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