Readers of last week’s Farming page learnt about National England’s updating the Countryside Code in response to the new visitors lately descending upon our treasured green spaces.

The benefits of being outdoors are becoming publicly recognised and economic prospects will follow.

The updating will create a guide for the public, with some ‘reminders’ of rules from the old Code. Natural England wants a friendly, welcoming environment where, for instance, walkers stay on marked footpaths, even when muddy, to protect crops and wildlife. Nice idea, but, realistically, where the paths are so narrow and the surface unsuitable, crops will be trodden upon and the wildlife threatened; hardly conducive to a welcoming environment and detrimental to the Code’s credibility.

In such cases Herefordshire County Council has a duty to address matters relating to minimum path widths and crop obstructions, using the authority of the Highways Act, 1980. In fact, HCC can do little in either the maintenance activities required by duty or enforcing Rights of Way by law. The problem lies in the financial allocation rules relating to Public Rights of Way, for capital projects and running costs.

A disinterested observer might wonder why, for instance, the installation by HCC of an 8 metre wooden footbridge costs in excess of £12,000, while using the same specifications, installation by an experienced local contractor could save the taxpayer more than half that sum. Meanwhile, path problems grow exponentially and enforcements are rare. What about the Council’s ‘value for money’ commitment? Who does the audit?

HM Vernon


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