Your first contact with a National Park employee whilst visiting Dartmoor might well be by meeting one of our community based Rangers. They each have a sector that covers many parishes and although responsibilities and priorities vary slightly, each Ranger is an identifiable person representing the National Park Authority on the ground. Their key role on a daily basis is providing a vital communications link between the Authority, local residents and visitors.
The Head of the Ranger and Volunteer Service is based at Dartmoor National Park Authority headquarters, Parke, near Bovey Tracey, along with an administrator providing full time office support. National Park headquarters provides a central control point for Ranger Service operations and enables efficient liaison with Officers working in specific disciplines such as ecology, information, recreation, communications, education and archaeology, as well as other agencies and organisations.
Twice a month the Ranger Service has formal meetings at headquarters to enable discussion, download information from global positioning systems (GPS), access e-mails, plan work parties and work programmes, and formalise daily cover/days off. Administration work involves the management of public rights of way and access information databases, dealing with telephone enquiries, and general office management routines.
Each Ranger is supported by local Voluntary Wardens, who assist with community based projects, particularly those with a strong conservation and educational message. Rangers also help to operate the Ranger Ralph Club aimed, at the younger visitors to Dartmoor.
Under a delegation agreement with Devon County Council (external site, opens new window) we have an ongoing commitment to maintain 753 public rights of way routes (footpaths and bridleways) totalling some 724 kilometres in length within the National Park. This work involves erecting signs, building stiles, bridges and gates, clearing vegetation, waymarking and creating sustainable path surfaces. We regularly use volunteer groups and local contractors in the delivery of this extensive work.
The open common land of Dartmoor is actually privately owned by various organisations and individuals. The 1985 Dartmoor Commons Act gave the public a legal right of access onto this land on foot and horseback only. Rangers regularly patrol this land checking on public behaviour, monitoring agreed large scale recreational events and surveying the effects of any concentrated use. The introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (external site, opens new window) gives greater walking access to some new areas defined as open country. The practical implementation of this Act gives fresh challenges to Rangers who are tasked with negotiating with landowners where access points into enclosed land are required, and in agreeing arrangements for managing access in each area.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (external site, opens new window) gave the Police, District Councils and other statutory agencies a remit to work in partnership on initiatives and strategies to tackle certain elements of anti social behaviour. From a National Park perspective Rangers are involved with Community Safety Partnership schemes which particularly focus on car crime, fly tipping and abandoned vehicles on Dartmoor.
Now that Environmentally Sensitive Area agreements cover most of the Dartmoor Commons, landowners' and commoners' attention has been recently focussed on using controlled and legal burning, known as swaling, as a management tool for both agriculture and conservation reasons. Increasingly Rangers are involved practically alongside commoners and representatives from other agencies, sharing new techniques and good practice.