COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Ramblers' Association week attracts 50,000

KIRSTEN DOWNER

The Ramblers' Association mobilised at least 50,000 of its supporters last week in its latest bid to force local authorities to open footpaths to walkers.

Members came out in force in mass walking events for the organisation's first-ever Footpaths Week to highlight the fact that a quarter of English footpaths and half of those in Wales are difficult or impossible to use - often because of obstructive landowners.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure footpaths are kept clear, but they rarely do. Now the charity has set itself a target of getting half of all English and Welsh local highway authorities to protect local byways this year.

After discussions with regional ramblers' groups, the charity highlighted 20 local hotspots which showed the variety of problems facing walkers.

These included a reservoir in Northamptonshire, which has severed a local path network, and a bridge in East Riding, Yorkshire, built to connect two footpaths six years ago but never opened.

The mass walking events secured widespread national and regional newspaper coverage and airtime on BBC Radio 2 and 4. For the first time, the organisation is now concentrating its lobbying activity on local councillors rather than MPs, said Adrian Morris, footpath campaigning director at the Ramblers' Association. "We've asked our 135,000 members to write to their local councillors and we hope our volunteers will be there, meeting highways directors and decision makers from local authorities."

The Ramblers' Associations has started highlighting the economic, health and regeneration spin-offs of opening up the countryside in the wake of foot and mouth to councils, said Morris. Local groups have joined up with B%26Bs and tourist agencies to present the economic arguments to local councils.

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