A detailed annual report on rights of way work in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which costs more than £1 million a year, has been published in advance of a meeting next week.
The report reveals that 91% of the 2,637 kilometre-long rights of way network in the National Park is ‘easy to use’, owing to surfaces, stiles and signposting being kept in good condition.
During 2022/23, a total of 994 improvements were made to rights of way infrastructure, while 53 river crossings and 3 sets of stepping stones were maintained or replaced. Also 1.6km of new engineered paths were constructed including a 100m stretch at Brackenbottom near Horton on the Three Peaks route (see picture).
Among the major projects undertaken during the year was the creation of a new footpath in Tebay in Westmorland, and work in Malhamdale and elsewhere to make more routes accessible for those with limited mobility.
Volunteers boosted the eight-strong ranger staff working on rights of way maintenance by giving a total of 1,256 days of practical work. Volunteers also walked over and surveyed every metre of the network, equating to a further 514 days of work.
In addition the National Park Authority remained the ‘lead partner’ for the group of local authorities managing the Pennine Way and Pennine Bridleway national trails.
The annual report on rights of way will be debated at the Annual General Meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, to be held next week.
At the last full Authority meeting in March, it was made clear that responsibility for maintaining rights of way in the National Park could be handed back to North Yorkshire Council, Westmorland and Furness Council and Lancashire County Council – owing to pressure on the National Park Authority’s budget.
Neil Heseltine, Chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “Having 91% of our rights of way in the National Park now ‘easy to use’ is a significant achievement and my thanks go to our staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to keep these ways in good condition.
“The National Park Authority’s core grant from government is now less than it was in 2010. This very real pressure on the Authority’s budget strengthens the case for local councils to find funding to support us in maintaining rights of way in the National Park to these high standards. As the annual report makes clear, it’s money well spent. The service we provide on rights of way is excellent value for money.
“Decision makers should keep in mind that easy to use and well maintained rights of way are good for the local economy. Our 2022 visitor survey showed that approximately two out of every three visitors to the National Park go for a walk of an hour or more during their visit.”
One of the other reports to be debated at next week’s Annual General Meeting is the ‘Annual Progress Report’ on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan. It says nearly 6,000 primary and secondary school pupils had curriculum based outdoor sessions during the year to March, run by the National Park Authority alongside Bolton Abbey Estate and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. Another highlight is that more than 7,000 ‘volunteer days’ were recorded, with the proportion of days attributed to under-represented groups increasing to 22% from 18% year-on-year.
Mr Heseltine said: “It’s heartening to see volunteering amongst underrepresented groups increasing. The Yorkshire Dales National Park is for all.”