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Loss of a Peak District National Park pioneer

This is an archived press release

Thursday 9 January 2014

A man who helped pioneer the Peak District National Park ranger service has died at the age of 79.

Ken Drabble (right) rescuing sheep in the 1960sKen Drabble, of Chapel-en-le-Frith, spent 30 years working for the national park before he retired as chief ranger in 1994.

Born in New Mills, he said: "As a boy I could see Kinder Scout from my bedroom," little realising that he would spend much of his working life on its dramatic heights.

"When I came out of the Royal Marines I saw an advert asking for wardens to patrol Kinder Scout," he recalled in an interview for the Moor Memories oral history project. "I already practised up there for mountain rescue, so I thought if I could get paid for walking on Kinder I'd have a go."

Ken became one of the national park's first six assistant wardens when he joined the fledgling service in 1964. That same year he took part in a night-time search for survivors of the Four Inns Walk in treacherous conditions when three young Rover Scouts died.

That tragedy led to the formation of the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation in which Ken played a key role, helping set up a mountain rescue control centre and a "snatch squad" system for quick response which is still used today.

Ken was the first warden in Longdendale, then transferred to Edale, becoming head warden in 1970. In 1974 the wardens were renamed rangers and Ken became chief ranger in 1986.

In the early days large tracts of moorland were closed, but Ken managed new access agreements for walkers, getting on easily with the landowners, waterworks managers, gamekeepers and farmers and resolving the concerns of local people.

He was also innovative in footpath management - on the Pennine Way he brought in old flagstones from demolished mills to cross the deep peat moorlands, reducing severe erosion. And he was forward-looking in introducing Argocat all-terrain vehicles for conservation work and moorland firefighting.

Ken vividly remembered tackling wildfires: "We used to dig trenches, use beaters and backpack sprays. Really it was hard work, and it could be dangerous if the wind was in the wrong direction. Nowadays they can deal with these fires much more quickly with the Peak District Fire Operations Group and better equipment."

Tony Favell, chair of the Peak District National Park Authority, who lives in Edale, said: "I grew to admire Ken when he was based in Edale. He was one of the great characters who helped the ranger service grow into what it is today. Rangers have to be many things – guides, conservationists, educators, emergency support, negotiators and even diplomats. Ken was all these things and more – we owe him a great debt."

Ken and all the early pioneers of the Peak District National Park ranger service – the UK's first – will be remembered when the service celebrates its 60th anniversary later this year.

Ken leaves his wife, Erica, two sons, a daughter and grandchildren.
His funeral is on Monday January 20 at 10.45am at Stockport Crematorium (Co-operative Funeralcare).

This is an archived press release

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