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Who’ll Fix All The Broken Stiles?

January 11, 2011

Out walking the other day we came upon a broken stile. It was still passable, but only by someone reasonably fit.

When we got home I reported said stile to Devon County Council’s public rights of way department. Thought I’d better get my report in quick while they are still there to do the work.

Devon has some of the best kept rights of way in Britain, around 98% walkable. This has only been achieved by hard work with professional staff, resources, and proper funding over several decades.

Public Footpath, High Peak, Devon


The situation has improved dramatically since the 1970s, when many Devon paths were impossible to walk.

I have no doubt that the Devon PRoW service will fix the stile.

But if these council employees are not there, thanks to budget funding cuts, and David Cameron’s potty belief that everything can be done by volunteers, who will mend the stiles and the footbridges? Who will clear away the overgrowth and obstructions? Who will chase the landowner illegally blocking a footpath?

Cameron seems to think we should do it ourselves. Now as it happens I have done all of these things. They are all very time consuming and, in the case of sinking in stiles and footbridges, bloody hard manual labour.

In my younger days, I put in many a stile. I’m not quite sure I fancy the physical labour these days.  Perhaps we will see Messrs Cameron and Clegg getting their hands dirty? Watch out first for all the flying pigs as you perambulate the countryside!

Where will all the volunteers come from?

Britons work the longest hours in Europe. Soon, pensioners will have to work till they drop, rather than be allowed the leisure of retirement. Will worn-out Britons really want to spend much of their scarce spare time doing sweated labour out in the fields?

I doubt it.

There will of course be a small minority, from groups such as the Ramblers, National Park Societies, Open Spaces Society and so on. But will they really be able to fill the gap left by dedicated working professionals? And where will the funding come from?

No, sorry. It won’t work. This craziness will lead to a countryside full of impassable footpaths and bridleways. Your country ramble will come to a shuddering halt at a dead end in the rights of way network.

So, either bury your heads in the sand or do something about it. There are some great ideas on the Ramblers website. Have a look at their Dead End campaign. Write TODAY to your MP (House of Commons, London SW1A) and to your local councillors, pointing out that walking in the countryside brings billions of pounds a year to hard-pressed rural economies. Do something, please. Your very ability to go rambling is under threat.

There is much more on countryside access on my website Have a look today, and at the websites of the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society. Britain’s Rights of Way need you!


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