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Last Updated: Friday, 27 June, 2003, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
South West: Obstructed footpaths
Mike Fennell
Politics Show South West

Footpaths have been reopened but many walkers still face barriers and obstruction. The Politics Show reports.

A walking party
Hikers and ramblers contribute 6m a year to the South West economy.

If nothing else the closure of the southwest's footpaths during the foot-and-mouth crisis underlined how valuable they are to the rural economy.

It is estimated hikers and ramblers contribute 6m a year to the South West economy.

Nationally more than 500m walking trips are made annually in England alone and the Ramblers Association claims that walking supports 200,000 people in jobs.

Some footpaths impassable

But at the same time the Audit Commission estimates nearly a third of Britain's footpaths are difficult or impossible to use owing to obstructions of one kind or another.

And nowhere is that more true than in Cornwall. The county council has some 6,500 rights of way to maintain, a network of approximately 3,500 miles.

Blocked path
Nearly a third of Britain's footpaths are difficult or impossible to use

The Ramblers Association estimates there are upwards of 6000 obstructions of one kind or another on the footpath network.

According to the Ramblers Association's footpaths secretary in Cornwall, Duncan Thurnell-Reed, there is a huge backlog of work needing to be done:

"This is the culmination of many decades of neglect in which Cornwall County Council has under funded their work to protect public rights of way."

The obstructions are both man-made, from fences being built across rights of way or due to the failure to resist the forces of nature.

Penwith's Right of Way officer Graham Ronan cited as an example a footpath near Ludgvan where the granite stile had been overgrown with gorse, brambles, briars and blackthorn to the point where it was impassable.

"What worries me," he said, "if we don't get these footpaths sorted out by the first of January, 2006, which is the date set by the Countryside and Highways Act, 2000, which is when we get the final version of the definitive map, then they will be lost forever."

Walkers cross a bridge
Footpaths must be established by January 2026, or lost forever

Backlog admitted

Cornwall County Council admit there is a backlog. But a spokesman said it had set up a partnership with parish councils to take on the maintenance work which was proving successful.

But hopes of additional government assistance had not yet materialised.

Nevertheless Cornwall's new Environment portfolio holder, Cllr Helen Richards, pledged herself to improve the situation:

"The environment is the council's best asset and we want to keep it that way and are committed to addressing the backlog.

"As the new portfolio holder I shall be doing my very best for Cornwall's Rights of Way."

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