04 June 2015 by Kate Ashbrook
What other organisation can boast that one in every five of its members are active volunteers?
Here is the proof. There was a time when, if you went for a walk and found your path blocked, you had to prove that it was a public highway before you could get the problem resolved. That was before we had definitive (official) maps of public rights of way.
Thanks to the pressure and campaigning from Ramblers’ volunteers and others, we won the law which created definitive maps—the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. But then we had to claim the paths so that they were recognised as public on the definitive maps.
In the early 1950s, Ramblers’ volunteers fanned out over England and Wales, researching and recording paths. Paths were important then for recreation as well as for utilitarian purposes, but where the population was sparse the job was particularly challenging. The Ramblers organised busloads of volunteers from Birmingham to scour mid Wales, and from Liverpool to tackle remote Snowdonia.
It is a great tribute to those hard workers, in days when most people did not own cars, that we now have extensive definitive maps of routes which are open to us by right.
This activity—search and record—was repeated for the registration of commons in England and Wales in a too-short three year period in the late sixties. More recently, when the access maps were being prepared under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000, our volunteers had to get out there to record and map eligible land—with mixed success but if we had not done it our access maps would be much the poorer. The next task is to research and record all those historic routes which may otherwise be extinguished on 1 January 2026, due to another provision in the CROW Act: a massive job for which we are providing training.
In Scotland there is a full right of access under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, thanks to the Ramblers, but no definitive maps of rights of way. Ramblers’ volunteers are lobbying their local authorities to create ‘core paths’ as well as devising short circular health-walks of varying lengths—known as ‘medal’ routes.
Thousands of Ramblers each year lead walks for our members and others to enjoy, introducing many to walking and enabling them to have a secure, companionable day out. Others sign our petitions and lobby their councillors, Members of Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament to bring about change, or fight planning developments that encroach on the landscapes through which we walk. Or they help to run our Areas and Groups, chairing meetings, taking minutes, organising social events, making the tea.
We have always had a proud record of practical work on the paths, with task forces helping the highway authorities where new gates, bridges, steps or surfaces are needed, cutting back vegetation and maintaining the path network. As local authority budgets are slashed, our work becomes more important, and it is disappointing that some authorities make difficulties for volunteers, requiring them to provide their own insurance, or even forbidding them to help because it does not fit with their bureaucratic arrangements.
Through their time and energy, our volunteers are worth many millions of pounds to the Ramblers, and to our cause, each year. Our volunteers are our heartbeat, pumping away tirelessly for walkers for the past 80 years. They should be proud of the difference they have made for walkers in Britain.