Richard Leafe, Lake District chief execuitve. Photo: Bob Smith Photography

Richard Leafe, Lake District chief execuitve. Photo: Bob Smith Photography

The boss of England’s largest national park has announced he will step down at the end of the year.

Richard Leafe has held the post of chief executive of the Lake District National Park Authority for more than 16 years.

Recruitment for Mr Leafe’s replacement will begin in the spring and he will continue to lead the organisation throughout 2024.

The keen outdoor enthusiast intends to start a new career leading others in the hills after he qualified as a Mountain Leader in July last year.

He said: “It’s been the most wonderful job in the world, which is why I’ve dedicated 16 years to this incredible national park.

“When I first joined, I wanted to see a national park that was truly a park for everyone, managed in harmony with sustainable development and protected for nature and climate. While we’re still on that journey, we have made huge steps forward in recent years in the way people access and enjoy the national park, connecting with nature and caring for the environment. I’m proud to have been part of that positive change.

“Although there have been challenges that come with managing England’s largest national park and world heritage site, I’ve been fortunate to have worked alongside the most dedicated and passionate people. From our knowledgeable staff and volunteers to our members and partners, it’s a real team effort to look after this national park.

“I look forward to supporting the authority in our recruitment for this great role, whilst starting to look ahead to my new challenge as a Mountain Leader.”

During his time as chief executive, he oversaw the successful campaign to enlarge, in 2016, the area covered by the Lake District national park, taking in extra land including Birkbeck Fells Common to Whinfell Common to the East and an area from Helsington Barrows to Sizergh Fell, an area north of Sizergh Castle and part of the Lyth valley to the South.

Mr Leafe is originally from Nottingham, and was educated Fernwood Comprehensive School and Sheffield University, graduating with a BSc and MPhil in geography. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 2016. Having previously worked for English Nature and its successor Natural England in a variety of roles from coastal geomorphologist to regional director for the North-West, he joined the Lake District National Park Authority in June 2007 as chief executive.

His hobbies include walking, climbing, fellrunning, cycling and skiing, all supporting a life-long passion for high places, the authority said.

Chair of the Lake District National Park Authority Tiffany Hunt said: “We are incredibly grateful to Richard for his energy, vision and dedication to the Lake District national park.

“Richard has passionately led a rallying cry to tackle climate change in the Lake District, creating our own ‘carbon budget’ long before the term ‘net zero’ was used. He’s a champion of partnership working, identifying that collaborative action is the best way to look after this special place.

“When Richard steps down at the end of 2024, he can do so knowing he has made a positive difference to the Lake District, that will be felt for many years to come.”

The Lake District covers 2,362 sq km (912 sq miles). The national park came into existence in 1951 and is home to the deepest lake, Wast Water, at 74m, England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, at 978m (3,210ft), and 40,478 inhabitants. Almost a quarter of dwellings are holiday or second homes, and more than 18 million tourists visit the area each year.

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