Somerset County Council now has nearly 90 per cent of its public rights of way network classed as ‘easy to use’ thanks to a great team effort, and just in time for the great British summer.
During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a big rise in the number of people using the county’s public rights of way network and this has meant a huge upsurge in the number of reports being received, such as broken or missing signs, stiles needing repairs or overgrown vegetation – at times double that from previous years.
The Council’s Rights of Way Team, supported by volunteers, continue to investigate reports and resolve the issues where valid, increasing the network’s ‘easy to use’ grading to 85.7 per cent in the county.
When records began in 2003/2004, the amount of public rights of way classed as ‘easy to use’ was just 39.2 per cent. Now, thanks to our team, 369 volunteers, and the help of the public this number has never been higher.
Peter Hobley, Rights of Ways Service Manager at Somerset County Council, said: “We are incredibly pleased to achieve the highest ever ‘ease of use’ figure for Somerset, but there is still plenty more to be done to try and get to 100 per cent.
“This would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the hard work of the team of staff and our volunteers.
“In the last 12 months, people have discovered more of our beautiful countryside than ever before, and by using them and reporting any problems encountered, it helps us to focus our resources on where they are needed.
“The terrific work of the wider team has ensured far more seamless experiences in navigating our rights of way.”
Across the county we have over 9,000 public rights of way, totalling 3,843 miles (6,186 km) with beautiful scenery, dramatic hills and wonderful coastlines on offer.
Many of the issues reported can be resolved by volunteers. Our 369 registered volunteers have taken on 495 roles and contributed 22,720 hours in 2021. If you are interested in helping the team you can find out more about volunteering on the Somerset County Council website.
While the increase in usage has been predominately good there’s been a reminder that this can place extra strain on the paths and landowners.
“With people social distancing and avoiding muddy patches, it is important for path users to remember to stick to the line of path to avoid damaging to crops, and also keep dogs under close control (at heel or on a short lead). Landowners also have to remember to keep the paths clear of any crops and reinstate cross-field paths after ploughing.” Peter added.
“The recent introduction of the updated Countryside Code by Natural England will help to ensure people enjoy to outdoors without disruption to landowners.”
It is thought that with new ways of working in a post-pandemic world, and the health and wellbeing benefits that using the path network offers, the network will continue to be busy in coming years as more take advantage of what Somerset has to offer, and if you’re looking for something different by the coast why not try out one of the new Storywalks along the England Coast Path by visiting the Story Walks website.
You can find out more about of Rights of Way in Somerset on the Travel Somerset website and @TravelSomerset on Twitter for updates.
More information can be found on the Countryside code on the GOV.uk website.