National park authority ‘faces challenge’ maintaining paths

Work to flights of steps at Swinner Gill near Keld on the Coast to Coast path. Picture: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

A drive to bring a 2,623km network of footpaths, which includes routes such as the Pennine Way, Coast to Coast and Three Peaks, up to standard is facing a challenging year ahead, a meeting has heard.

Alan Hulme, head of park management for the Yorkshire Dales, said while there appeared to have been “really pleasing progress” during 2019, a combination of flash floods wiping out paths and bridges, coronavirus halting repair work and funding being removed could set the ambition back.

Maintaining access to the area’s special qualities, through the rights of way network, is seen as crucial as they help underpin the local tourism economy.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales Access Forum heard a survey of five per cent of paths in the national park – about 137km in length – found the percentage in a good state of repair that were well signposted had risen from 84 per cent the previous year to 90 per cent, hitting the park’s target for 2023.

Mr Hulme sounded caution over the finding as it relates to a small sample, and said it would take at least two years to confirm if significant progress was being made, so the key achievement last year had been volunteers contributing towards 2,100 days of working on rights of way.

The meeting heard the last year saw 1,298 improvements to rights of way stiles, gates and signposts; 76 river crossings and five sets of stepping stones maintained or replaced; 3km of engineered paths maintained; 1km of new engineered paths created.

Mr Hulme described the £404,322 of external funding that was secured for rights of way projects in the national park as “an incredible achievement”.

However, he said 43 instances of flood damage had been identified from torrential downpours in Swaledale and Arkengathdale on July 30 last year, including 13 severely damaged or destroyed bridges, while 51 path closures had been pushed through.

He said: “We’ve still got significant works to do. We have secured £150,000 from North Yorkshire County Council for flood recovery works, which is a great step forward but a lot less than we actually needed.”

Mr Hulme said the coronavirus pandemic had seen months of work on paths lost, that £40,000 had been cut from the rights of way budget as a result and it was likely to take two more months to be “up and fully running” again.

He added: “We are being drawn away from our normal rights of way work into dealing with public issues around the park. That is going to have some impact on what we can do on the rights of way programme.”

The forum plays and important role in advising more generally on matters of recreation and access across the 2,623km of footpaths, bridleways and byways in the national park. [kofi]