A man who was instrumental in shaping the North York Moors has passed away at the age of 76.
Derek Statham served as National Park Officer at the North York Moors National Park for two decades - presiding over a time of great change for both the National Park and those tasked with caring for the popular visitor destination.
In his memoirs, An Eye to Perceive, Derek said: “I was fortunate enough to be in the driving seat for some 30 years, from 1965 to 1994, when the British National Parks evolved from a group of countryside designations on the Ordnance Survey Maps to distinctive areas highly valued in our national psyche.”
Derek oversaw a number of initiatives that have a lasting legacy today, including the successful opposition of plans to dam and flood Farndale to create a reservoir, the purchase of the Hole of Horcum which was in danger of being ploughed and the launch of a pioneering farm conservation scheme that has only recently come to an end.
He was also one of four founding members of the North Yorkshire Moors Association (NYMA), an independent charity set up in 1985 to campaign on behalf of the national park.
He continued to be involved with NYMA after his retirement and was latterly the Association’s President.
Michael Webster, who worked alongside Derek for 17 years as Assistant National Park Officer, said: “Derek was totally committed to the values of national parks and was a great defender and champion of the North York Moors at both a county and national level. He had a strong ethos of public service – it was far more than just a job to him – and this was something that he instilled in those of us who worked with him.”
Derek’s first encounter with the North York Moors was in 1965 when he joined North Riding Council as National Parks Senior Planning Officer.
The management of both the North York Moors and the North Riding part of the Yorkshire Dales National Parks was at that time overseen by the North Riding Planning Department.
The reorganisation of local government under the Local Government Act 1972 brought an end to this management by the planning department and the creation on 1 April 1974 of a new North York Moors National Park Department under the guidance of a National Park Officer. Derek took on this role and was to occupy the position for the next 20 years until his retirement in 1994.
Though some local authority constraints lasted until 1995 when an independent National Park Authority came into being, the setting up of a dedicated department gave Derek and his team a much freer rein to work with the communities, landowners and farmers in the North York Moors. Among the first things introduced by the fledgling department were grants for tree planting and stone wall maintenance.
Andy Wilson, the National Park Authority’s current National Park Officer, said: “Derek was a stalwart and quietly inspired leader during a hugely important time for the North York Moors and the wider national park family. He smoothed the waters with local people unsure of what impact this new national park department would have and worked hard to find common ground with farmers at a time of great change in the way land was managed. The strong and cohesive relationships we have today with those who live and work here, began in his time.
“He believed strongly in maximising resources to carry out work that made a difference on the ground and held down staff costs to be able to do this – a legacy that continues today. He will be very much missed and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.”