Ramblers call for emergency path funding to prevent a winter of unwalkable paths

Ahead of this autumn’s Government spending review, the Ramblers is calling on the UK Government to prevent another winter of unwalkable paths by making emergency funding available to repair damaged and muddy paths.

Last winter, as COVID-19 restrictions made outdoor exercise the main way to socialise, wet weather combined with thousands of people discovering the joy of walking for the first time resulted in many paths suffering damage under the strain. Deep mud and flooding made many popular routes impassable for all but the most agile. 

From October 2020 to March 2021, the Ramblers received twice as many reports from members of the public concerned about muddy or waterlogged paths as for the same period the previous year – at least one report every day.

Funding for path repairs is essential as we head into the colder, wetter months and the Ramblers is urging the government to act now to avoid a repeat of last year. Under-resourced local authorities struggle to maintain paths after years of budget cuts; while damaged paths have become walkable again over the summer, lack of repair work in many areas means problems are likely to quickly resurface once the winter weather arrives.

The Ramblers recently led a coalition of charities in a letter to the Prime Minister warning that the Government is missing vital opportunities to improve access to nature as we emerge from the pandemic. This autumn sees a number of opportunities for the Government to fulfil its promises to ensure more people can connect with nature. Alongside the final stages of the Environment Bill, the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, planning reforms and more information on Environmental Land Management payments are expected in the coming months.  

Tom Platt, Director of advocacy and operations for the Ramblers, said: “One of the few positives of a tough year was that many people discovered how walking boosts their physical health and mental wellbeing. We have come to rely on our local parks and paths as safe places for exercise and enjoyment, yet over the winter, muddy and waterlogged paths made walking incredibly difficult or even impossible in many places. We want this winter to be different – we need to make it possible for everyone to keep walking.

“Now is the time for government to invest in our paths and show a commitment to build on the momentum of more people walking. A relatively small investment would help protect the places we love to walk and enable people of all abilities to safely enjoy the benefits of walking in nature. It will pay for itself many times over in health and wellbeing benefits.” 

Alan Manning from the Greater Manchester and High Peak Ramblers, said: “Last winter many of our popular paths, particularly those that gave access to important local green spaces, were very difficult to walk and at times impassable, denying access to all but the very agile. Path surfaces have not recovered and wide areas of vegetation on either side of paths were eroded away and have not re-established, without action now the coming winter will again see many of our local spaces denied to families and anyone with some mobility difficulties.”

Rebecca Dawson, Chair of Stag Walkers Ramblers group in Hertfordshire, said: “Many of the paths leading out of the villages and towns in Hertfordshire provided vital access to nature last winter, but often the path surfaces could not cope with the increased footfall in wetter conditions. Some paths became bogs that swallowed walking boots and wellies, while others were widened artificially by people avoiding the worst of the mud – impacting on the surrounding vegetation, including crops.  

When you set out for a walk you may not know that a path is in such disrepair. Unexpectedly poor path surfaces can be really off-putting and diminish some of the benefits that can be gained from walking in nature.”

  

To show there is widespread support across society for change, the Ramblers has launched a petition calling on the Government to make connecting people with nature a priority and to invest in the infrastructure that enables everyone to enjoy walking in nature.

Francis


BBC News picked up this story - and reported a bit more detail as well as using the copy sometimes word for word.

To give a good idea of the scale of this - and as someone walking regularly across Greater London, the Home Counties, the South East, and North East over the same period, I have yet to come across anything impassable, even after the recent downpours in the Chilterns on Thursday October 21st 2021 - the BBC included the following:

"Last year, people in England made 32% of all their trips on foot compared to 26% in 2019, according to statistics from the Office for National Statistics.

And miles walked per person increased to their highest levels since 2002, says the ONS.

As a result of this increase, and wet weather, the Ramblers received 203 reports of muddy or waterlogged paths between October 2020 and March 2021.

This was almost one per day - double the number just 12 months earlier."

Cannot Pathwatch data provide some real hard data? On the face of it, one report per day as opposed to half that a year before, does not suggest a significant problem. On Thursday at one point there was a short stretch, maybe 10-15 foot (and about 10 foot across, at a gateway between two fields), were water had pooled across, and water and mud came over the tops of our boots. But there was a reasonable way at both sides ........ but this would not deter those we also saw out walking in this rural, agricultural (livestock and arable) area ....

