In 2003, Jim Dixon made the switch from the busy capital city of London to the rolling hills of Derbyshire to take up the role of the Peak District National Park’s chief executive.
After more than 11 years in the job, the pioneering Peak chief has stepped down to take on new roles.
During his time as chief executive, Jim has been at the helm of one of the busiest national parks in the country. Covering a grand total of 1,437 square kilometres, the Peak District National Park encompasses delightful countryside, spectacular views and unforgettable landmarks.
The departing Peak chief has been responsible for more than 500 members of staff and a budget of £14 million (2014/2015), as well as a series of villages and towns such as Bakewell and Castleton and locations such as Monsal Head, Lathkill Dale and Kinder Scout.
One of the Peak Park’s best-known ambassadors, Jim formally stepped down from his role on December 31.
He will enter the New Year as a non-executive director for the Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, as a columnist for The Times newspaper and as a trustee for the National Heritage Lottery Fund.
He will also be working in an advisory capacity with a number of organisations.
Speaking of his departure to the Derbyshire Times, Jim said that his stepping down from the chief executive role is not retirement, but him extending his experience beyond national parks.
“Thirty years ago my first job was picking up litter as a countryside ranger, I am now CEO of Britain’s first national park.” He said.
“I have reached a point in my career where I wish to take up new opportunities and fresh challenges. The time feels right for me to make the move and concentrate on my portfolio of activities in consultancy, media, and non-executive senior roles.
“Leaving was a big decision for me and my family, it took me months to get to it and it wasn’t about falling out with anyone.
“I’ve done the job for 11 years, it is very demanding with long hours, what I want to do now is different things. Really, I’m going to be working for six, seven or eight organisations, rather than one.
“Now is quite a good time to leave the Peak District National Park, the organisation is in quite a good fettle. When you have an organisation with a clear sense of where it is going it is quite a good time to move on.
“It’s about growing and developing my career, not being forced to leave.”
During his time as the Peak Park’s CEO Jim has pioneered a variety of projects, most recently he has overseen the authority as it achieved a great feat, by becoming the first national park in the country to have become virtually accessible via Google Street View.
Prior to this, Jim was at the helm of the authority in 2009 when a landmark ruling was made by the Court of Appeal to stop the previously unlimited mining at Backdale quarry in the Peak District, therefore saving one of the country’s most treasured limestone ridges.
Looking back at some of his fondest memories over the last 11 years, the Peak District stalwart could not pick a single best moment, and instead described three different memories that have stood out during his time:
“The first one is when the Prince of Wales came to Haddon Hall to give awards to our longest serving volunteers, he was on fine form that day. Then there is the day we won the court of appeal case, that was wonderful.
“Then there was opening the Monsal Trail, that was fantastic.”
Jim also looked back at some of the things that have made the job so special to him and paid tribute to the staff, volunteers and authority chairmen he has worked with.
“It has been great working with such a talented group of people, we have such talented rangers, architects that have won awards and the planners who are a very talented group of people. I have also worked with some fantastic chairs.
“It has been an absolute joy to be involved in the conservation of the national park, it is the largest conservation project in the country. More recently the huge interest in cycling in the park has been fantastic, the Monsal Trail has 100,000 to 150,000 users a year, then there was the Tour de France.
“Something I’m also quite proud of is that we have done a lot to promote affordable housing in the Peak District and in places like Carver, Baslow and Tideswell and there is still a lot more to be done.”
Paying tribute to the man who has been at the helm of the Peak Park for the last decade, chairman of the Peak District National Park, Lesley Roberts said: “Jim has been an excellent chief executive and has contributed to the significant improvements in how the national park has been managed in the last decade. Jim has continued to manage the national park in the pioneering spirit that is the Peak District National Park’s reputation.
“We are a better-run, better-respected and more ambitious authority because of Jim’s contributions. He has built great partnerships across our activities in the Peak District and championed our best projects.
“He has also played an enormously important role on the national stage, ensuring that our voice is heard in Whitehall and that our UK partnership through new pioneering projects has a stronger financial future.”
After reminiscing about his memories of the last decade, Jim said the thing he will miss most about the job are the people he works with.
“I’m going to miss the job a lot but I’m still going to be living in Winster. I’m not going to be leaning over the shoulder of my successor but I will always be available to offer advice. I have been very fortunate that three of my predecessors are alive and have always been fantastically supportive.
“I’d like to say a big thank you to all those people in the Peak District, I’ve always felt enormous admiration for the people who live in the area. It is a very special place and the people here know it.
“If there would be one thing I would say to my successor it would be to not underestimate the people here, they are very smart.”