Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)


Mel Bale and David Gosling, Trustees

This article is from Signpost 65, Spring 2020

It is encouraging that an initiative by Trustee, Jenny Allen to advertise volunteering opportunities for PNFS on the website proved to be remarkably successful. In August we appointed eleven new inspectors, nine of which had volunteered via this website. This approach has enabled the Society to connect with younger walkers and recruit volunteers in areas where we have been under-represented.

One of our new footpath inspectors is an 18 year old student and scout from Chester, and he has already made a good start monitoring paths in some parishes south of this city. Cheshire West is one area where we now have much greater coverage by inspectors (see the article about Linda Smith in this issue). Another area where we are now better represented is Rossendale with three new inspectors. This an authority with an enormous number of footpaths. Rawtenstall has 380 rights of way, Haslingden 373, and Bacup 662! Our new inspectors will not be able to walk all these paths, but they will make a good start.

However, we know that Highway Authorities are struggling to cope after the Covid-19 shutdown. One of our Lancashire inspectors received the following email from the PROW team at Lancashire County Council after submitting a report: Thank you for your email. The information provided is greatly appreciated. The reports you submitted that were not previously recorded have been added to the PROW Database, but please be aware we have a backlog of over 350 acknowledgements to send out to customers, so please be patient and we rest assured these issues will be dealt with, but we are unable give a timescale as to when. Could you please just carry on as normal at this moment in time. The message we are getting from all authorities is that budgets are tight, staffing has been cut and the backlogs are lengthening.

PNFS has a mission to preserve and protect rights of way across our region. Our rights to walk in the countryside are narrowly prescribed and limited. Robert MacFarlane describes the footpath network as a ‘labyrinth of liberty’ but that liberty is restricted to a narrow strip of land no more than a metre or two wide. A right to roam only exists in about 8% of the countryside in England. Scotland has more generous Right to Roam legislation. All of us at one time will have strayed away from where we have a right to be, but the consequences are normally not serious.

These limited rights are under threat by the government's proposal to criminalise trespass. Although intended to enable landowners to take action against raves and squatters, there is a real risk that all of us could find ourselves subject to criminal action by landowners who want to deter walkers from their land.

Covid-19 has touched us all in a way that no one could have imagined a year ago. Our lives and daily routines have been turned upside down. Someone asked me today if there were any positives to be taken from the crisis. When the Lockdown was announced two young families on our lane immediately contacted all their neighbours and offered help with shopping and whatever else they might need. Their kindness showed that we did after all live in a community.

The fact that many people have been confined at home has encouraged them to walk more and has even led to a boom in cycling. PNFS has seen a surge in new members. Most people we meet whilst out walking are still reassuringly maintaining social distancing. Strangers stop and share their thoughts. Let’s hope that out of the darkness of the pandemic this renewed sense of community will be maintained and help us all through the uncertain times that lie ahead.

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