Footpaths are a community asset that can be taken for granted but stir up huge emotion if lost, diverted or unkempt. With walking, running and cycling on the increase they are being used more so the wear and tear is increasing but they remain the focal point for day trips, holidays and local usage alike.
Many records of historic paths places them on the Definitive Footpath map keeping them safe and maintained by the public purse. Then there are others that are remembered but long lost, whether changes in habits meant they fell into disuse or for some reason a permitted closure or development over them. Added to these are privately owned ones where people are allowed to walk. This is why it is important to know where parish paths are, talk to people about ones that used to exist and see if work can be done to reinstate and of course maintain what you have.
Stokenham Parish Council see their whole footpath, bridleway, permissive paths or any connecting accessways as one of the main parish assets. The reason for this is that these natural corridors provide access to many parish venues without using a vehicle and give real enjoyment to those walking, sightseeing, connecting and learning about nature, travelling to the beaches and using community facilities. This Parish has a long section of coastal footpath, some 13 miles, which comes under the care of Nature England, along with many inland paths that come under the care of Devon County Council. These are linked and complimented by Permissive Paths over which access is allowed due to agreements having been arranged between the landowners and Parish Council, who carry out maintenance on them.
As with any well used business or facility it is important that regular checks are carried out to ensure they are safe to use and cared for. This is why Stokenham Parish Council see their parish footpaths as an asset that needs checking and reports received of fallen trees, overgrown undergrowth or even flooded areas and erosion are highlighted at meetings. With so many involved in the care of this network it is not always possible to do something immediately but most matters can be dealt with either by a few volunteers or liaising with the Footpath Officer. The removal of fallen trees often just needs someone to report it to the landowner who may be unaware. The same goes for overgrown undergrowth. Sometimes this can be down to County footpath cutting but mostly it is overgrown hedges and the like which belong to the adjacent landowner. Having a good community understanding of how much revenue locals and visitors bring to the area by being able to walk these paths makes approaching landowners better through a friendly phone call rather than formal letters that can often be taken the wrong way! Whilst major enhancement works need planning and funding day to day awareness and care can make all the difference with very little cost. In the hectic world we live in some property owners do not know that at the end of their garden or their field just a little bit of maintenance will make a huge difference and often welcome suggestions. So one simple task to do is identify the contact details of all adjacent landowners to footpaths and bridleways making a quick call much easier.
Stokenham over the years have put together additional projects to enhance the links where possible and drawn in many grants One permissive path takes people off the main road and goes across seven landowners land and took inviting all those landowners into one room to discuss a solution. Another is only about 20 feet long but takes walkers safely along pavements and then through the link to a park without going on the main road, that has no pedestrian provision. Ensuring that locals and visitors can walk around safely means vehicles can be left behind and people will walk to local facilities rather than taking their money outside the parish. It also gives the community a chance to meet and chat whilst encouraging healthy exercise.
Another important part of footpaths is the natural wild flowers and vegetation so leaving the sides just a bit more overgrown and rural can provide an important haven as a wildlife corridor!
Thanks to Gill Claydon, clerk at Stokenham Parish Council for sharing their story; we completely agree that footpath maintenance is vital and is often overlooked as a key service that a parish and town council can offer. The Parish Paths Partnership scheme in Devon is used by many local councils to help maintain footpaths.
We always love to hear from our member councils about what they’ve been up to so please do share your stories with us.