VOLUNTEERS who set out to save the taxpayer money say they have been told to put down their tools because of health and safety regulations.

Herefordshire Ramblers followed the Prime Minister’s Big Society vision by building foot-bridges and repairing stiles and gates found on many of the county’s footpaths.

The work was carried out at no cost to the public purse and saved the council’s then contract partner Amey from taking on the jobs, primarily on the Herefordshire Trail.

But since Balfour Beatty took over from Amey in delivering public realm services last September, health and safety rules have prevented the ramblers from continuing their volunteer work.

Arthur Lee, chairman of Herefordshire Ramblers, said: “We began volunteering partially to help improve the state of some of the county’s footpaths but also to take some of the financial pressures off Amey.

“Our work was overseen by staff from Amey initially and once they were confident that we were competent we would receive a work ticket for anything we flagged up and would then work on it.

“While footpaths in the county are generally good, in places they can be quite difficult to walk over and in times of austerity, I think it’s even more important to be out there helping.”

Mr Lee claims his group was told by Balfour Beatty that it was unable to continue with its volunteer work because of health and safety regulations.

“That’s fine for major highways and roads but for digging a hole in the middle of the countryside?

The risks are quite low,” he added.

Several of the county’s market towns – Leominster, Ross-on-Wye, Kington and Bromyard – now boast the Walkers are Welcome accreditation.

The county also hosts a walking festival in June, and Mr Lee believes it is important to work together to promote Herefordshire’s footpaths to tourists.

“The Big Society idea will work but there’s got to be some guidance,” he said.

“We would love to get on with work but we are not allowed to by those higher up.”

When contacted by the Hereford Times, Will Steel, public rights of way manager with Balfour Beatty Living Places, said his company was looking for a solution to the situation.

He added: “Balfour Beatty is establishing a procedure to enable the county’s valued volunteers to help the public rights of way team keep the network accessible, tidy and in a good state of repair, while ensuring their safety is protected.”