Another quote from the story "Mr Manning said: "There will be different solutions for different locations - we'd want the final product to be weather-proof, accessible for people with a range of abilities, easy enough to push a double buggy through.

"Then, depending on location, you might need foundations, a smooth surface, or gravel."

Is that seriously proposed for all public rights of way? Or just in urban and suburban Greater Manchester?

I can't see that we'd welcome the SUSTRAN-ing (Waskerley Way-style) of the majority of the public footpath network.

Mark White


Volunteer path maintenance. Often there's no quick solution to footpath problems. Some local authorities act "quickly", though quickly might mean in 3 months' time. It would therefore be useful to know what an individual walker can do to alleviate over-walked, boggy trails in winter months, without incurring the wrath of landowners. For example, can fallen branches from nearby be placed in the boggy sections, to help walkers step across ? Is there something in Ramblers' guidance ?

Peter Carr


As both a Group FP Secretary and volunteer path maintenance worker I see this problem on a regular basis. In most cases it is probably not reported to ether the Ramblers or Highway Authority. One of the major causes is the practice of farmers placing feed troughs close to field gates and often across the PROW; cattle in particular then trample the ground into an impassable sea of mud. I really do mean impassable having ended up up to above my knees in mud. Any campaign should, in my opinion, seek to educate farmers about the problems they can cause by the unthinking placing of troughs.

Anne Suffolk


I am a Group Chair, footpath maintenance volunteer and walk leader. The last walk I led I had to plan a three sides of a triangle diversion, including a 300m stretch in single file along a busy B road with a verge less than 0 .5m wide, to avoid deep muddy slurry and worse, along field paths where farm vehicles and cattle share paths and gates. When I say deep, I mean deep, over boot stuff. This is not unusual in cattle country and often involves a long way around, adding a kilometre or more, not a short diversion into adjacent fields. I am not unsympathetic to farmers but could some thought be given to practical solutions, is there a need to walk cattle and drive right up to the hedge boundary, or could there be a narrow walkable strip along the hedge line or a stile next to the gate so we don't have to wade and paddle through the heavily trodden cattle route and where is the funding for this to come from?? Another problem is forestry vehicles churning up autumn and winter paths in woods into something resembling a first world war trench approach. I also walk in urban and semi rural areas where paths are shared by mountain bikes and horses (legal), trail bikes, motorbikes and quad bikes (illegal), the paths become churned to porridge. Some councils are working with local police to try to stop the illegal use as it puts the public at risk, but it is not an easy job and police forces are under staffing and financial pressure too. The surface is not robust enough for shared use, in these heavily used urban and semi urban/ rural routes and walkers and cyclists come off worst. I am very happy to share paths with horses and cyclists, however, the infrastructure to restore and harden surfaces, segregate users (side rails, path widening, demarcated areas) and prevent abuse by powered two and four wheeled vehicles is costly and beyond most landowners and hard pressed LA Council budgets.

Dominic


There's no doubting that there are problems - but anecdotes and individual examples are not hard data or evidence of widespread problems. I'm don't know of any general RA guidance on what walkers should do other than report each and every problem to the responsible highway authority. Unfortunately Pathwatch is not up to the job (and appears never to have been), and fewer and fewer people (and highway authorities) and any successor has been dropped until other current IT projects are successfully concluded.

The only fairly widely used option is fixmystreet (disclosure: I've been a small supporter and backer of mysociety for many years) ..... it's not ideal, but many local authorities have adopted to handle the front end of their systems. And at least it works to a greater degree see this https://www.fixmystreet.com/report/3060052

Dominic


A simple question, BTW. Was there any answer given, the other week, or some succour in the Red Book? As to the demand for public spending, that is? There doesn't seem to have been any reaction to what was announced, nor any analysis.

If not, I'm not sure what the point was to 'the Ramblers is calling on the UK Government to prevent another winter of unwalkable paths by making emergency funding available to repair damaged and muddy paths.' Other than some transitory media coverage.