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Protecting Norfolk's footpaths

Our network of footpaths are threatened by a lack of funding Our network of footpaths are threatened by a lack of funding © Chrislofoto/Shutterstock

Caroline Davison, planning and campaigns manager at CPRE Norfolk, explains the branch’s new project to look after the county’s footpaths

CPRE Norfolk has started a new Protect Our Paths campaign to help safeguard the county’s network of rural footpaths which are becoming overgrown, obstructed and badly signposted.

As part of cuts to its budget amounting to almost 50%, Norfolk County Council has changed the way it manages public rights of way by creating a two-tier system. Funding will be focused on 400 miles of national trails in the county while the remaining circa 2,000 miles of ordinary paths will be managed by a highways team with only two public rights of way specialists.

Proactive maintenance programmes have been cut and rural paths will only be inspected every five years. Response standards have been reduced so that complaints will take longer to resolve. For some reported issues, such as illegal vehicle use, missing fingerposts or overgrown field edges, the council will no longer take any action.

Walking in the countryside has been proven to have both physical and mental health benefits but these cuts will inevitably result in paths becoming less accessible, particularly for older people, wheelchair users and people with walking aids or pushchairs – something the county council has acknowledged. CPRE Norfolk is concerned that these cutbacks will affect our footpaths not just now, but in the long term. When paths become blocked or overgrown people stop using them, and they may fall out of use permanently.

Our branch is campaigning for the re-instatement of funding and service standards reduced under the cuts. We have produced a widely available leaflet which sets out how local people can report public right of way problems and take legal action against the county council if it fails to act appropriately. The more complaints made, the more evidence there will be to show that the service requires reinstatement of resources.

At the same time we recognise that many people want to take positive action to keep their paths accessible so we’re promoting ways in which people can easily support our campaign as part of their day-to-day routine, perhaps when walking the dog or out for a family stroll. Simply snipping away brambles or knocking down nettles with a stick will help to keep paths passable, and recognisable as a right of way.

We’re also promoting the role of footpath warden. Our network of litter wardens has shown that the collective effort of individuals can make a significant difference to the success of a campaign. We aim to replicate this model by creating, developing and supporting a network of footpath wardens across the county, who will help monitor the state of footpaths in their parish. We will be running Footpaths Information Workshops in the autumn for existing footpath wardens, and for people interested in becoming wardens, in liaison with local branches of the Ramblers Association and Open Spaces Society. The workshops will cover subjects such as public rights of way legislation, health and safety, landowner rights and obligations, and practical advice and support.

Through this combination of high-profile campaign and public engagement in practical measures we intend to keep the issue of public rights of way high on the county council’s agenda for future improvements in service.

Caroline Davison
Planning and Campaigns Manager, CPRE Norfolk

Originally published in the Autumn 2012 issue of Fieldwork magazine

Find out more:
CPRE Norfolk's campaign to Protect Our Paths

When paths become blocked or overgrown people stop using them, and they may fall out of use permanently.

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