Did you know that working with footpath issues makes you a little bit of a detective ??
Well, I’ve recently discovered that I act as a footpath detective! In one of our applications there is a case where a landowners is trying to close a footpath but the local community would like to keep it as it is a piece of their community. However, in our records this footpath has never been registered as a Public Right of Way on our definitive maps. People have been using the footpath since the 1960’s. This kind of application is called a Definitive Map Modification Order made under Section 53 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
To prove this has been used as a public footpath, you must be some kind of footpath detective! To determine whether this route has been use for some time it is necessary to look at the evidence being said by the witnesses of the alleged route. We would normally interview to ask questions to the witnesses. We ask questions such as-
- Describe the route.
- How often would you use the path and for what reason?
- Do you remember seeing public footpath signs on the path?
- Have you had any objection to using the path?
COVID-19 came along and we now undertake whitnesss interviews to collect evidence over the phone. I’ve talked to quite a few people already. There are many different stories about the footpath and the route comes to life with different memories that people have had while walking the path. The experience of any route is different to everyone and that is clear when doing the interviews.
In the weeks before the lockdown I had the opportunity to visit the footpath team in Dolgellau and in our visit I had the opportunity to visit a path my line manager was working on. The path went behind the Mawddach Crescent houses. This case has risen because many people have said that the path goes in front of the houses instead of behind the houses and many people have used the path in front of the houses for about a hundred years and now residents of Mawddach Cresent has started detering people for walking infront of the houses. It was a nice place by the sea and obviously people enjoyed walking there because lots of people were seen around. This little place is hidden in trees and there are about ten houses.
The houses were built back in 1902 by Solomon Andrews with the idea of making the houses a holiday residence similar to Haven. Unfortunately his idea did not come to life and Mawddach Cresent is just the start of somewhere that could have been so big!
A lot of issues like this happen with footpaths and then there is a long process of looking at evidence to resolve if the path originally went in front of the houses. Sometimes issues like this go through a public inquiry, where people have a chance to verbally express their evidence. The decision is for the inspector to make on the outcome. If the evidence is strong enough to say that the path has been in front of the houses for a large period of time, then the process will continue to register the Public Right of Way and change our definitive map, these are old maps that date back to about 1850.
I have been on the scheme for just over three months now and have been managing well with the changes of working from home. I find my understanding of the various footpath projects has increased a lot since the beginning and my confidence to lead in pieces of work has grown, especially when looking at evidence of footpath use. Footpath work is never black and white and every footpath application is different especially if a footpath involves different memories and holds different feelings for everyone.
Stay safe and enjoy being out on the local footpaths until then we can explore further! I’m looking forward to getting back up the mountains.
Bye for now!