This is the time of year when the state of the public footpaths and stiles and footbridges in the Draycott area tends to go into decline. With fewer people walking the fields because of the cold weather, stiles get overgrown; and some rogue land-owners now think they have more chance to block paths without it being noticed.
So – how are the paths doing in Draycott & Cresswell & Totmonslow? The answer is: not good.
One of the few issues that parish councils are encouraged to take a positive and specific interest in is their local network of footpaths.
In fact, we were promised a footpath report from Draycott-in-the-Moors Parish Council during the summer, but it has never yet come to the table…
Yet, many parish councils, however small they may be, do make the effort. In next-door Milwich Parish, the parish council has fostered their Footpath Maintenance Volunteers, and a full footpath survey has been undertaken there. The Milwich volunteers get training; and then go out and fix what issues they can.
Wouldn’t it be great if Draycott Parish Council made the same efforts?
The problems in this parish area are very many.
The number of overgrown stiles is bad enough (see photo gallery below), but some paths have been deliberately blocked: the most notorious is the obstruction placed on the path known as Checkley 63, south-west of the old Paynsley Hall. It’s impossible for a dog to get through here, let alone a walker.
The other way that vandals or rogue land-owners make life difficult for walkers is by simply removing signs. Outside Blythe Cricket Club in Cresswell, the fingerpost was simply chopped down; while, south of Paynsley Hall Farm a few years ago, a whole metal kissing-gate was removed… no more to be seen… as well as some wooden stiles with their official footpath signs. Although this incident was reported to the parish council, it seems never to have been reported to the police.
And some paths have just been allowed to become obscured over time. The strangest occurrence of this is the path over the old railway line in Lower Newton. One can see the next stile just down the embankment – but the trees and shrubs growth make it virtually impossible to get to it, or even see which way the path runs!
Fortunately however, some particular paths do seem to get care. Although Jacob’s Ladder (on Cheadle Road near Brookside) gets regularly overgrown, someone is clearing it regularly too, which is good news. And many land-owners, yes, do take their duties seriously, there is no doubt.
Some parish councils often arrange for the clearing of paths that have been overgrown, working with the land-owner’s consent. Winter is the best time, as then one does not interfere with nesting birds (the nesting period is roughly March 1st to 31st July). Local Ramblers groups can help with legal guidance.
What can be done?
The ultimate responsibility for maintenance of public field-paths and rights of way is with Staffordshire County Council – but cuts have meant they simply don’t have the capacity to respond. (This is why parish councils are more and more being asked to take on the responsibility, in partnership).
And a walker is allowed to cut back vegetation, but ONLY enough to get through. More than that, and one should report a problem. (See Advice to Walkers)
So – the easiest way to report a problem on a footpath is to report it to Draycott Parish Council, quoting the Ordnance Survey map reference number if possible, who will then pass it on to SCC.
However, you can also report a problem direct to SCC – using their online Report-A-Problem page. The genius of this page is that it hosts an online map of all footpaths in the county – to help you identify the name of the footpath on which you saw the problem.
But… if you really want to take the matter seriously, you could also contribute to the current Ramblers Society campaign, which is called The Big Pathwatch. During these present months, the Ramblers are asking walkers to pick a square kilometre of our countryside and highlight any path problems you encounter there.
You don’t have to be trained, or a member of The Ramblers; and it doesn’t matter how many square kilometres you pick. After all, it should be fun to do, as well as a matter of serious note-taking!
Sadly, the Ramblers tell us that no-one is working in Draycott parish, though volunteers are already surveying paths in next-door Hilderstone, Forsbrook and Blythe Bridge – so… at least you have a free choice in this parish!
To see more about The Big Pathwatch, click here
What you can do right now
Well, wouldn’t be great if our local field-paths could be preserved for future generations? We’ve lost a few – even in recent years – so we should not be complacent.
If you are concerned, the thing you can do right now is write to a local Draycott parish councillor and ask them to ensure a council footpath-monitoring sub-committee is set up. It would certainly be a start.
[See also: Land-Owners’ Responsibilities]
See also: Walks on Draycott’s footpaths
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