East Lothian Council Path Wardens

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A ‘win-win’ partnership!


Name of Access Authority: East Lothian Council  
Name of group: East Lothian Path Warden Scheme
Location: East Lothian Council area
Project: Adoption of an individual path or network of paths by Path Wardens
Key points:

  • Improved maintenance of paths
  • Sense of achievement
  • Getting out in the fresh air!

About East Lothian Council…

East Lothian has several well-established path networks around its towns and villages along with busy coastal sites linked by the John Muir Way Long Distance Route. Like other Access Authorities the Council enforces the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and helps to promote the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and responsible access. The Council also supports a lively and productive Local Access Forum.

The Council’s Landscape and Countryside Section covers a wide range of countryside volunteering activities in their area.

Finding resources (people, money, tools and materials, training, time)

East Lothian Council have a relatively long history and tradition when it comes to looking after the area’s paths and wider countryside. In late 2010 the Council produced a Countryside Volunteer Strategy to help manage the situation and maximise benefits for both the Council and volunteers. Following on from the Study the Council established a Path Warden scheme in early 2011.


With increasing demands on Countryside staff time and reducing budgets there is simply not enough staff to walk every path as often as would be preferred. However, the Council felt that there was a good chance of being able to recruit enthusiastic and reliable volunteers.

Volunteers take on the role of Path Wardens with the aim of carrying out regular checks to help keep paths in good condition by spotting any problems at an early stage and therefore preventing expensive repair work. Clearing a blocked drain before water washes away a path surface is one example of the benefits of these inspections.


East Lothian Council received a contribution from the Central Scotland Green Network in 2010 as a contribution towards the production of the Countryside Volunteer Strategy.  

Financial outlay by the Council via the Countryside Section is essentially staff time in managing the volunteers and resulting information, together with some purchase and hire of requisite tools and equipment.

Money saved is in terms of staff time as a result of others carrying out inspections and early intervention when a maintenance problem is reported.

Tools and materials

All wardens are given induction training and a tool talk before they start volunteering. Some have been supplied with tools and there is a central supply of tools held at the Landscape and Countryside Section’s base that can be borrowed for specific tasks. Materials are generally supplied by the Council or found ‘on-site’.


The Countryside Officer co-ordinates the work of the Path Wardens and maintains a record of the work they have done.

The Council’s Countryside Officer also organises monthly team tasks where a group of volunteers including the Path Wardens (the Council have other groups of volunteers working on wider conservation type projects) get together to tackle larger projects. This is also an opportunity for the Path Wardens to get to know one another and for them to receive training for these tasks particularly in the proper use of tools and path repair techniques.   So far work has included:

  • Inspecting a new path along the Rive Tyne, tidying up and cutting back vegetation
  • Repairing an eroded edge of path using willow sets
  • Drainage work
  • Installing way markers and cutting back fallen trees
  • Building a new link path between the Pencaitland Railway Walk and nearby picnic site

Insurance cover is provided through the Council’s insurance policy when the volunteers are working on recognised projects and inspections.


Once a month was seen as a good target to aim for in terms of time commitment from the Wardens although it was recognised that this had to flexible. Those who wanted to work more frequently could do so providing additional tasks were carried out with the knowledge of the Council for insurance and coordination purposes. Wardens provide a (brief) record of work they have undertaken and the time spent out on a monthly basis, via email.

During 2011/12 the Path Wardens did about 630 hours of voluntary work on 175 kilometres of East Lothian’s core paths network.

Plans for the Future

Essentially, continue to develop the Path Wardens scheme in conjunction with other voluntary groups such as the ‘Friends’ groups established at John Muir Country Park and Gullane Bents.

A post to co-ordinate volunteer activities is also being explored using a mix of internal and external funding.

Lessons Learned

  1. Overall, the scheme has been a success and has already resulted in the ‘win-win’ partnership that was hoped and planned. The key lessons learned include: Although the Council get a lot out of the scheme there is also staff time required. Therefore, the additional work can’t just be added to an existing workload.
  2. Volunteers come with different knowledge and understanding about paths in terms of acceptable/unacceptable condition and what might realistically be required to bring path up to standard.
  3. Volunteer feedback has been very useful both in terms of the actual scheme and path conditions saving the Council money and in some  case potential accidents.
  4. Volunteers are not just an ‘add-on’. They need much of the support in terms of leadership and feeling valued as part of a team as any other staff member. Therefore, don’t just think about the technical path inspection aspects of the scheme but organise/support the occasional   social   event with an annual get-together to celebrate the years’ achievements.
  5. Keep the path warden reporting side of the process simple, hours worked and notes of key issues are usually all that are required.

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh