hearing about the work we’ve been doing – getting people outdoors and connecting people, especially those who have barriers whether it’s financial, skills or knowledge. National Parks give a feeling of freedom that you don’t get in the city, freedom to walk and explore, you come back feeling refreshed and energised and we want more people to benefit from that.”

Runners-up for the New Perspectives Award are:

  • Benji Grundy: Benji started working with Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust as part of the Green Guardians project, which supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds access the countryside. Since then, he has steadfastly attended Young Rangers, led the Youth Environment Forum and is now doing an apprenticeship with the rangers at Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. His nominator said: “Benji is a kind and committed young person, without whom, our projects would not be what they are today. He has mentored and supported other young people to be their best selves, while also pushing and developing his own fantastic environmental ideas.”
  • Cameron’s Cottage: Cameron’s Cottage is a new RSPB Lodge based in a nature reserve in the New Forest. Built in memory of Cameron Bespolka – a sixteen-year-old naturalist – Cameron’s Cottage provides a residential base from which groups of teenagers and young adults, charities and educational institutions can take part in fun and/or educational pursuits in nature – from wildlife surveys to nature-based team building activities. The cottage is completely off grid, resourcing its power from solar panels on the roof and is kitted-out with swift bricks, house martin nests and bat boxes.
  • Northumberland National Park Authority’s Engagement Team: Northumberland National Park Authority’s Engagement Team designed a programme to enable the ‘hardest hit’ groups during the pandemic to recover in nature in 2021. They worked with local organisations such as Newcastle West End Refugee Service and Headway Arts, to co-create visits and remove barriers to access, including transport issues. Activities included nature and wildlife walks, art workshops and outdoor activities. Beneficiaries included young people, families from urban areas, asylum seekers, people with additional health, access or neurological needs and older people at risk of isolation.

The winner of the Volunteer of the Year Award, sponsored by Original Cottages, chosen by a public vote last month and presented by Lord Benyon is:

  • Chris Maloney: 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.

Chris said: “I’m overwhelmed to have won Volunteer of the Year, it’s a real honour. Most importantly it’s a recognition of the community. This isn’t about me, I just tweet and share – this is about the people who contribute to Keeper of the Peak because they really care about the Peak District National Park. National Parks are vital. They are the lungs of this country. They are somewhere we live work and play.”

You can find out more about the Volunteer of the Year runners up here.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch opened the ceremony in the Churchill Room in the House of Commons with a passionate speech about the importance of National Parks and the people who protect them. Speeches from Lord Benyon, Marian Spain and awards judge, scientist and TV presenter Dr Anjana Khatwa.

Campaign for National Parks Chief Executive Dr Rose O’Neill closed proceedings urging the Government and supporters to step up for National Parks.

“We’ve witnessed some of the incredible work that goes into protecting and improving our National Parks through these Park Protector Awards,” said Rose, “and we’re delighted to play a role in recognising and rewarding that; but we urgently need new legislation, investment, policies to enable delivery at scale.

“The powers that were put in place to protect our National Parks were put in place before the climate and biodiversity crises took hold, it’s no longer enough to just defend them. We need new laws to work much harder.

“As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, it will be even more important to open up our National Parks to share the health and wellbeing benefits. We can build on the amazing work carried out by our Park Protectors but need the commitment from Government too.

“We were pleased to see so many politicians at our Park Protector Awards ceremony, sharing their passion for National Parks and standing with us to thank those park protectors who make such a difference to protected landscapes. We will continue to work with decision-makers to ensure National Parks can deliver more for people, nature and climate.”

Read about all of the shortlisted candidates here, and sign up to our mailing list for more stories of park protectors and how you can join the growing National Parks movement.

Photos: Dawn Brown