We all love Surrey for its many open spaces, woodland and overall green environment, but do we ever consider what it takes to keep it that way for residents and visitors?
This piece focuses in particular on public paths, of which there are over 2,000 miles across the county. That’s the distance from Guildford to Istanbul! Many Society members enjoy our monthly guided walks, when you’ll nearly always be walking on a local right of way.
Public paths may be footpaths, bridleways or byways and any of these might be permissive paths, which means they are open with permission from the private landowner, and maintained by them.
But the majority right across the county are looked after by Surrey County Council’s Countryside Access team of 7 people, as well as a small but busy, legal team who deal with path closures, permanent or temporary diversions and public inquiries.
There is a statutory duty for the council to maintain and keep the public paths network open for public enjoyment, but the team have faced staff and budget cuts for at least four of the last five years. The latest budget cuts are very punishing – in the region of 60% down from last year – which makes it very hard-going to keep the network even in a basic state for public accessibility, with vegetation cuts now barely happening even once a year. It used to be twice. They also need to keep approximately 10,000 waymarks and signage in place and ensure 5,000 stiles and gates are in good condition.
On top of this, the team also now looks after more than 1,400 bridges across the county. One creative idea they’ve come up with is for local interested parties (like Ramblers groups or conservation charities) to ‘adopt a bridge’ and then agree to look after its basic maintenance and report issues back.
Volunteer groups play a huge part in helping to check up on and provide basic maintenance on public paths and the Countryside Access team would struggle to cope without their ongoing help. SCC have a very good arrangement with conservation groups and regularly provide training and tools for Volunteer Path Wardens who commit to looking after a particular section of path, usually in their local area. Additionally, local Ramblers Group have just agreed to make annual donations towards the provision and installation of new kissing gates where required. This is seen as very good news.
If you come across an issue on a public path that you think should be reported, use the online reporting form found on SCC’s website.
Diane Cooper, SCC Countryside Marketing Officer