At the end of this week Janet Davis leaves the Ramblers after more than 32 years there working on public-paths policy and practice. We shall miss her enormously.
I have known Janet since she was appointed in 1984 on a Countryside Commission-funded project to monitor the effect of part III of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This public-rights-of-way legislation included the process for applying for paths to be added to (and deleted from) the definitive maps, the surveying authorities’ duty to keep the maps up to date, the laws about bulls on land crossed by paths, restoring paths after ploughing and waymarking of byways.
The project came about because in 1978 a long-standing Ramblers’ activist in Dorset, Ruth Colyer, complained to Andrew Bennett, an MP who shared the Ramblers’ concerns, about Dorset County Council’s delays in processing applications to add paths to the maps. Andrew put down a parliamentary question, drafted by the Ramblers, to ask how many outstanding objections awaited determination; the Department of the Environment, after gathering the information, realised something must be done to address the problem, and shortly afterwards the Wildlife and Countryside Act became law. The Ramblers then persuaded the government’s adviser, the Countryside Commission, that the new legislation needed to be monitored and the commission endorsed and funded the project to achieve this.
Enter Janet, who knew little about public rights of way but is now one of the top experts in the country. By the time the commission project had ended, Janet had become invaluable and remained as a member of a growing staff-body, taking on path-policy roles, giving advice and helping resolve problems as well as expanding her remit to agricultural and other policy issues. She has also for many years taken the minutes at the Ramblers’ general council—it can’t have been in her job description, but fortunately someone realised she was jolly good at it.
Over the past third of a century Janet has worked on countless cases, helping Ramblers’ volunteers with the detail of path law and practice, running training events, getting involved in legal action, administering cases which went all the way to the House of Lords or Supreme Court and provided vital precedents for path workers, and servicing the organisation’s footpath subcommittee and legal panel and the national Rights of Way Review Committee. She is a member of Defra’s Rights of Way Stakeholder Working Group, which thrashed out the proposals for the Deregulation Act 2015, and she has got her head around the immense detail and complexities of the legislation and guidance.
In particular, Ramblers’ volunteers have appreciated Janet’s calm, quiet efficiency, good nature and attention to detail. She lives in Dorset and has worked partly from home. We are all guilty of contacting her at unsociable hours with our problems and she never complains; path volunteers can be pretty demanding but she responds to us all with equanimity and common-sense advice.
Fortunately, Janet will continue as a part-time consultant to the Ramblers and will remain on the stakeholder working group, whose work is not yet done.
Janet has been our rock. The life of the Ramblers’ footpath worker will not be the same without her.