BBC finds nearly 32,000 places where paths are blocked in England and Wales
A BBC investigation has found nearly 32,000 places in England and Wales where walkers are blocked from using our path network
12 January 2024
A new investigation from the BBC has uncovered nearly 32,000 places across England and Wales where walkers are prevented from using our path network due to blocked or obstructed paths.
Using Environmental Information Regulations, the BBC asked 118 local authorities outside of London how many blockages were recorded at the end of 2022 and compared this to a specific day the following year, 31 October 2023.
73 local councils responded with their recorded data, detailing 31,816 obstructions, ranging from deliberately fenced-off paths to overgrown vegetation that made following the trail impossible.
Alongside discovering the sheer number of path obstructions, the investigation also found that the number of recorded blockages is increasing year on year: local councils reported 4,000 more access issues on public rights of way in 2023 than in 2022.
32,000 obstructions is a shocking figure – but the true number is likely to be even higher. Polling commissioned by the Ramblers has shown that a significant proportion of the public are not currently aware of how to report issues on our paths and who they need to contact to do so.
Speaking to the BBC, Jack Cornish, Head of Paths, highlighted that path obstructions were a common issue but added that “we are shocked to learn quite how many of these issues on paths remain unresolved."
Our work to help open the way
The BBC did not just uncover the extent of the issues faced by our path network – they also spotlighted the committed Ramblers volunteers at the forefront of trying to solve them.
In Monmouthshire, the BBC went out with Ramblers volunteers as they worked to replace a rotten waymarker sign in Grosmont. Andrew Stumpf, the Path Maintenance Team Leader, has been working alongside Monmouthshire County Council to deal with local footpath blockages and problems.
He explained: “They [Monmouthshire County Council] supply us with the materials and the training expertise. And they come out and help us to do the more complicated stuff. It means from their perspective it’s being done to the right standard.”
A changing climate, and the more extreme weather that comes along with it, are only serving to make problems on our footpaths worse, as Andrew highlights:
“The way the climate is changing is exacerbating the problems. The undergrowth is growing much faster than it has done in the past so it is not getting trodden back in the same way. We are finding that the structures themselves are being eroded by the higher rainfall which is again causing problems. A lot of it must be down to a lack of funding – there are just not enough resources being put into it.”
But this group of volunteers is not alone: across England and Wales, 158 Ramblers path maintenance teams, made up of over 4,000 path and access volunteers, are on the frontline of keeping our path network open and accessible to all.
The UK government has power over access policy in England, so with a general election expected soon, we are also advocating for the political parties to commit to new legislation to protect and improve the existing path network in England, as well as create new opportunities for people to access nature and establish a framework to support public access in the long term.
And in Wales, we are pressing the Welsh Government for fair funding for path maintenance and improvements, and freely accessible public information about the condition of local paths to help mobilise local action. We have already had thousands of people sign our pledge to show their support to protect paths in Wales
How you can get involved
Our path network is a national treasure and we can all play our part in keeping it open and accessible for everyone.
The simplest and most effective thing we can all do is to make sure we report any obstructions or blockages that we come across. If blockages are not reported, they will never be removed so it’s crucial we make sure the local highway authority is aware. To find out more about reporting problems on our right of way network, check out the comprehensive guide on our website.
Want to really get stuck in with opening the way for us all to enjoy the outdoors? Step up to protect the places we love to wander by becoming a Ramblers volunteer. With path maintenance teams spread out all over the country, and a range of roles to choose from, you’ll become part of a committed community of walkers helping to protect the simple pleasure of walking.
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