The Big Pathwatch

Putting the "Big" in... 

Big Pathwatch 

Most of what I know of England & Wales I’ve learnt through my feet. Discovering and walking along our footpaths allows me to get a feel for a place that transcends the history, culture or guidebook description. And now while I’m tramping along our 210,000 km (140,000 miles) iconic rights of way network carrying a map, binoculars, camera and snacks I can add the Ramblers Big Pathwatch app on my smart phone.

One of the things I like best about the Ramblers Big Pathwatch is how it’s inspired me to rediscover my local footpaths as well as investigating rights of way in places that I’m visiting. I’m able to view the path network piece by piece through the prism of the Ordnance Survey 1 km grid square. And it’s all there in the palm of my hand on my smart phone via the Pathwatch app.

The other weekend me and @innerlondramb checked out 4 of the squares local to us. We live in an outer London borough with less than 50 km of footpaths and the Thames Path makes up most of that. Even so, examination of the squares shows how quirky the network is. There’s plenty of alleyways that take people to the shops or the pub or the river. There’s little squiggles that seem to serve no purpose at all today but obviously had a meaning years ago.

And August Bank Holiday weekend we’re off to the Essex coast and we’ll do a coupla squares there as well. So if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare I couldn’t think of anything easier or better to suggest you do. The whole family can get involved and we’ve devised some activity sheets to help with this.

It is true that it is the ambition of the project that put the ‘big’ into Big Pathwatch but the morning of the launch certainly felt big to me and other colleagues throughout England & Wales. There I was on location on a footpath in Oxfordshire on BBC Breakfast TV speaking to an audience of millions at 7.55 in the morning. Meanwhile our chief executive, Benedict Southworth and another trustee Moira Fraser were live on the Today programme. (And I always thought I had a face for radio!) Later on I taped a longer piece for BBC South Today, followed by live walking and talking on BBC Radio Oxfordshire. Key volunteers, too many to mention, (although special thanks to Dave Cavanagh, who sorted out the Oxfordshire location and shared media duties on launch day with me) were popping up on TV screens or talking on 40 local BBC radio stations up and down the land or giving interviews to national and local printed media singing the praises of the Big Pathwatch.

Over 10,000 walkers up and down the country have been doing great things for the last six weeks. We’ve already adopted over 25% of all the grid squares in the project, and completed surveys of nearly 20%. The Warwick group deserve special praise for already covering all the squares in their area, but every square counts so get walking. When the Big Pathwatch project ends all of our findings will be compiled into a massive report to be made available to all local authorities, reminding them of the value and impact of the rights of way in their area.

Of course none of this would have been possible without the incredible generousity from our friends over at the Ramblers Worldwide Holidays Charitable Trust. Unlike many tour operators Ramblers Worldwide Holidays have their own Trust through which profits are channelled back into a variety of outdoor, walking-related or environmental conservation projects in the UK. They especially want to focus on encouraging both young and old to experience the beauty and rewards that our countryside can bring. Everyone who completes a Big Pathwatch square will also have a chance to benefit from YHA a 15% discount on YHA accommodation (on selected dates).

The focus of the Trust’s financial support is Britain’s leading walking charity, the Ramblers, and their role in promoting the benefits and importance of walking to the British public. They have achieved so much over very many years of campaigning for walkers’ access rights and we’re proud to have stood alongside them in this work and given many millions of pounds to assist with their valuable achievements. Their current support to the value of £300,000 is focused on the Big Pathwatch project, the biggest ever footpath survey.

So if you haven’t done so already why don’t you get out this weekend and survey some squares for us. You can register here. If you’ve already done some squares why don’t you do a few more.


Walking Class Hero is a regular blog contributor. Find out more about him, including his previous blog posts, and follow him on twitter @walkngclasshero.


Hadn't seen this before now (Oct 18th), and it appears to have been written before September 1st - well before the August bank holiday weekend indeed. I was interested in the activity sheets but the hypertext link seems to be broken:
The requested document was not found
Most likely causes:
The resource you are looking for (or one of its dependencies) has been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable. Please review the following URL and make sure that it is spelled correctly.

I heard the launch coverage of BPW on BBC Radio 4 Farming Today 5.45am on July 14th - you have to be up early to catch that worm :-) It is impressive what has been achieved though I'm still struggling with trying to update the one square I've done so far via the web. Apart from the slowness of it all (and this is on a fairly high speed ADSL connection) it's managed to crash Firefox a number of times. Play School tells me that my not so old smartphone is not compatible with the app ......

I guess we'll persevere, with some interesting ideas on Ramblers-Net for the next generation of BPW.

It's not just RWHCT to thank of course. 'The Big Pathwatch is funded for three years by the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust, with additional funding from the Garfield Weston Foundation.'

The penultimate para in part reads as if it was written by RWHCT - after all it is they who are assisting the RA, are standing alongside and have given much over the years to support the work: 'The focus of the Trust’s financial support is Britain’s leading walking charity, the Ramblers, and their role in promoting the benefits and importance of walking to the British public. They have achieved so much over very many years of campaigning for walkers’ access rights and we’re proud to have stood alongside them in this work and given many millions of pounds to assist with their valuable achievements.'

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In fact around six weeks on from the blog it looks like we're set reasonably fair for this first phase. This certainly was set out as being a long-term, subject to resources, and continuing project/campaign. A one shot effort will not track or help manage the network either at an aggregate level or an individual path level is not going to be that helpful. Path conditions even allowing for the range of different views and judgements as to what is a problem and what is not - there's some good discussion on path standards, possible grading, etc., on Ramblers-Net - change from season to season. I guarantee that most of the paths/routes I walk fairly regularly in East Sussex were fine a couple of months ago; into the autumn and winter they will be very different. I'd draw a comparison with the tool that has been developed (by volunteers!) over the last few years at CAMRA, (and the DBs behind that), that continues to develop and is also tracking changes in state or condition - a time series that will over time provide the ability to monitor aggregate changes down to (local authority) licensing areas (over all the countries of the UK), and of course to individual licensed premises. It is increasingly the recognised authoritative source of robust data and information. And all pretty well maintained and updated by volunteers - perhaps 5% of the CAMRA membership actively involved (and that is a high participation rate) say 7K nationwide, and any number of reports, updates, and quality (beer) scores from the wider membership (c. 175K) and the public.

I'm not sure how that contrasts with BPW - the objective of 100,000 volunteer surveyors seems way off.

As of today (Oct 19th) Play School reports installs of the BPW app in the range
5,000 - 10,000. There will be those like me who use the web interface (or try to) to input details - there's no indication that I've seen that puts a number on these. And clearly from the reviews (122, average rating is 2.6/5people are finding the app problematic - clunky, great idea, flawed design, bad implementation, to good idea, good little app for a good cause.

Of the c. 156K km squares in England and Wales 32% have been completed (England 37%, Wales 20%) as at Oct 12th.

What is (or rather was, a few days ago) new to me was the concept of priority (sample) squares. I still don't fully understand this concept save that these are, in each relevant local authority area, the ones that are sufficient to get a statistically significant clear picture of the state of the public rights of way network in England and Wales. That is, a sufficient sample size to provide the authoritative report for the two countries as a whole. That proportion stood at 40% completed (England 44%, Wales 23%).

Still a ways to go, but it would be good to see some more regular updates, and the number not just of 'real' problems being sent to local Groups and highway authorities but also the real 'good condition' reports!

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