One of the most important aspects of the work of a ranger is the maintenance of the 3510 rights of way within the Peak District. Rangers patrol public rights of way ensuring that they are clearly marked in order to ensure visitors can explore as much as the park as possible.
A number of factors have also increased the necessity of rangers in regards to the protection of rights of way. These stem from the changes in usages of rights of way in the last 50 years, and the right to roam act. In the past rights of way existed purely for access and a way of getting from A to B. Now things are different however due to the shift of the parks economy and objectives changing from just farming and mineral extraction to being largely tourism and conservation based. This shift has meant that there is now a diverse range of different rights of way exiting for different purposes. These purposes range from green lanes which can be currently used by motor vehicles, to cycle tracks and bridleways that only cyclists and hikers can use.
Of course, the dramatic increase in tourist numbers to the Peak District as well as the diverse range of activities being undertaken within the park has increased the damage as well as the potential for confrontation between different groups. Rangers have been tasked with keeping environmental damage to a minimum whilst attempting to please as many different visitors to the park as possible.
Rangers are helping protect the natural environment of the park in a number of ways which include close collaboration with landowners and farmers, whose land may be subjected to damage. One of the most common ways in which landowners are aided by the ranger service is by the construction of stiles, gates, and bridges which span the network. Many of these features also prevent damage to the land as well as to dry stone walls. Recent years has also seen the park authority pursuing a number of projects which include the “gateways” project which centres on increasing accessibility for visitors. This is being done via the changing of stiles for self-closing wicket fences. These ensure that less able visitors are also able to access public rights of way as much as possible.
The Peak District Park Authority also organises volunteering projects which aim to improve access to the park as well as ensuring that public rights of ways are the easiest ways to access and walk through areas. This ensures that hikers and walkers don’t stray onto private land causing conflicts of interest with landowners. These projects are more often than not overseen by rangers who provide both training and assistance to volunteers. The highway agency is also involved directly or indirectly in these projects by providing both funding and guidance.
One of the most recent problems the park authority and ranger service has faced centres around a sharp increase in the amount of people mountain biking within the park. Much of the upland terrain is fragile and prone to damage. The park authority is trying to alleviate this problem by resurfacing paths and bridleways to ensure the land is not further scared by activities. The park authority ensures that any resurfacing work is in keeping with the surroundings of the area as well as ensuring it will help protect the future environment of the area. An alternative to resurfacing which has proved to be effective in recent years has been the diverting of paths. This process involves simply changing the route of a path to help the damaged route re-generate itself naturally. It is also a much more cost-effective option, as well as being much faster to implement.
The right to roam act has been largely successful despite some of the inevitable problems which have arisen as a result of the popular demand for unhindered access to land in the Peak District. This success has been due to the active involvement in the park by local communities, as well as the Ranger service and Park Authority as a whole.