This is what it's like to work as a ranger in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

A ranger drives an ATV to the summit of Whernside
A ranger drives an ATV to the summit of Whernside
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For many people, it's a dream job.

The rangers working the Yorkshire Dales National Park beat are respected, valued and integral to both the enjoyment of visitors and the survival of rural communities.

Josh Hull is the specialist ranger for the Three Peaks route, and co-ordinates footpath repairs

Josh Hull is the specialist ranger for the Three Peaks route, and co-ordinates footpath repairs

Yet these hard-working countrymen and women now have a remit wider than it's ever been since the National Park was designated in 1954.

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These days, the 24 rangers who work in the park are just as likely to spend their time giving talks to schoolchildren as they are to be asked to repair drystone walls and plant trees.

Alan Hulme knows better the most the demands of the ranger service - he's been working in the Dales since 1985, when he was assigned to the Malham area. Originally from Manchester, he studied at agricultural college and admits rangering was a 'dream' role for someone with an urban upbringing. He's now head of park management and in charge of a diverse team of rangers from their head office in Leyburn.

Ranger Ian Broadwith and a volunteer repair a fence in Gunnerside

Ranger Ian Broadwith and a volunteer repair a fence in Gunnerside

"We are the face of the National Park. Our main tasks are to liaise with the local community and maintain the public rights of way - the network of footpaths and bridleways. We mend gates, build bridges, and do drystone walling and tree planting."

The full-time rangers are aged from 25 to 60, and only around half have grown up in the Dales. Several are women, including the head of the seven-strong team covering the south of the park. There's also an apprenticeship scheme aimed at local school leavers.

Unsurprisingly, staff retention is high in what must be one of the most beautiful workplaces in Britain.

"Once people get the job, they tend to stay in it. We only recruit around once every two years. We don't advertise as widely as we used to - at one time we used to get 200-300 applications for a job, we'd be inundated. Now we only tend to post jobs on our own website and we get about 70 people applying."

Many candidates have studied countryside management at college, but degree-level education is not essential for the role. Rangers are split into two teams, with a focus on either Access (maintenance) or Area (project management and liaison). There are also specialists - one ranger oversees the Three Peaks Challenge route and another works on National Trails.

Changes and challenges

"People's perceptions are that we drive around in a Land Rover with a dog at our heels. It sounds like an idyllic life, but there's actually quite a bit of pressure on us to deliver and a lot of expectations.

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"Our rangers have a lot of different skills, from working with school groups to identifying rare species."

Alan's own legacy is the steps at Malham Cove, which he built as a young man in the 1980s and which are still in use today.

"There are also some tree planting schemes that I worked on back then that are now 30 years old. It's nice to drive around and see the effect that you have had on the landscape."

Alan recalls the toughest times for the park in recent years during the foot and mouth disease crisis, when farming communities faced financial hardship and the tourist industry suffered as visitor numbers plummeted.

"It was quite a distressing time, a real low. One of the positive changes there's been in my time has been been the Right to Roam legislation, which has been fantastic for open access."

The old characters

"In the Dales, people take a while to accept you, but once you're in, they really look after you."

Alan muses about his decades spent helping out some of the most isolated communities in Yorkshire, and the friends he's made along the way.

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"I think we are losing some of the old characters of the Dales, but maybe that's just me getting older - maybe I'm becoming one of them! The old chaps with the flat caps who are all bluff and bluster, but once you get to know them you're friends for life.

"Saying that, when you go to a livestock auction mart you can usually still spot a few of them!

"The Dales are changing - more people are moving into the villages to commute out to the cities, but they add to the community. People here really rally round each other in challenging times."