Notes from the Chair
Chairman’s Encore . . ♫ We love to go a wandering along those Wiltshire trails ♫
And as we go . . . do we pause to ponder on how those tracks and footpaths got there and if they are being well maintained?
Those paths have probably been walked for decades, indeed centuries by our ancestors. Taking the shortest or easiest route from village to village, home to field, to church, to work or school, driving livestock to market and so on; even the occasional young love tryst in the woods!!
As society has changed their use has evolved into one of leisure and healthy exercise! We have inherited a wonderful asset – the right to walk – on a spider’s web network of ‘rights of way’ across the countryside. These are now clearly documented on definitive maps and enshrined in law to protect our rights. We could lose some of those rights, if not by law, by default, by paths becoming poorly maintained or overgrown, or falling into disuse due to lack of way-marking.
You will have seen recent reports in the Press and ‘Walk’ magazine of the results of The Ramblers’ ‘Big Path Watch’ survey and the current campaign. Poor signage was one problem, but poor maintenance by councils and landowners and overgrown paths were significant concerns, leading to paths falling into disuse. The rambling community in general needs to lobby local authorities to note and act. We in South Wilts certainly do our fair share.
Our heavy and light gangs work closely with a dedicated Council Footpath team to do what they can to protect and maintain where we walk, in extremely difficult financial circumstances. Not just in words, but hard work, each month getting out there to clear, repair and maintain and improve. The other concern is that the right to use well established or lost footpaths, that are not yet listed on definitive maps, will be lost forever, if not included by 2026, under the ‘Deregulation Bill’. That can require lots of local knowledge and research as well as the support of parish councils and communities to take action to list them. We cannot do it all. We need to get out there and spread the word. Persuade our parish councils to protect and maintain our rights of way by taking an interest – setting up their own work teams, applying for ‘parish improvement grants’ (‘PIGs) and any other worthwhile initiatives.
Our Footpath Secretaries, Norman, Graham and Patricia have shown the way over many years. They need our full support, help and appreciation for what they have achieved and continue to achieve.
A final word of thanks to the 60 or so members who came to the AGM in November to hear from the committee, show their appreciation and enjoy a very pleasant social evening, despite our speaker being unable to join us. We’ll try him again next year.
A Happy New Year and good walking in 2017.
John Foskett, chairman