Following the release of a new report by the Ramblers, the walkers' charity has expressed deep concern that cuts to funding for England’s path network are not only damaging people's ability to get out and enjoy the outdoors, but are also having a negative impact on tourism, local economies and health.
The Ramblers contacted every local authority in England using a freedom of information request, asking for information on rights of way budgets and the maintenance work they’re doing. Their research showing the scale of cuts to rights of way budgets across the country and the impact they are having on the ground is detailed in the report, Paths in Crisis.
This reveals that over 100,000 problems on paths are currently waiting to be dealt with by local authorities in England, from encroaching undergrowth and mud to broken stiles and bridges. And the growing backlog of work is having a marked effect on walkers, they say.
'We ...were shocked at the number of unresolved problems ranging from missing signposts to dangerous barbed wire, affecting paths' say the charity.
'We 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’.'
At the current rate of work on paths the Ramblers reckon 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 English councils have cut their path-related budgets this year, alongside widespread 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' they say.
The report highlights 11 ‘Councils of Concern’ which have the most path problems and have made the biggest budget cuts. These include 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 cut its rights of way budget by more than half in 2013.
Throughout the report the Ramblers hare keen to show how they’re working with 44 councils to improve paths. For instance, in cuts-hit Oldham Ramblers volunteers investigate footpath problems for the council; while down in Surrey others 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,' said Hugo Blomfield, who compiled the Paths in Crisis report.
'The Ramblers is here to help, but council leaders must ensure the resources are in place to support this vital work.'
You can read the full report here.