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Green fields highlighted by sunrays through heavy clouds from Curbar Edge

#70People70Years - Sarah Fowler

Sarah Fowler

Sarah Fowler - chief executive, Peak District National Park Authority 2015-2022


Born: Zambia, Africa; grew up in Wiltshire

Family: son and daughter, both at or very shortly heading off to university

Education: BSc degree in Biology, University of Nottingham; MSc in Aquatic Resource Management, King’s College, London

Previous employment: Wiltshire Wildlife Trust; RSPB; English Nature (predecessor to Natural England); Peterborough Environment City Trust; the Environment Agency.

Current roles: chief executive of the Peak District National Park Authority since 2015; board member to the VisitEngland Advisory Board; board member of the Active Partners Trust – chair of the Active Derbyshire panel.

Sarah Fowler, chief executive

Sarah tells her story

Ever since I was a child, I've loved being outdoors. I was born in Zambia where my father was working, helping to set up pharmacies. When I was three, we moved back to the UK, first to Gloucestershire and then to Wiltshire, where I grew up living close to farmland.

I'd often go out exploring with my two brothers and sister - I always enjoyed being out on my bike. And I was drawn to nature from a young age.

My first experience of the Peak District was a family holiday several years before I came here for work. We were staying at a camp site in Ashbourne and cycled on the Tissington Trail. The kids were tiny at the time, learning to ride their bikes. We ended up in an amazing place in Tissington and had a lovely cup of coffee. It's a simple, but very special memory.

I believe that, as people, we are innately drawn to nature - whether we live in a city and have a small garden or just plants on a windowsill; whether we venture into a town park or out into the countryside. I think we have that innate connection to the earth and the more we experience that, the more we understand it.

What drew me to my role at the Peak District National Park was the opportunity to connect people to the environment. By helping people to connect with inspiring places, hopefully they can be inspired to care for them.

When I first arrived in this job, I drove around the National Park boundary to get an idea of the scale of the Peak District. We're close to millions of people in the surrounding towns and cities – where life is so busy - but, as you enter the National Park, there's a real sense of beauty, peace and tranquillity.

It's so important to create opportunities for people to get that connection and to experience that sense of everyday life slowing for a moment, allowing us all to pause and have peace.

The thing I've missed most over the last year of working from home, due to Covid-19 restrictions, is the ability to get around and see the National Park. I love that every turn brings a different view. The Peak District’s contrasting landscapes are what makes it different to other national parks.

It's not just somewhere I work but somewhere I enjoy with family and friends. I've always loved cycling on the Tissington, Monsal and High Peak trails with my two kids – especially when they were younger. I also do a bit of road cycling in very small groups and, when possible, I cycle to work.

I'm a keen runner and one of my favourite routes is from the top of Beeley Hill to Hob Hurst’s House to Chatsworth Edge. With a mix of moorland and woodland, you get a sense of both the Dark and White Peaks.

I also love White Edge and Curbar Edge – especially in the snow. The weekend before I started my job here, in 2015, I took my kids up there for a walk. It was January and there was snow – it was magical.

A great recent experience was running the Derwent Valley Heritage Way from Fairholmes to Matlock. Last year, my daughter Emily had signed up to do the London Marathon which, of course, became a virtual event with people running 26 miles on their own patch. So, on 3rd October, I joined Emily and some friends to run our own marathon along this amazing route.

Occasionally, I like to take myself out of my comfort zone. Some of my friends are incredible climbers and I’ve joined them for climbs at Stanage Edge. I enjoy the opportunity to be taught by others.

I'm the first female chief executive of the Peak District National Park and the second woman to be CEO of a UK national park. But that's not something I focus on.

Women, such as environmental campaigner Ethel Haythornthwaite (1894–1986) here in the Peak District, have always played an important role in the creation and development of national parks.

We were created for everyone, at a time of great need for the wellbeing of the nation after the Second World War. The launch of the NHS and the expansion of National Insurance were happening at the same time. National parks were incredibly relevant back then.

The question I'm asking myself now is how we maintain that relevance for modern Britain. We're tackling Covid-19, a health and wellbeing emergency and challenges around climate change and bio-diversity.

I'm driven by nature recovery, sustainability and working in partnership, bringing together a breadth of views. I want us to test new ways to help our green recovery.

I think I've been very lucky throughout my career. What I’ve enjoyed in many of my roles is that I’ve been given the space to innovate and make my own decisions. I’ve been blessed in being able to follow things that I enjoy. I always tell my kids: "Do the things in life that you enjoy, then you will always do your best."

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