The Ramblers Association Paths in Crisis report reveals there over 100,000 problems on paths waiting to be dealt with by local authorities in England, with the growing backlog putting walkers off from enjoying the outdoors and having a negative impact on our health and local economies.
On contacting every local authority in England using a freedom of information request to ask about rights of way budgets and activities Ramblers were shocked at the number of unresolved problems ranging from missing signposts to dangerous barbed wire, affecting paths.
They also discovered a worrying 4,000 historic paths are waiting to be designated as rights of way, meaning they would be protected for future generations of walkers to use by being put on official records known as ‘definitive maps’.
If the current rate of work were to stay the same it would take over 13 years to clear the bottleneck of paths waiting to be put on the map and two years to get through the outstanding path problems, but 30% of councils have cut their budgets this year alongside reductions in staffing.
The Paths in Crisis report calls on councils to recognise the value of the path network by addressing the backlogs, to stop the severe and disproportionate cuts to rights of way budgets and staff levels and to work with us to try and find solutions to the path crisis.
Ramblers have also highlighted 11 ‘Councils of Concern’ which have the most path problems and have made the biggest budget cuts including Somerset, where 279 paths are waiting to be put on the map, Cornwall, which has 19,614 path problems waiting to be tackled, and Oldham, which slashed its rights of way budget by more than half this year.
Throughout the report it has been shown how volunteers can help, working with 44 councils to improve paths. In Oldham, Ramblers volunteers investigate footpath problems for the council while in Surrey they work with the council to keep paths in good repair.
“Our paths have never been in such a poor condition in the 20 years I’ve been working in outdoor access.”
“The Ramblers is here to help, but council leaders must ensure the resources are in place to support this vital work.”
Hugo Blomfield, Paths in Crisis report compiler.
First published in Ramblers News 25th November 2013