Dr Mike J Smith
Rights of Way Surveying
I've just returned from a weeks field course to Swansea with the first year geography students. Yet again, the weather was fantastic and offered some memorable days at Oxwich Bay. This year we again did some footpath surveying, but this time targeted some areas that Carmarthenshire County Council were interested in. The county has ~2,500 km of rights of way (>90% footpaths) of which around 50% are open (which means they know little about the remainder). Most of these are in the more inhabited south of the county. We were therefore very grateful to Gary Carlsen, the Senior Rights of Way Officer, for his support. He provided copies of the definitive maps the county uses and suggested some routes to survey in and around Llandovery. What's interesting about this area is that there are increasing amounts of tourism to the region (and its now the number one industry in Carmarthenshire) in the form of walkers, riders and 4x4. Yet it remains heavily reliant upon agriculture with some truly remote valleys.
On the day we had a real mix of results. The area I walked in (around Myddfai) is just inside the Brecon Beacons National Park and consequently, whilst in Carmarthenshire, is managed by the National Park. The paths were well signposted and maintained. Of interest was the construction of the LNG pipeline. In this area they were removing topsoil and placing it in "buns" at the side ready for replacement after the pipeline has been laid (thanks Colin!). As a result the footpaths were closed (and this was very well signed) which meant a walk back to the van by road (see the KML if you are really interested!). Of the student groups, one traversed the pipeline just outside the National Park and whilst the closure was well signed, many of the paths weren't. Another, close to Llandovery, found a path re-routed, but generally in good condition. The last two groups had real problems. One found non-existant paths, overgrown and unsigned. The other was met with unhappy farmers, dogs, hedgerows blocking routes, a one-eyed farmer (seriously!) and a bungalow across the route. Upon talking to some of the landowners, anecdotal evidence would suggest that these routes were used for postal delivery on foot and have seen little or no use for about 20 years.
Clearly then there is much work for the council. The "definitive" maps are 40 years old and many rights of way remain to be established. And this has to be achieved by 2026 (Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000). In fact it has been estimated that it will require ~£26M to bring all paths in Wales in to operation and ~£8M per year to maintain. If this is amortized over 5 years, it equates to £400 per km. A huge undertaking, but with tourism the top industry something that would appear worthwhile.