Godfrey Francis: sharing a love of landscape
The growing number of visitors to our protected landscapes has highlighted the importance of countryside rangers, but those carrying out this traditional rural role are changing too, reports Andrew McCloy
In 2019, a government-commissioned report into England’s protected areas, the Glover Landscapes Review, was unequivocal about the contribution made by rangers and that of the volunteers working alongside them: ‘Without exception, the most positive feedback to the review about people who work for National Parks was for their rangers.’ The authors described rangers as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the authorities; and the enthusiasm of volunteers as ‘enriching’.
For Godfrey Francis, this enthusiasm stems from his passion for the landscape of the UK’s oldest National Park; and his desire to share this joy is irresistible. The 61-year-old team manager at Sheffield City Council can’t get enough of the Peak District.
‘I love the fact that I can just jump on a bus in Sheffield and be in the park in a few minutes,’ he explains. ‘It’s important for me to be able to get away from it all, but meeting like-minded people is also rewarding, and sharing my love of the National Park is hugely satisfying.’
Godfrey initially trained as a champion or mentor for the Mosaic programme, a National Park Authority-supported scheme that aims to give people from black and minority ethnic groups the confidence and encouragement to enjoy National Parks. ‘That’s when I first met a proper ranger,’ says Godfrey. ‘He was knowledgeable, patient and inspirational, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.’
He quickly signed up as a volunteer ranger and, after completing the training, he now patrols on his own and in pairs, meeting the public and sometimes taking part in conservation work such as footpath repair. Rangers routinely pick up litter when they’re out, which Godfrey says is a great way of opening up conversations with people. He’s also clear that while conveying his love of the outdoors is important on its own, being seen as a black man in a National Park ranger’s uniform sends out a very clear statement.
‘I see part of my role as championing the National Park for under-represented groups. It’s about someone looking at me and thinking that, whatever the colour of their skin, the countryside is open to everyone and they could be a ranger, too.’
The Landscapes Review was critical of National Parks for not doing enough to promote audience diversity, but the profile of the Peak District’s visitors is beginning to change. Front-line rangers like Godfrey, plus two more Mosaic champions that he’s helping to become volunteer rangers, are starting to make a difference.
When he’s not on patrol, Godfrey is likely to be elsewhere in the Peak District leading walks for one of the three different walking groups he belongs to, or mountain biking with his partner. With the support of the National Park Authority, he’s even embarked on a mountain leader course in order to take people out into more remote and challenging areas.
But it’s when he pulls on the National Park jacket that he feels the deepest sense of pride and purpose. ‘For me, being a ranger is about being able to put something back, to try and enrich others as this landscape has enriched me.’
A version of this article was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. You’ll have Countryside Voices sent to your door three times a year, as well as access to other benefits including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores when you join as a CPRE member. Join us now.