Walking in Wiltshire
Originally published by Trevor Carbin Liberal Democrat
If you walked all of Wiltshire's footpaths, bridleways and byways you'd have travelled 3,850 miles - equivalent to walking to Istanbul and back. In fact walking to Turkey might be easier because according to the Ramblers less than half of Wiltshire's network is easily passable. Some routes are blocked by barbed wire, many stiles and gates are in poor condition, and signposts have rotted away due to neglect.
Since 2010 Wiltshire Council has cut the budget for rights of way maintenance by half, with just five rights of way wardens covering the county, or one warden per 770 miles.
The council acknowledges that the path network is in decline, and that it will be relying increasingly on volunteers to keep footpaths open and usable. Volunteer work on improving the rights of way in Wiltshire in 2105/16 amounted to a total of 2800 hours. However the council doesn't help by forcing volunteer groups to make detailed grant applications for every individual project.
It's also a fact that well used paths are likely to be in better condition than poorly used ones which can easily get blocked or overgrown.
The Rights of Way and Countryside service can't be axed completely as the council is legally obliged to provide at least some form of support for rights of way. Also the amateurs who are going to be doing most of the work in future will need professional backing.
The benefits of our footpaths are largely unquantifiable, but it has been estimated that for every £1 spent on the 'health-walk' schemes, which use the rights of way to get people fit and active, there is a saving of £7 to the NHS.
However if you don't have the £1 in the first place you can't make the £7 profit, so everyone loses.