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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 June, 2003, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Neglect threatening region's footpaths
Nigel Walrond
BBC News Online

A walking party
Hikers and ramblers contribute 6m a year to the South West economy.
Many footpaths in the South West are under threat from a lack of repairs and obstructions, according to ramblers.

The closure of the region's footpaths during the foot-and-mouth crisis underlined how valuable they are to the rural economy.

But while many have since reopened, man-made obstacles or damage caused by years of neglect are hindering walkers in many areas.

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

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

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.

This is particularly true in Cornwall, where the county council has about 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 6,000 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 which needs 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 Rights of Way officer Graham Ronan cited a footpath near Ludgvan as a prime example.

There the granite stile has become overgrown with gorse, brambles, briars and blackthorn to the point where it is impassable.

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

"What worries me is that if we don't get these footpaths sorted out by 1 January, 2026, 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," he said.

Cornwall County Council admits 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.

However, he said hopes of additional government assistance had not yet materialised.

Cornwall's new Environment portfolio holder, Councillor 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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