'THE rangers are the eyes and ears of Dartmoor National Park Authority,' said Poundsgate born Rob Steemson, who first joined the service as seasonal warden in 1979.

'They each have their own geographical sector and either live in it or very close by to provide a vital link with the community, not just the people who live and work there, but the growing number who visit each year.

'A key quality of any ranger has to be their ability to communicate well and negotiate with a wide range of people and organisations. They are often the one person who comes into regular contact with landowners, farmers, residents and parish councils.

'As a result we're often the conduit for information, say in the case of an emergency and sadly there have been tragedies on the moor this year, or perhaps when there's a problem with livestock or a public right of way matter.

'We're also there to make sure the public behave, preferably by education rather than throwing the book at them, although we will prosecute if necessary and do work very closely with the police.'

Rob is proud of his team's success at opening up the public rights of way network (footpaths and bridleways) once blocked or difficult to use by the public.

'I can recall in about 1980 we had a large scale colour coded map showing paths that were open and usable, those that needed some work and others which were closed altogether,' he said.

'Well over the last 30 years, we've put in a lot of work and now they're all open with 97 per cent easy to use.

'As funds become available we're working on that last three per cent as well although having said that most of those are at very boggy spots on the open moor or on Countryside and Rights of Way Act Access land.

'At spots on these sites there's often a way round anyway so we're not quite so worried.

'One of the nicer projects we get involved with is the introduction of traditional clapper bridges, such as the one we want to install on a popular walking linking route across the Becka Brook.

'These take a lot of negotiation with the landowners and others of course but remain something we're committed to.'

Each sector ranger has their own team of at least four voluntary wardens to help out, some trained to carry out tasks such as strimming paths or conducting surveys with the public.

Plans are also afoot to have them attend country shows and other events as extra authority ambassadors.

'We also utilise other volunteers whenever possible and have an excellent arrangement with Bicton College on a fast developing course training students who wish to become countryside rangers in the future,' said Rob.

'We're always looking for people who have a passion for Dartmoor and a bit of spare time.'

After 34 years in the job, Steemson has learned to expect the unexpected.

'The life of a ranger is very varied, you never know from day to day what the next telephone call will bring, where you might be heading off to, or what time you can expect to be home,' he said.

'You have to be fairly adaptable, very flexible and able to turn your hand from clearing a fallen tree one moment to making your way onto the open moor to help with a fire or rescue the next.

'There's also a tremendous sense of pride to be had, helping to protect this unique and beautiful landscape of ours.

'I mean how lucky are we?

'I was born here, I work here and am very privileged to do so.

'Long may it continue.'

To find out more about the ranger team and the areas they cover visit the DNPA website at http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/funzone/know-your-ranger">www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/funzone/know-your-ranger