A GROUP of volunteer rangers at Dovestone, some with more than half a century of service, have been disbanded without warning.
They discovered their fate in an email from Peak District National Park (PDNP).
The correspondence-seen by the Independent-reminds people to claim expenses and also updates them on workshops covering “how to improve the volunteering experience.”
The email then confirms a decision has been made “to end our Ranger service at Dovestone.”
The move comes at a time when the Greenfield beauty spot and surrounding countryside has been inundated with thousands of visitors, including the recent Easter holidays, many from outside Saddleworth.
It’s led to problems with littering, increased risk of moorland fires and illegal parking.
Often, the site and village are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of numbers coming to walk and exercise.
Last November, an action plan to tackle all problems was unveiled by Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth.
One of the ideas to be actioned “over the next few months” was “increased voluntary involvement in site management & visitor surveys.”
Instead, the PDNP’s Dovestone Ranger unit has been stood down and its volunteers deployed in other areas of the National Park.
Doug Kirwen, a former Saddleworth School technician who now lives in Leeds, has made fortnightly trips from his Yorkshire home to volunteer for over 40 years.
But his volunteering goes back more than 50 years when the rangers’ briefing centre was based at Ashway Gap house, now demolished.
In 2012, the one-time Mossley resident was one of the PDNR chosen to meet Prince Charles during the latter’s visit to Derbyshire.
Doug, 74, is one of around eight volunteers who patrolled Dovestone at weekends and on Bank Holidays, making sure visitors were safe, handing out advice as well as leading navigation walks.
“I am going to miss Dovestone,” he said “I have a chance to volunteer somewhere else but whether I take that opportunity I am not sure yet.
“I don’t know the reason why they have made the decision but it does feel strange. It came out of the blue.
“It would have been nice to have had a chance to go back over and say ‘goodbye’ to the friends I have made.”
Doug believes Dovestone’s recent popularity is because “people have more time now.
“But back in the 80’s before the car park was tarmacked, it was busy then too,” he added. “Cars parking illegally is probably nothing new; it’s just there are more of them.”
In the email sent to the PDNP’s volunteer force Lorna Fisher, Engagement Manager said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank volunteers for supporting the visitor management of the Dovestone area.
“Rangers and volunteers have patrolled this area for many years, building strong partnerships with local communities, landowners and partners.
“Offering visitors a great welcome and information. We have made the decision to end our Ranger service at Dovestone.
“Ian Butterworth the Engagement Ranger in post has finished this month (March 31), we thank him and wish him well.
“We will continue to support United Utilities and RSBP together with other partners in the area. And will be reviewing our volunteering offer in the north of the park.
“We would welcome those who volunteered at Dovestone to take up volunteering opportunities at other nearby sites. And I hope we can continue working together.”
A spokesperson for the National Park Authority confirmed the loss of its part-time ranger and volunteer ranger services from April 2021.
“The closing of ranger services at Dovestone is as a result of financial savings required by the National Park Authority following the impacts of Covid-19 on income across the last year, and therefore ongoing financial resources available to support our operations.
“This decision does not affect existing support already provided by the site’s owners and managers; RSPB, United Utilities and Oldham Council.
“The implemented changes have taken place following consultation with staff, members and union representatives at the National Park Authority and the site partners.
“The Authority remains committed to partnership working at Dovestone as a key location within the National Park, despite the closure of these localised services.”