It will take five years to bring public rights of way in the whole of the Yorkshire Dales National Park up to the standards expected by its leaders, according to a new report.
A target set down by the national park’s authority is for 90 per cent of all of the park’s rights of way to be classified as ‘easy to use’ by the public.
In the five years between 2012 and 2017 that target was, on average, being met but the park’s extension into parts of Cumbria and Lancashire has brought the figure down.
The addition of miles of extra trails since the 2016 extension, plus the impact of a landslide in Swaledale, now means that only 82 per cent of all public rights of way in the National Park are easy to use.
Access along paths through the park is surveyed annually, solely by volunteers, and in a report to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, the park’s ranger service chief, Alan Hulme said this year’s result, while disappointing, is not altogether surprising.
Mr Hulme explains: “The ‘ease of use’ indicator measures a five per cent random sample of rights of way across the network. A significant length, 5.8km of public bridleway, failed in Swaledale due to being obstructed by a landslide, this reduced the overall figure by five percentage points.”
The ease of use figure for the ‘old’ national park area is currently 85 per cent, he said.
Both North Yorkshire and Cumbria county councils have delegated their responsibilities for the maintenance of rights of way in their sections of the national park to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
However, despite discussions having been held since 2016, the park authority has yet to secure the same agreement with Lancashire County Council for the areas of the park that fall under its area of governance.
In the Lancashire areas of the park, rights of way maintenance is carried out on “a case by case basis”, Mr Hulme’s report states.
The park officer adds: “In 2017/18 a further 478km - 463km Cumbria and 15km Lancashire - was added to the rights of way network making a total of 2,623km in the National Park.
“We are already seeing the benefits of managing the new network with an increase in its ‘ease of use’ by five per cent in the new area.
“This level of improvement will need to continue, year on year, over the next five years across the whole rights of way network to reach the proposed National Park Management Plan target of 90 per cent ‘easy to use’ by 2023.”
According to the official definition used by the national park, a right of way can be considered to by easy to use if signposts or waymarkers indicate where a right of way leaves a metalled road and to the extent they are necessary to allow walkers to follow the path.
A right of way must also be free from unlawful obstructions and other interference such as overhanging vegetation and barriers including stiles and gates must be in a good state of repair for the route to be judged easy to use.
ROLE OF VOLUNTEERS
As reported in The Yorkshire Post last week, an army of volunteers play a huge role in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
More than 250 volunteers contributed just over 7,000 days last year and they have been crucial to rights of way maintenance.
During the last year, three volunteer area teams have been set up to complement ranger teams responsible for the Western, Northern and Southern Dales.
Volunteers contributed 1,361 days to practical rights of way work last year and another 489 days to surveying public rights of way. In total, this equates to the equivalent role of nine full-time staff.