Julia Bradbury: 'dedication is inspirational'

Julia Bradbury: 'dedication is inspirational'

A hardworking volunteer renowned for getting ‘stuck in’ is the first winner of the inaugural ‘Oscars’ for the UK’s national parks.

Yorkshire Dales volunteer David Preston was judged the top individual in the National Park Volunteer Awards.

Judges, television presenters Julia Bradbury and Helen Skelton said picking a winner was a close-run task.

Two schemes in the Lake District, the Osprey Project and the Volunteer-Led Activity Programme also gained awards in their categories.

For the past three years, David Preston has dedicated hundreds of hours of his time and energy toward the improvement of Yorkshire Dales national park.

The judges said he has turned his hand to just about everything, from drystone walling to compiling a photographic library of tasks carried out by volunteers. In addition to his work at Yorkshire Dales national park, Mr Preston also volunteers for a mental-health charity, which offers advice and support for those with mental health issues.

Judge Emily Carr of award sponsors Merrell said: “We feel [he] personifies Merrell’s quest to inspire people to ‘Get Outside’ with his commitment and dedication in the outdoors.”

Highly commended was Jim Vallis who, for almost 30 years served as a volunteer in the Lake District, inspiring others with his tireless enthusiasm and insight, judges said.

Ms Bradbury said: “It may be a cliché in these circumstances to say it was an incredibly difficult choice, but it is absolutely true.

“The breadth of dedication and altruism all the volunteers offer, across the country, is inspirational.”

The volunteer group award went to the Lake District National Park Volunteer-Led Activity Programme.

The globally recognised volunteer-led programme has been in existence for nearly 60 years, roughly the same amount of time as the park itself.

Helen Skelton said: “I would like to give the award to the programme because of the way in which they empower visitors to come back to the area through navigation and bird watching activities.

“By arming younger visitors with skills with which to enjoy the Lake District I feel they are helping ensure visitors return to and fully appreciate the Lake District.

“I am inspired by the way in which they enthuse younger visitors about the area and what it has to offer.”

The West Somerset Mineral Line Association a small group of volunteers in Exmoor national park, was highly commended. The group’s main purpose is to engage visitors and locals with the mining history of the area.

The Lake District Osprey Project received the volunteer project award.

In the early 1950s, the osprey was extinct from the British Isles. Efforts were made to return the bird to Scotland but it was not until 2001 that a breeding pair were recorded in England, for the first time in 160 years.

That pair had been brought to the Lake District, and from them the Lake District Osprey Project was born.

Carl Lis: 'enthusiasm is infectious'

Carl Lis: 'enthusiasm is infectious'

Julia Bradbury said: “Sometimes the wildlife can be overlooked in this magnificent landscape and to foster and protect an environment where ospreys can successfully breed is fantastic.”

Volunteers dedicate thousands of hours to the project, often putting in 24-hour shifts to ensure the birds are protected.

Heritage at Risk Project in the Northumberland national park was highly commended. The project is dedicated to protecting the park’s 424 Scheduled Monuments and more than 4,000 recorded sites of historic interest.

Carl Lis, chair of the UK Association of National Park Authorities, said: “Whether they’re mending footpaths or helping out in visitor centres, our volunteers love our national parks and that enthusiasm is infectious.

“They help us with some of our most vital conservation and preservation work – they’re a formidable force for good.”

The UK National Parks volunteer awards are supported by Countryside Council for Wales, Merrell, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage.

The winning individual volunteer won a prize of outdoor gear from Merrell. Winners of the group and project categories will receive a £1,000 bursary to help facilitate future volunteering activity.

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