Ex­moor a true walkers’ par­adise, lat­est right-of-way re­port finds

Walk­ing is Britain’s most pop­u­lar out­door ac­tiv­ity and Ex­moor has carved out a sub­stan­tial niche. Martin Hesp re­ports

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Countryside -

IMAG­INE a cor­ner of the West Coun­try where nearly two mil­lion walks are taken every year along 850 miles of paths and tracks and across some 44,480 acres of open ac­cess land.

Be­cause the vis­i­tors who are en­joy­ing th­ese walks spend an es­ti­mated £113 mil­lion a year in the area, it is just as well that Ex­moor Na­tional Park Author­ity’s (ENPA) rights-of-way net­work is in good con­di­tion. And it is, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sur­vey. Rights of way on Ex­moor have been as­sessed as some of the best in the coun­try for a sec­ond year run­ning, in the na­tional park author­ity’s newly pub­lished an­nual Rights of Way and Ac­cess Re­port.

Get­ting to­wards all (96 per cent) of the area’s pub­lic foot­paths, bri­dle­ways and by­ways were classed as ‘open and easy to use’ – the high­est fig­ure found among all the na­tional parks in Eng­land and Wales. And when there have been prob­lems the num­ber of is­sues re­solved within three months has in­creased to 84 per cent.

The re­port also records the high­est ever out­put of ‘na­tional park fur­ni­ture’ – with a to­tal of 831 signs, 404 sign posts and 155 gates hav­ing been con­structed and in­stalled this year alone, us­ing tim­ber sourced from the na­tional park author­ity’s own wood­land es­tate.

“Lots of the as­sess­ment work is car­ried out by na­tional park vol­un­teers, who this year pro­vided cru­cial feed­back on paths through­out 11 parishes, to­talling of 360 hours of work,” said an ENPA spokesman.

“Each sea­son they help to sur­vey a ran­domly se­lected set of paths cover­ing 10 per cent of the net­work. Us­ing na­tion­ally recog­nised as­sess­ment cri­te­ria, vol­un­teers score each route ac­cord­ing to how easy it is to nav­i­gate, the state of veg­e­ta­tion, and the con­di­tion of stiles, gates, sig­nage and sur­faces.”

Kevin Snew­ing, path-watcher vol­un­teer, said: “A bonus of be­ing a path-watcher vol­un­teer is that I get to walk parts of the na­tional park that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t nor­mally visit, and there are some gems out there. I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by the net­work above Lyn­ton.”

ENPA’s ac­cess and re­cre­ation man­ager, Dan Bar­nett, told the WNM: “Keep­ing the rights of way net­work in top con­di­tion is cru­cially im­por­tant, not just for peo­ple’s en­joy­ment but also to pro­tect pre­cious habi­tats and re­duce dis­tur­bance to farm­ing.

“But we wouldn’t be able to achieve th­ese kinds of tar­gets with­out on­go­ing sup­port from our part­ners and highly-skilled con­trac­tors, along with dona­tions from the pub- lic through CareMoor for Ex­moor, plus our fan­tas­tic vol­un­teers. It re­ally is a team ef­fort.”

Ex­moor’s path and trail net­work ex­tends to more than 620 miles (al­most 1,000km) of rights-of-way (272 miles of foot­paths, 288 miles of bri­dle­ways and 40 miles of re­stricted by­ways and by­ways open to all traf­fic). In ad­di­tion there are 233 miles of per­mit­ted paths and more than 44,480 acres (18,000ha) of des­ig­nated ac­cess land in­side the na­tional park.

“Our ac­cess net­work is im­por­tant for lo­cal busi­ness too,” said the ENPA spokesman. “Tourism is worth an es­ti­mated £113 mil­lion to the na­tional park econ­omy and our 2016 vis­i­tor sur­vey shows that 70 per cent of vis­i­tors en­joy a short walk and 43 per cent a long walk (over 2 hours) as part of their stay.

“Us­ing our STEAM sur­vey data we can es­ti­mate that our vis­i­tors en­joy 1.78 mil­lion walks dur­ing a typ­i­cal year. This ex­cludes lo­cal use and non-walk­ing use so the to­tal use fig­ure will be higher.”

■ For more in­for­ma­tion about Ex­moor Na­tional Park vol­un­teer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties visit www.ex­moor­na­tion­al­park.gov.uk/get­involved

Keep­ing the rights of way net­work in top con­di­tion is cru­cially im­por­tant

DAN BAR­NETT, EX­MOOR NA­TIONAL PARK

Pic­ture: Ex­moor Na­tional Park

>Main­tain­ing stiles and other cross­ing points along Ex­moorrights of way is es­sen­tial

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