NEARLY 90% of public rights of way in Somerset are now classed as ‘easy to use’ by the county council, just in time for summer.
A spokesperson for Somerset County Council said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a big rise in the number of people using the county’s public rights of way network and this has meant a huge upsurge in the number of reports being received, such as broken or missing signs, stiles needing repairs or overgrown vegetation – at times double that from previous years.
“The Council’s Rights of Way Team, supported by volunteers, continue to investigate reports and resolve the issues where valid, increasing the network’s ‘easy to use’ grading to 85.7 per cent in the county.
“When records began in 2003/2004, the amount of public rights of way classed as ‘easy to use’ was just 39.2 per cent. Now, thanks to our team, 369 volunteers, and the help of the public this number has never been higher.”
Peter Hobley, Rights of Ways Service Manager at Somerset County Council, said: “We are incredibly pleased to achieve the highest ever ‘ease of use’ figure for Somerset, but there is still plenty more to be done to try and get to 100 per cent.
“This would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the hard work of the team of staff and our volunteers.
“In the last 12 months, people have discovered more of our beautiful countryside than ever before, and by using them and reporting any problems encountered, it helps us to focus our resources on where they are needed.
“The terrific work of the wider team has ensured far more seamless experiences in navigating our rights of way.”
The spokesperson added: “Across the county there are more than 9,000 public rights of way, totalling 3,843 miles (6,186 km) with beautiful scenery, dramatic hills and wonderful coastlines on offer.
“Many of the issues reported can be resolved by volunteers. Our 369 registered volunteers have taken on 495 roles and contributed 22,720 hours in 2021. If you are interested in helping the team you can find out more about volunteering at volunteering.somerset.gov.uk/
Peter Hobley added: “While the increase in usage has been predominately good there’s been a reminder that this can place extra strain on the paths and landowners.
“With people social distancing and avoiding muddy patches, it is important for path users to remember to stick to the line of path to avoid damaging to crops, and also keep dogs under close control (at heel or on a short lead). Landowners also have to remember to keep the paths clear of any crops and reinstate cross-field paths after ploughing.
“The recent introduction of the updated Countryside Code by Natural England will help to ensure people enjoy to outdoors without disruption to landowners.”
You can find out more about of Rights of Way in Somerset at www.travelsomerset.co.uk and @TravelSomerset on Twitter for updates.
More information can be found on the Countryside code at www.gov.uk/countryside-code.
*To report an issue on a public right of way visit Explore Somerset here.