Volunteers step up to maintain Sidmouth footpaths

Annual meeting of The Parish Paths Parnership. Ref edr 09 18TI 8537. Picture: Terry Ife

Annual meeting of The Parish Paths Parnership. Ref edr 09 18TI 8537. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

There are around 60 miles of footpaths in the Sidmouth area, all of which need some attention from the Parish Paths Partnership.

Sidmouth pathways. Ref edr 15 18TI 1101. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth pathways. Ref edr 15 18TI 1101. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Whether grassy or paved, rural or in the town centre, the Sid Valley is ‘riddled’ with more footpaths than any other community in Devon.

Walkers can tread 60 miles of track without leaving the confines of East Hill, Mutters Moor or Salcombe Hill.

With 139 routes to keep track of, Devon County Council (DCC) needed volunteers on the ground to act as its eyes and ears.

So began the ‘Adopt a Path’ scheme, which evolved into Parish Paths Partnerships, or P3s.

Sidmouth pathways. Ref edr 15 18TI 1101. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth pathways. Ref edr 15 18TI 1101. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

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Sidmouth’s is led by John Dyson, who said: “Sidmouth has a higher density of public rights of way than anywhere else in the county by quite a large margin – it’s riddled with footpaths. A lot are paved, some are grassy, some are close to roads.

“In order to look after them and make sure they are properly signed and the gates and stiles work, there’s a degree of maintenance and attention needed.

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“Devon County Council relies on local help in the various towns and districts to look after the public rights of way. People here will say there’s a fence down or a gate broken, or whatever.

“If there was a problem in the Byes, people would speak up about it. It’s a public open space and we have to look after it.

“A number of routes have steps, but they will deteriorate with use. In the last three or four years the working party has spent quite a lot of time repairing them, and being quite innovative. They used old car tyres and it proved a bright idea. They are robust enough to act as steps.”

As well as the working party, there are also a number of surveyors who have to monitor different sections of the valley’s footpaths in order to flag up any issues.

“It takes me a couple of afternoons to walk my footpaths and make sure they OK – checking the signs are correct, the steps are all in order and the gates and stiles are maintained,” said John.

Each week, volunteer Ian Collins leads a group from the community to help complete a variety of tasks that include mending boardwalks, bridges, stiles, gates, surfaces and undertaking seasonal vegetation management.

Their actions ensure the routes in the parish remain free from obstruction and easy to use.

Sidmouth’s P3 has an annual budget of just £2,000, half of which generally gets paid to contractors to carry out larger tasks, with the rest being spent on materials.

It also has a role when there are plans for a new footpath, or if an existing one is under threat, as John explained: “We had a public right of way going through the land bought by Blue Cedar Homes.

“Blue Cedar didn’t like that and there was a public inquiry. I had to speak up on behalf of Sidmouth Town Council and users of that footpath. It was totally different from a normal planning application.

“A lot of people visit Sidmouth. They walk up the hill or around the valley. There’s an enormous value in our public rights of way. People use them for exercise, or to see what the countryside has to offer. They are a real benefit to the town.

“P3 is a significant asset for the town.”

The P3 initiative began in the 1980s, when a national steering committee encouraged parish and town councils to engage their legal powers and maintain rights of way. Funding initially came from the Countryside Commission, but finance reduced and ceased altogether after 10 years.

During this period, DCC recognised the value of the scheme and year on year increased its funding to fully fund it in the county.

The scheme offers great value for money and meets DCC’s core aims of inclusivity, encouraging healthy lifestyles, promoting sustainable transport and supporting community engagement.

Sidmouth Town Council was one of the first members. It has 139 footpaths and bridleways covering a total of 60 miles.

The P3 is facilitated by DCC’s public rights of way officer, Ros Davies, who provides a link with parish representatives to assist with maintaining and improving the network of footpaths and bridleways.

She said: “The rights of way team greatly values the input of local volunteers and their time spent undertaking annual surveys, talking to landowners, organising work programmes and physically completing tasks on the ground.

“Over the years, great improvements have been made to the 3,000 miles of rights of way across the county and we are very grateful for the local support received to assist with the maintenance of this valuable recreational network.”

Councillor Stuart Hughes, public rights of way chief and a Sidmouth town councillor, said: “As long-standing members of the P3 scheme, Sidmouth Town Council has achieved a huge amount in terms of ensuring our local bridleways and footpaths in and around the town are well maintained.

“All of the volunteers should be proud of their efforts and they are much appreciated by the county council, as well as the thousands of people who make use of the routes.”

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