Getting to know your paths

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The aim of this section is to help you to identify where people are already going, where they want to go, and how different routes within a network can be made to meet the needs of everyone.

Before deciding to build a new path or upgrade an existing one, spend some time getting to know the paths in your area. Try to find out who already uses them, how many people use them, and who might want to in the future.

The Core Paths Plan for your area will show the core paths and ‘wider access network’. Your local authority or national park access officer should also have a record of the consultations done as part of the core path planning process, so ask for copies of any maps that they may have which show existing paths as well as the aspirational routes.

core paths map

The core paths map...

To get a better picture, you could try conducting a local survey and asking where people go for a walk, ride or cycle, as well as their aspirations for where they might want to go (use a map to allow people to draw their routes).

Once you have gathered some information, transfer it to a map so that you can visualise the network on the ground. You will build up a picture of whole paths and ‘links’ or gaps, which you can then describe in terms of the physical characteristics of the area; who owns the land; any path construction or maintenance work that has been done in the past; existing infrastructure, such as car parks, bridges and signs, and any features associated with the path, such as viewpoints, buildings or wildlife. This is the GREEN LEVEL SURVEY and compiles all the available information about each path. It is not necessary to put together a complete inventory before going further, but the more information that you can find, the easier it will be to anticipate issues further down the line.

Gaps and links

Whilst gathering this information you will be able to identify gaps and links in the network. You may discover that some old routes have been lost (either by lack of use or development) or find that there is a strong need for new links to improve the accessibility of certain parts of the network. Think carefully about the network as a whole and look for any ‘weak points’, where problems at a single point could have implications for other links. For example, a river crossing might be necessary, but if the bridge site is prone to flooding it could cut off the other parts of the network, if they are only accessible by the bridge. Where possible try to identify alternatives so that your network can stay open, even partially, if the worst does happen.

Constraints of terrain and local circumstances

When it comes to paths, it is clear that one size does not fit all – every path has its own set of circumstances that influence the way it is used and how it needs to be managed, and how it fits in to the local landscape. It is really important to understand all the constraints that may affect the path before setting out.

Things to consider:

Landscape

How do the paths fit in to the local landscape and are there any special features that need to be avoided or protected? What landscape features could enhance the character of the paths, or provide interest to path users? For example, it may be dangerous to site a path along the top of an exposed cliff, but the view is one of the main attractions that users want, you may need to design the route to give safe opportunities to appreciate the view by providing defined viewpoints.

Terrain

Will the paths need any specific works to negotiate slopes or physical features? Can you change the route's alignment to avoid steep slopes, or provide alternatives? For example, if an existing desire line goes directly to the top of a local hill, decide whether building steps is the best option, or if the path could take a less direct route, with shallower gradients.

Climate change

Will the path or network be able to withstand the predicted changes to the climate? Are there any adaptations that might be needed in the future? For example, the area may be susceptible to coastal erosion that is predicted to worsen with climate change, so designing the network to allow for 'managed retreat' may be preferable to costly investment that cannot be protected.

Land ownership and management

Can you work positively with the land managers and are there any land management operations on or near the path that might affect how it is built, used or managed? For example, a local farmer may be prepared to offer ground for a new path if it will help to reduce problems with people disturbing livestock.

User needs

Are there any outdoor activities that are particularly popular in your area that would affect the design or management of the paths? For example, is the network in an area of high horse ownership or are there livery stable 'hot spots', you need to take this into account.

Identifying opportunities

It is easy to get stuck on detail, so taking a broader view of your local paths as a network should help you to identify opportunities to address the constraints you have acknowledged, and find ways of making the paths interesting and easy to use for everyone.

Involving people

This is where it makes sense to get the views of other people in your local area. Community engagement is a really important part of any planning exercise, and can make the difference between success and failure. Take the time to work out what you want to ask, and find out whether there are other people undertaking consultation processes around the same time – consultation fatigue is becoming a problem for both local people and those trying to get people’s opinions.

If you work for an organisation there may already be procedures and processes in place that will guide how you involve people in the planning. In general, the earlier you can gather people’s views and the more you understand about people’s needs (and take them into account), the more likely you are to gain their support.

Some of the more important information you may want to collect includes:

  • What activities people currently take part in (e.g. walking, cycling, riding)

  • Where people currently go to take part (e.g. draw lines on a local map)

  • Where people want to go (e.g. draw lines on a local map)

  • What activities people want to take part in, but cannot due to lack of suitable facilities

  • Where barriers exist that cause problems  for people to access the route (e.g. wet or muddy spots, narrow or overgrown, steep slopes, steps, stiles, cross drains, etc.)

community consultation

Marking the line of local paths on a map...

There is more guidance about getting people involved in the Local People Local Paths 'Getting people involved' section.

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