Authorities have a duty to erect signposts such as this one on Cam High Road in the Yorkshire Dales. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Authorities have a duty to erect signposts such as this one on Cam High Road in the Yorkshire Dales. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Campaigners are calling on councils to fulfil their legal responsibility and end what they call the ‘scandal’ of hidden paths.

Thousands of rights of way are not signposted where they leave a road, leading to many being underused.

The Open Spaces Society pointed out that local authorities are required to put up signs where a right of way meets a road, but many are still unmarked, 50 years after the act that established the obligation.

The OSS, Britain’s oldest national conservation body, said: “The society and the Ramblers were responsible for winning the signposting provision which was enshrined in section 27 of the Countryside Act 1968.

“This states that a highway authority, county or unitary council, must erect and maintain a signpost where a public path leaves a metalled road. The signpost must show the status of the path, eg whether it is a footpath open only to pedestrians; a bridleway for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists; or a byway open also to mechanically propelled vehicles.

“If the authority considers it convenient and appropriate, the destination of the path and distance to that destination may also be given.

The OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “Signposts are important because they give people the confidence to use and enjoy public paths, which are public rights of way and highways in law.

“Although paths are marked on Ordnance Survey maps, many people are deterred from using them if there is no indication that a route is a public path. In any case, paths can be closed or moved making the maps out of date.

OSS missiSpot the bridleway at Thurleigh, Bedford, where it leaves Whitwick Green Roadng post Bedford, Thurleigh bridleway 56 from Whitwick Green Road 1200

Spot the bridleway at Thurleigh, Bedford, where it leaves Whitwick Green Road

“Without a signpost, a path can be a well kept secret.

“That is why we pressed for the inclusion of the signposting duty in the Countryside Act and why we are dismayed to find that there are still many missing signposts.”

The OSS said the Ramblers’ Big Pathwatch survey in 2015 revealed that lack of signposts and waymarks was one of the biggest problems, with about 9,000 signposts reported as missing where paths leave metalled roads in England and Wales, despite the legal duty on local authorities to provide and maintain them.

Ms Ashbrook said: “We are now gathering examples of where highway authorities are failing in their duty. These already include cases in Bedford Borough, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire East, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Dorset, East Sussex, Milton Keynes and Norfolk, and we shall continue to add to these throughout 2018.

“In this 50th anniversary year of the Countryside Act 1968 which gave highway authorities a duty to signpost paths, we want to see them make a real effort to ensure all their paths are marked.”

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