Ramblers launch app for 'biggest-ever' footpath survey

Walkers in Suffolk in May 2013
Image caption The Ramblers said problems on pathways were 'mounting'

The Ramblers charity is launching what it calls the "biggest-ever footpath survey" to examine the state of the path network in England and Wales.

The organisation, which represents walkers, says it is concerned that some paths are in a bad condition.

It is asking people to use a mobile phone app to record problems found on rights of way, such as blockages or fallen trees, and send them in.

The Big Pathwatch will then allow the Ramblers to protect the path network.

'Crisis point'

There are 140,000 miles of pathways across England and Wales but the Ramblers fear more and more are becoming overgrown, flooded or blocked.

More than 86,000 problems were reported on England's paths alone last year, including missing signs and broken gates.

Ramblers chief executive Benedict Southworth said the path network was "one of our nation's biggest assets".

He said: "We know that there are currently problems on our paths that stop people in their tracks.

"We need to find the true extent of the problem and explore how this affects anyone who uses our paths, whether that's on their shortcut to the shops or while they're out enjoying our glorious countryside.

"With a 20% cut in the workforce looking after our paths over the last five years, it's no surprise that these problems appear to be mounting and that we've now reached this crisis point."

Are Britain's footpaths in slow decay?

By Justin Parkinson, BBC News

It's a beautiful sight. The descent from the South Downs provides views across undulating, geometrically marked wheat fields, fringed by hedgerow and leading on to flatter land stretching tens of miles into the distance.

The footpath is fine as you move towards the East Sussex village of Alciston - until, suddenly, it's not. The path becomes overgrown. A small fallen tree blocks the way to the less agile walker. Parts are crumbly underfoot. Then, 100m or so further down, it's absolutely fine again.

Read more

The scheme sees walkers "adopt" a 1km square of land and walk its rights of way, noting and recording any problems they see as well as positive features of the paths.

They are then asked to use the app to upload information about the paths - those without smartphones can log the data on the Ramblers website instead.

Image caption The Ramblers said they wanted to know the 'full extent' of the problem

The results of the survey will lead to a report on the state of the paths of England and Wales by the Ramblers - who say they are "guardians of the footpath network".

Path maintenance teams from the Ramblers will also fix problems reported to them where possible, the organisation said.

It said anyone undertaking practical work to open up a public path must have the permission of both the local authority and the landowner concerned.

The survey closes at the end of the year with findings to be released in spring 2016.

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