06 June 2017 by George Redmayne
We owe much to our 160 or so volunteer path maintenance teams across Britain who work tirelessly to ensure our paths are kept open and in good order. Walkers enjoy the benefits, but how many appreciate the preparation, partnership-working, persistence and problem-solving that goes into achieving those benefits? Ramblers’ delivery officer, George Redmayne donned his outdoor gear to find out more.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend a day in the company of the North Bucks rRIPPLE (Ramblers Repairing and Improving Public Paths for Leisure & Exercise) team, led by Bill Piers who gave me a fascinating glimpse into the world of our path maintenance teams.
The rRIPPLE team was founded in early 2015 by Bill, a member of the Ramblers’ Aylesbury & District group, who head out most weeks to improve the local path network. Initially, stiles were being repaired and improved, but now Buckinghamshire County Council (BCC) prefers stiles to be replaced with conventional gates or kissing gates so that rights of way are more accessible, so this is now the team’s focus.
In 2016, asides from installing waymarks and clearing vegetation, 39 mostly dilapidated and potentially hazardous stiles in North Bucks were eliminated and replaced by gates, kissing gates or converted into gaps – all thanks to this incredible team of volunteers.
On a crisp but clear morning I arrived at Leighton Buzzard station shortly after 9am. I was met by a 4x4 pulling a trailer laden with tools and materials, driven by Bill and accompanied by fellow volunteers, Jerry and Keith. Once I’d jumped in, Bill explained that the site for today’s work was in nearby Wing, where the team had almost completed the de-stiling of the BCC-promoted Wing Millennium Circular Walk, replacing 17 stiles with gates. Much of the work has been funded via Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Ramblers area Donate a Gate scheme.
On this particular day, the tasks were to finish stabilising a new gate, and to replace a nearby stile with a gate.
Before: the offending stile that would soon be replaced
Having parked up in the field, Bill and Jerry got to work on the wobbly gate, whilst Keith and I started to remove the offending stile and clear any overhanging vegetation. This preparation would clear the way for the installation of the new gate, which Bill had previously dropped off on site.
During: Jerry and I at work, getting everything in place to install the gate
An hour or so later, with the wobbly gate fortified and the ground prepared for the new gate, the team unpacked the fold-up camping chairs, got their thermoses and snack boxes out and enjoyed a well-earned break. I, however, had not come as well-prepared; but the team kindly made sure I was duly refreshed too!
As Bill and Keith set about installing the new gate, Jerry showed me a folder containing details of recent or planned work. He showed me Countryside Access Management System (CAMS) job requests from the council, and maps showing locations of works that had been carried out, as well as ones that had been recced or were due to be recced. He also talked about the team’s liaison work with landowners (whose authority has to be gained before work on their land can be carried out), parish councils and the council. Separately, I learned from Bill of the funding he’s organised through his Ramblers area, his investigation into another area’s Parish Path Wardens scheme that might have local relevance, and training he’d signed up for in the use of specialist tools.
Once the new gate had been safely installed (with a plaque nailed on and photos taken for good measure), we inspected a site higher up in the same field. This was where the team would soon carry out their next piece of work. We then cut up the old stiles, loaded the wood onto the trailer, and headed to the nearby pub to enjoy a pint of local ale.
After: The swinging gate was finished just as the sun came out
I was soon back on the train home watching the countryside rush by the window. As I sat there I felt an immense appreciation of exactly what goes into the amazing results our path maintenance teams achieve. This ranges from:
- liaising with multiple bodies (in this case the local authority, landowners, parish councils, potential gate donors, local residents and gate manufacturers, not to mention their Ramblers group, area and the Ramblers office)
- exploring creative solutions around funding and manpower
- sourcing the necessary equipment, tools and expertise and making sure these are in the right place to deliver highly professional pieces of work.
From me, and everyone at the Ramblers, a huge THANK YOU to all our path maintenance teams for their dedication and enthusiasm.
Feeling inspired and want to set up a path maintenance team or get involved? Visit our path maintenance toolkit to find out more.
It seems like a timely moment during National Volunteers’ week to thank all of our wonderful volunteers for their tireless efforts to maintain the rights of way network – both this week, and every week of the year. Without the 26,000 volunteers who give their time to the Ramblers, we just wouldn't exist. Whether looking after paths and green spaces, leading walks or opening up new places to explore, we couldn't do what we do without them. Find out more about our volunteers in our Volunteer Zone, how you could get involved and read all about our 2017 volunteer award winners.