A DAMNING picture of the state of almost 600 miles of public rights of way in a picturesque area of Yorkshire has been revealed in a new report.
It says many of the 1,546 footpaths and bridleways in the 92 parishes stretching across the vast rural areas of the Ryedale region have been deliberately obstructed, are overgrown, ploughed out and have had crops planted over them.
In one case a canon used to scare crows was operating directly on a bridleway, and in others signs which were deliberately misleading have been put up to discourage walkers.
The report, by the Ramblers Association, paints a bleak picture of the 570 miles of public rights of way in the Ryedale district. It was drawn up following two years of research by 27 members of the Association’s Ryedale branch.
Branch secretary John Harland says in the report: “Ryedale’s paths are in a dire state.”
He said the survey had found that nearly two in every five paths had at least one problem, and with many there were multiple issues. The problems were so bad that one in ten has been rendered unusable or impassable, the signposts on about 300 rights of way are either missing or damaged, and there is what a “shocking catalogue” of obstructions, Mr Harland said.
As well as the canon to scare crows, other bridleways had signs which are illegal or “deliberately misleading”, giving the public various reasons why they should not use them, including routes being ‘private gallops’; one wrongly saying there is ‘no public right of way beyond this point’, and in one case a sign said people should not use the route as pigs are on it.
Mr Harland said the problem also extends to bridges and pathways which have become flooded and too muddy or dangerous for either walkers or horse riders.
He added: “Clearly, Ryedale’s landowners and farmers, working in partnership with the county council, have much to do to improve the provision of satisfactory gates, stiles and kissing gates.”
He also said that some 83 rights of way have become ‘phantom paths’ which only exist on the Definitive Rights of Way map.
“On the ground the volunteers could find little trace of them.”
The area’s natural beauty and open spaces make it a magnet for walkers and thousands visit the region each year. Some 1,400 miles of country paths and tracks, offer everything from gentle strolls, to full day walks and long distance hikes.
The area is also home to the well-known Cleveland Way and Wolds Way walks.
But the Ramblers Association members found a host of other problems, including rotten, broken or demolished stiles and kissing gates, gate fasteners unsuitable for horse riders, difficulty in opening gates because they were tied up with rope, fallen trees, new gardens created across rights of way, and gates nailed to support posts.
Mr Harland said: “It is pertinent to ask if local walking and riding groups could do more than is their current practice to guarantee that all footpaths and bridleways in a given area are walked.”
The report is now being sent to North Yorkshire Council, and Ryedale’s town and parish councils, seeking their views.
Already, Pickering and Kirkbymoorside Town Councils have backed its calls for action.