A giant of a ranger

Sean Prendergast (1960-2013), who died tragically young at the age of 52, was a giant of a ranger in every sense.

Sean had worked for the Peak District National Park Authority since 1994, first as chief ranger, then as head of access and recreation and finally as head of field services. He had just been selected for the new post of assistant director of enterprise and field service when cancer cruelly overtook him.Sean 1 web

He was totally committed to his work of making the national park a welcoming place to the public, while championing its wild qualities and inspiring countless schoolchildren and students.  He had a wicked sense of humour and was a straight talker, he was kind and generous and tremendous fun.

He was a great doer, nothing was impossible for Sean.  He organised an effective quick-response service to deal with fires on the moors for instance, involving a number of agencies working together efficiently.

Andy Farmer, the Peak Park’s field services north area manager, spoke at Sean’s funeral: ‘When this giant of a man blew into our professional lives it was like a force of nature, a tornado slamming into the Peak District National Park ranger service.  The force of his arrival made us catch our breath, shaking us from our lethargy, and yet as time moved on you felt embraced in a warm, enveloping, caring breeze. … Sean brought professionalism, passion and a fiercely independent and razor-sharp mind to the leadership of the ranger service.’

Sean with fellow rangers and the fourth World Ranger Congress of the International Rangers Federation in 2003, at Wilson's Promontory National Park, Australia

Sean with fellow rangers and the fourth World Ranger Congress of the International Rangers Federation in 2003, at Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Australia

When I was on the Countryside Agency board (1999-2006) I was the member who had responsibility for liaising with the Peak District National Park.  It was a rewarding experience and also meant that I made frequent visits to my favourite venue, Losehill Hall.

The then national park officer Chris Harrison was always anxious to brief me, which he did very thoroughly in his fine, wood-panelled office at Aldern House, but I hankered to be outdoors.

My diary for 10 April 2002 records: ‘To Chris’s office where I was briefed.  Then Sean came and we escaped to Cubar Edge where we sat on the rocks and talked about mapping and the access forum, and looked at rocks which were 350 million years old’.  After that, we went to the Eastern Moors and Big Moor, owned by the authority, and I know that Sean shared my view that there should be more access to authority land in those pre-Countryside and Rights of Way Act times.  In the afternoon, we met a journalist who wanted to interview Sean in the run-up to the Kinder 70th anniversary rally, and Sean told her to interview me as well, to give an Open Spaces Society perspective.

It was a happy, humorous and educational day—and typical of one spent with Sean.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, National parks, Obituary, Open Spaces Society, People and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to A giant of a ranger

  1. Hugh says:

    Your memories of Sean are spot on with my own recollections. Sean was an exemplar of open access in the run up to CROW legislation in the late 1990s, but also able to contrast (not without disapproval) the extensive areas of closed moors which existed at that time. Moreover, Sean had done a thesis on access under Part V of the NP&ACA 1949, which demonstrated the limited access granted under it outside the Peak Park, and the almost total absence of access orders. Sean always found time to help and advise, and visits were rewarding and sometimes just a touch on the wild side. I didn’t know about his illness, and his loss at an early age is very sad.

    • John Quigley says:

      Just read about Sean’s death. Very sad at such an age. We were in the same year at Cardinal Langley Grammer School in Middleton, Manchester 1972-77 and in the same class for 3 of those years. Never stayed in touch but saw him on Granada Reports a few years ago and it reminded me of our time at school. Very sad to see this news. John Quigley

  2. Pete Cosgrove says:

    I was in the year above Sean at CL but knew him quite well. Also his lovely mum Nora, stepdad Pete and his brother Chris. A great shock to learn of his untimely death. Last time we spoke was one night at the Junction pub in Middleton Junction in mid 2004. He was telling me about loving his job in the peaks and the fascinating challenges it brought. Good lad.. great loss. Rip big man.

  3. Geoff Frost says:

    Before I retired, I was full-time area ranger covering the most northerly part of the Peak National Park including the Saddleworth Moors etc which came under the auspices of Oldham Council. Long before Sean came to the Peak Park he was a Footpath Officer with Oldham Council. One day I received a phone call from him saying he would like to meet me so I could show him the footpaths in my area. This was duly arranged and we met at the Ranger Briefing Centre at Dovestone. Sean was immaculate in suit, white shirt and tie -.looking like a high flying executive. I first took him in my Land Rover to Chew Reservoir high on the moors where it was wild and the weather dreadful with strong winds and heavy rain. He peered through the windscreen and said, in his inimitable style, “F****** hell, don’t tell me I’ve got a footpath up here!”
    Later Sean became head of footpath services for Kirklees Council before he eventually came to the Peak Park. We were good friends as well as colleagues and I have many fond memories and humourous anecdotes about him. He used to say to me at times, ” Y’know Frosty, I can’t believe I’m a chief ranger – I’m really only a fitter from Chaddy (Chadderton). ”
    Thanks Kate for your excellent accolade, he was everything what you say and the Ranger Service has lost a grand leader who would stand up to anybody in furthering its objectives. There were around 400 people at Sean’s funeral which says everything about his popularity. I miss him very much indeed.

  4. bobwalker01 says:

    I only found out about Sean’s death recently…I had actually been trying to contact him for another story (his personal number is still on my phone) and I was stunned to be told he had died. he helped me out on many stories for BBC Radio 4 and 5Live. There were many times when we would meet at 7am in the middle of nowhere for a Today programme hit….I must have interviewed him a dozen or so times. I really liked him. We always had a laugh and nothing was too much trouble for him. I can’t remember when i was left feeling so shocked at the passing of someone. My biggest regret is that we never got round to having a night out as we promised. A genuinely decent man. Such a loss.

    • Dear Bob
      Thank you for writing, and I am sorry you have only just found out, a dreadful shock for you, and yes a really decent man. I still miss him as do so many others.

  5. David Morgan says:

    I feel like I’m intruding here as I didn’t actually know Sean Prendergast. I recently watched a repeat of a 2011 BBC documentary about the Peak District National park which extensively featured Sean.

    I thought he seemed such a decent, friendly and genuine man and I was saddened to see the “in Memory” message at the end of the programme. To find out that he passed away less than 2 years later was so sad.

    • Thank you for your comment, you are not intruding as Sean’s influence extended far and wide. Are you the Dave Morgan from Pembrokeshire?

      • David Morgan says:

        Although I am originally from South Wales (now living in Birmingham and spending time walking in the national park), I’m not from as far West as Pembrokeshire – there’s quite a lot of us David Morgans knocking around

  6. Chris Prendergast says:

    Sean is my uncle. After watching the 2011 documentary again, mainly for the part about mediation and pie eating, I thought I’d see on google if there was anything new to discover. Finding this has genuinely touched me, not only that people have gone to the time and effort to post memories, but also that some of these posts are from this summer, it’s nice to reaffirm my knowledge that Sean touched so many people and that the impression he left will be a lasting one.

  7. Frankie Prendergast says:

    Sean came into my head today so decided to google him. What a lovely piece about the nicest man I ever know. Very proud to have called him family. Thank you.

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