The Ramblers Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Area, of which I am the footpath secretary, last week discussed a new way of doing path surveys.
We have over a hundred volunteer path-checkers in our territory, each takes on one or more parishes – of which there are more than 200 – and walks all its paths at least once a year. They report problems to the highway authority (Bucks County Council, Milton Keynes Council or the London Boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon and Hounslow).
Ideally they follow up whether the problems are resolved and chase the council if they are not. They trim back vegetation and generally help to keep the paths in order.
We have a great team of volunteers, but we know that not every path, or indeed every parish, is checked each year. So last week the Area agreed to encourage our ten groups, who regularly lead walks for members, to put a survey walk on the programme every so often. The plan is that they will blitz a parish which is not already covered by a path-checker, dividing the walkers into small groups, providing them with copies of the definitive map of public paths, and sending them off to walk a few paths. They may reconvene for lunch and then set off again to survey a new patch. At lunchtime and at the end of the day they will collate the information, and the leader will send it in to the highway authority.
Not only will this enable our far-flung parishes to be covered, but it will introduce people to a new part of our territory, and provide a sociable way of doing a useful job. It will show them that the paths we enjoy are only available because of the work of our path-checkers and others who survey them and report problems. It will, we hope, encourage members of the Ramblers to report problems because only by doing so can we improve paths for others.
It has been thus for many decades. We enjoy our paths today because of the efforts of those who take the time and trouble to survey and report.
Thirty years ago, walking in the Vale of Aylesbury to the north of the Chilterns was like tackling an assault course. Walkers and riders tended to gravitate to the Chilterns, close to London with their attractive countryside and well-marked paths. The paths of north Bucks were under-used and neglected. Thanks to the efforts of the Ramblers and others the paths are now in a much better state.
So I hope that our groups will take up this idea and that their members will take pleasure in carrying out path surveys – after all they will be doing what they enjoy most, going for a walk!