Sustrans Scotland

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The ‘eyes and ears’ of the National Cycle Network


Name of Access Authority: All Scottish Access Authorities          
Name of group: Sustrans Scotland  
Location: Scotland-wide but with main office in Edinburgh          
Project: Maintenance of and improvements to the National Cycle Network
Key points:

  • Mobilising nationwide group of volunteers
  • Looking after recent investment in paths
  • Dedicated volunteer support
  • ‘Cross-border’ connections

About Sustrans Scotland…

Formed in 1977, Sustrans is a UK wide charity which aims to promote sustainable transport. Sustrans flagship project is the National Cycle Network (NCN) which has created over 13,000 miles of signed cycle routes throughout the UK.

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

With the NCN continuing to expand and grow in Scotland, Sustrans does not have enough paid staff to check every path as often as would be preferred. Although some of the network is looked after by other organisations such as Local Authorities there was a clear need for more ‘eyes and ears’.


Sustrans was fortunate in having a network of local supporters on which to call to provide the bulk of the Volunteer Ranger force who were keen to become more involved in managing paths in what can now be considered an Adopt a Path approach.

Good organisation is key to making the work beneficial to both volunteers and the wider Sustrans organisation. To this end Sustrans have a dedicated Volunteer Outreach Officer who has an overall responsibility for the welfare, support and work of the volunteers. Under this national umbrella are a number of Group Coordinators who help organise volunteers in a specific area.

In many areas these groups also work with Community Councils or Development Trusts. For example, the North East Fife group is also part of the Forth and Tay Volunteer Forum, which exists to foster relationships between neighbouring, voluntary groups in the area. Other local groups, such as Glasgow, work closely with other voluntary groups such as Green Gym or work with local disability groups to participate in path maintenance sessions.

The Rangers also act as mobile ambassadors for Sustrans and promote its aims and objectives at a local level and give out information and advice to users. They also have contact with land managers along the various paths, tracks and roads that make up the overall network.


As a national charity Sustrans is dependent on funding from a wide range of sources. These include contributions from it’s supporters as well as grants from charitable trusts, companies, the Big Lottery Fund and local and central government.

However, this funding usually goes on capital development or improvement type projects such as path construction costs. Financial outlay by Sustrans to support the Volunteer Rangers is essentially staff time in managing the volunteers with issues such as training, basic equipment and processing reports received on observations made by the Rangers and/or work carried out on the routes or feedback from users and landowners and managers. Rangers will also report back on bigger issues such as major path wash-outs, signing problems or advise on route development issues.

Sustrans benefit from money saved in terms of staff time by volunteers carrying out inspections and early intervention when a maintenance problem is reported. Volunteer Rangers take on the role of ‘Path Inspectors’ 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 helping to avoid expensive repair work. Clearing a blocked drain before water washes away a path surface is one example of the benefits of these inspections.

Agreed expenses are paid to volunteers as Sustrans believe that no one should be excluded from volunteering on the grounds of income.

Tools and materials

Volunteer Rangers are supplied with basic hand tools such as loppers, hammer and saw to allow them to immediately deal with minor maintenance tasks such as lopping overhanging branches. Occasionally the Rangers also carry heavier tools such as picks and spades but where this restricts access to the worksite on bike they will go on foot.

The Rangers are also given an identity badge and high visibility jacket and to help with getting about Sustrans have an arrangement with some bike manufacturers for a discount to Rangers.


Sustrans provide volunteers with:

  • Support and necessary training through their local offices
  • A handbook guide of likely tasks and a biannual newsletter
  • Dedicated website pages with updates and a forum to exchange ideas with other volunteers
  • Contact details of other volunteers so they can work together
  • Risk assessment guidance to help to ‘stay safe’

Public liability insurance whilst undertaking volunteer work approved by Sustrans


Applicants are asked when applying to become a volunteer how much time they are able to offer Sustrans to help with task planning. Volunteers help with a wide range of tasks depending on their particular job. Along with the Ranger role there are Group Co-ordinators, Signing Champions, Press, PR and Events Champions and a recently advertised post in Kirkcaldy for a Community Street Design Volunteer. This post involves a series of changes to existing streets to make them friendlier to residents, pedestrians and cyclists. Residents will also be encouraged to help maintain the projects once completed.   With all volunteer posts there are some general things they are expected to agree to as follows:

  • Promote the aims and values of Sustrans
  • Inform Sustrans if they are unable to undertake agreed tasks

More experienced volunteers may also be asked to represent Sustrans at meetings such as Local Access Forums, cycle forums or on campaign groups such as SPOKES or Go Bike and feed back as required.

Plans for the Future

Overall Sustrans is trying to double the number of local journeys made in ways that benefit health, the environment and communities. That’s why Sustrans has issued a call to action – More Haste, Less Spend to try and achieve this target by 2020.

As the network expands so more volunteer groups will be set up. For example, when completed the Oban to Fort Wiliam route will be 46 miles long. A new group has already been formed to adopt and help maintain the route with their first workday being the removal of the highly invasive Himalayan Balsam.

Lessons Learned

The Volunteer Ranger Scheme is felt to have been very successful bringing a variety of benefits to Sustrans and the hundreds of volunteers who have adopted their ‘own’ little bit of a huge national asset, the National Cycle Network. Some of the main reasons for this success include:

  1. A ready pool of existing supporters sympathetic with the aims of    Sustrans who bring a strong sense of purpose to doing ‘their bit’ for people and the environment by adopting and maintaining cycle routes.
  2. A dedicated volunteer organisation and support mechanism with good communication between individual volunteers, their local groups and National (Scottish and UK) offices.  
  3. Volunteers have a sense of being part of a bigger ‘movement’ and of being appreciated and valued.             .
  4. A range of volunteering opportunities available to suit people with different skills and abilities but all of which help with an Adopt A Path approach to looking after the NCN and other routes.

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