As the largest and most rural county in England, North Yorkshire boasts a beautiful landscape with its footpaths, bridleways and views enjoyed by visitors from around the world.
North Yorkshire County Council’s Countryside Access Service relies on a dedicated team of around 100 volunteers to help maintain a network of over 6,000km of public rights of way (PROW) outside of the two National Parks.
Stuart and Janette Hamilton have been volunteering with the service for two years after relocating from Scotland to Malton. As keen walkers and regular users of local footpaths, they wanted to give back to the community.
“We love being outdoors in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, so being a volunteer gets us out into the fresh air doing something unusual,” said Stuart. “It’s really fulfilling and exciting as we find paths we never knew existed. It’s good to know we are benefitting the community and making Malton and the surrounding area a more beautiful place to visit.
“Volunteering is great as it means we are given the responsibility of doing certain tasks. We appreciate that funds and resources are tight so there’s no better way than getting locals to help. It works really well as we know the routes and are the eyes on the ground.”
Volunteers assist the service by inspecting issues that have been reported by the public – and they help out in a practical way with waymarking, surveys, and clearing vegetation from around stiles, gates, signposts and bridges.
As well as the volunteers, there are many groups across the county who also want to get involved, and in some cases are already taking a proactive approach to looking after their local paths.
Arrietty Heath, Volunteer Co-ordinator for the Countryside Access Service, has devised and developed a Path Keeper scheme, to cultivate more collaborative working relationships with the various user groups that access the Rights of Way network.
There are 18 groups that have signed up including Parish Councils, the Rambling Association and Walkers are Welcome. The Probation Service has also signed up in the Scarborough area as part of the Community Payback scheme.
Arrietty said: “The Path Keeper scheme has been a real success as it allows local groups to carry out small scale maintenance on the paths they have agreed to look after, rather than reporting issues to us. There is also the potential for groups to undertake larger projects such as resurfacing routes or repairing bridges.
“The idea has been very well received by groups across the county who are keen to contribute to the upkeep of the paths they know and love. We are incredibly grateful to everybody involved and hope to expand the scheme even further.”
Cononley Parish Council was one of the first groups to sign up to the Path Keeper scheme. It now has around 20 residents and a number of councillors on board.
Parish Councillor Dan Timbers recalls that the idea came about when a resident surveyed paths in the village and handed their findings to councillors.
Dan said: “I thought it was a great idea to follow-up and I didn’t want his work to go to waste so I presented it to NYCC. They told us about the Path Keeper scheme and we were delighted to be involved.
“Sometimes we are approached with issues to respond to and other times we come across them ourselves. Residents are definitely best placed to help as we know the local area and are passionate about keeping these well-used paths tidy and accessible.”
Another group signed up to the Path Keeper scheme are the Ryedale Ramblers. Footpath Secretary Simon Lyle is fully supportive of the way volunteers are able to remedy issues in their local area.
“There is so much enthusiasm among the volunteers to play their part in maintaining the paths,” said Simon, who is also part of the York Ramblers. “We are a small group in Ryedale and it’s mostly the older ones who get involved and they especially enjoy waymarking along the routes.
“We have seen an increase in issues reported to us over the last year or so and that’s where the volunteers come in to manage the workload. We look forward to working with the service in the future and love being part of the successful scheme.”
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “Our dedicated volunteers play a huge part in maintaining our beautiful outdoor spaces. We receive over 2,000 reports every year regarding issues on the network, and volunteers have become an integral part in investigating and responding to these.
“The Path Keeper scheme is another great way to harness local enthusiasm and work in collaboration with the groups. Their work helps to keep our Rights of Way network accessible for residents and tourists alike to enjoy for years to come.”