A 30-year old former member of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers has landed his “dream job” as the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Area Ranger for Malhamdale, Ribblesdale and the Lancashire part of the National Park.

Rob Ashford’s patch is in the heart of the Dales’ "limestone country", famous for its unique habitats and internationally important and dramatic geological features such as limestone cliffs, gorges, pavements and potholes.

As area ranger his main responsibility is to be the face of the National Park, delivering countryside management services to local people and visitors.

“I’m amazed to be working in this landscape,” said Rob Ashford, speaking this summer at the Malham Show.

“I can imagine a lot of people would love to be called a ranger, and it really is as good as it sounds.

“I know this area as a visitor and have worked here in woodland management. It’s my local national park – I live just outside it – and to work with local communities in this wonderful landscape really is a privilege.”

There are three main strands to Rob’s work:-

*Access and rights of way - maintaining the network of ancient paths which make such a beautiful landscape accessible to all.

*Visitor management – helping to alleviate problems that can be caused by the number of visitors to popular areas.

*Community engagement – working with communities on projects as well as being the key National Park Authority contact for 25 Parish Councils as well as community groups in the area.

He said: “The rights of way are my bread and butter. A team of access rangers and volunteers will do the hard graft of fixing the stiles and maintaining the paths, but on the big projects I’ll be out there working alongside them.

"Part of my job is to respond to landowners who might be concerned about erosion, or other issues such as people climbing over the drystone walls. Balancing conservation with recreation is the tricky part of the job.”

He is currently implementing a significant enhancement scheme at Ribblehead as part of ‘Stories in Stone’, the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership Scheme funded by the Heritage Lottery.

The works will improve the experience of visitors to the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct, with the long term goal of conserving the archaeological historical features of the Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Unregulated parking and erosion caused by the thousands of visitors is being addressed by a range of techniques including defining the parking areas, bunding to protect ground features, a new path and additional interpretation using the latest technology.

Rob didn’t hesitate when asked to name his favourite place in the Yorkshire Dales National Park: “It has got to be Gordale Scar. You know when you walk towards it for the first time that you are going to see a waterfall. But when you turn the corner to see it, it’s breathtaking.

"I love taking groups of young people – perhaps people who’ve never been into a National Park, or even seen a sheep – to a place like that. The Yorkshire Dales National Park really does have the awe inspiring features that a lot of other National Parks don’t have – and that to me is our greatest asset.”

The Ribblehead enhancement scheme aims at combating the impact of the thousands of people who visit the iconic site very year. Walkers access the peaks from the site and it is attractive to large numbers of people walking for charity.

The impact has led to significant erosion problems and seasonal vegetation damage around the viaduct, historical construction site and roadside verges, with this damage increased by severe weather events.

Ground works is to be carried out that will enable better traffic management and car parking, prevent informal verge parking and improve pedestrian access in the vicinity of the Ribblehead Viaduct.

These include installing earth bunds to protect ground features, creating a short pedestrian link to the public footpath to reduce the need for road walking, repairing of vehicle damage and erosion and repair of parking areas to reduce the impact of cars and other vehicles in the area.

Rob will be working out of the National Park Centre in Malham. He can be contacted by email, Robert.Ashford@yorkshiredales.org.uk, or phone, 01729 833203.