The Ramblers' Association chief is urging a council to get tough with landowners who block paths.
Maize blocks the Shropshire Way between Kempton and Hopesay
Chairman Kate Ashbrook said Shropshire County Council should take action to tackle the problem of illegally ploughed and planted footpaths across the county. The authority should make an example of persistent offenders, she said.
Ms Ashbrook was speaking on Saturday at the relaunch of the Shropshire Way, a 264km (164-mile) loop which starts in Shrewsbury and takes in Ironbridge, Wenlock Edge and the Wrekin on its route.
She congratulated the county council on improving sections of the way, but said illegal blockages were deterring walkers from enjoying many of the county’s paths.
She told the gathering at the Discovery Centre, Craven Arms: “Shropshire, with its beautiful and varied countryside, depends on walkers to support its economy.
“Public paths are the arteries of the countryside, enabling people to enjoy quiet recreation, which benefits not only the rural economy but also people’s physical and mental health. Money spent on public paths means less money needs to be spent on community care – prevention is far better than cure.
“But too many paths in Shropshire are still illegally cropped and blocked. Even the premier route, the Shropshire Way, has problems, and there are many forgotten paths in the county which, year after year, are ploughed and cropped. Not only is this illegal, but it can be off-putting to walkers, on whose income the county depends.
“Rather than having to deal with the same problems each year, the county council should threaten legal action against persistent offenders, those landowners and occupiers who try to get away with abusing the paths.
“By making an example of them, it would encourage others to obey the law. It is, after all, the county council’s statutory duty to ensure that all the paths are in good order. Legal action would send a clear message to all land managers that they abuse paths at their peril, and that the county means business. And it would be a cost-effective way of getting the paths reopened.”
Ms Ashbrook said the RA would support any such action.
She pointed out that Shropshire Ramblers had contributed £500 to the route improvements, but further work was needed by the county council to ensure other routes were walkable.
“Now we want to see the many other lovely paths of Shropshire reopened. They are part of our heritage and we all want to be able to enjoy them.”
The Shropshire Way was originally devised by the Ramblers’ Association in the 1970s and has since been expanded. It mixes hillwalking with valley routes.