THE Yorkshire Dales National Park runs like a well oiled machine thanks to a dedicated workforce and committee members.

But there is an unsung band of people who contribute hugely to the Dales’ maintenance, ensuring a smooth passage and thrilling experience for the many thousands of visitors who grace its doorstep and beyond.

These are the many volunteers who give their spare time to working in all areas of the national park to help with its smooth running.

One of those volunteers, Linda Hodson, works around the southern area of the Dales, such as around Malham.

She said a highpoint of the year is when the Peregrine falcons make their appearance.

She explained: “Volunteering at the Peregrine viewpoint at Malham Cove is a great way to learn about these amazing birds and to give members of the public a chance to see them. We know from comments like “wow” and “amazing” that people really appreciate what we do.

“Best of all though is sharing the special moments with the Peregrines – such as watching a young chick take its first tentative flight, seeing a dramatic food pass or marvelling as youngsters practise their flying overhead. We are privileged indeed.

“When you become a volunteer you never quite know what you might be expected to do or what opportunities might arise. Many of the duties are fairly routine, for example checking infrastructure on rights of way, counting cars, litter picking and pointing people in the right direction.

“However, this year I have also watched the stars and planets in a planetarium, fed a lamb with a bottle, and have even learned about foraging and sustainability in Cyprus. Volunteering is definitely supporting my continuing education.”

Volunteering in the Yorkshire Dales National Park also introduced Linda to a new hobby, geocaching - an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.

Linda said: “We started off by maintaining some of the caches in the Malham area but soon got the bug and became geocachers ourselves.”

Another long term volunteer Barbara Throup has worked with the national park for over 21 years, and clocked up an impressive 80 days last year. When asked what she likes about it she said: “I enjoy volunteering because of the variety of activities and the comradery that goes with it.

“When out and about, carrying out my duties, it is good to talk to members of the public and explain the work that we are doing, why it is so important, and what the national park is about.”

She co-ordinates a team in addition to practical activities, overseeing the survey of all the parish paths in the south area of the National Park. The task is complex and last year Dales volunteers spent over 1,800 days surveying and maintaining the Public Rights of Way throughout the national park.

Frances Bland was introduced to the Dales as a young child by her grandfather who took her to Malham.

She said: “I soon began walking in the Dales in my teens and have continued to do so for most of my life. When retirement came it just seemed natural to want to spend a great deal of time here so I applied to become a Dales volunteer.

“Over the past ten years I have learnt so very much, both by going out and inspecting footbridges and rights of way and by being asked to record and photograph many interesting small features such as churn stands, mounting blocks, pole gateposts and stone troughs, so that they can be documented for all time. It’s always exciting to come across something that has not previously been recorded.”

Tony Keates had taken early retirement and had moved to the Dales He began volunteering to occupy his time and do something ‘fulfilling’.

As well as working in the Dales Countryside Museum, in Hawes, in the new local studies room, he helps with walling.

His greatest achievement is helping with a project to rebuild an historic drystone walled pony enclosure on Malham Moor. This project took the best part of a year, often in inclement weather. It involved taking down and rebuilding approximately 250 tonnes of stone, around the 250 metre perimeter of the enclosure.

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