I have a question for you. You are out on a walk, and encounter a broken stile, gate, or perhaps path obstructed by nettles or a fallen tree….what do you do? Mutter expletives, find an alternative route, try to get past as best you can, or report it online to either West Sussex or Hampshire Countryside Services? I’m guessing that many people will admit to some combination of the first three options. However, few will have heard of let alone used the last suggestion.
As an organiser of Petersfield Walking Festival I’m going to let you into a secret. Unlike most public events, walking festivals are pretty low maintenance. I am perhaps over-simplifying it a little, but for the most part they just require some volunteer walk leaders, who know their way around a map, and a network of safe, public rights of way. Over the past 18 months we have been lucky to have had an abundance of both. However, every now and then we do get thrown a curved ball. This can be in the form of a broken stile, path blocked by a tree or other obstruction. While it might be possible to find an alternative route, this doesn’t actually solve the problem. The smart solution is to fix it. This benefits everyone, not just festival walkers. For this reason, I regularly report problems to both our local county councils.
Fearing that the councils might dread seeing my name on yet another report, I recently took the opportunity to meet Megan Cledwyn. Megan is our area’s Community Engagement Ranger for the Access Team within Hampshire Countryside Services. She is relatively new into the role, incredibly enthusiastic, energetic and passionate about nature. She also loves me reporting problems….or so she says!
We met in Broadway Park on the edge of Petersfield, at the start of the Buriton section of the Hanger’s Way. This was Megan’s suggestion. This was partly because the Hanger’s Way is one of her favourite paths, but also because she wanted to tell me more about a pollinator project planned for the route. I had to confess to not being a fan of this particular section. In my experience there are few months of the year when its surface is ‘just right’. More usually you are skiing in mud or fighting off nettles and brambles. Fortunately, on this occasion we had a relatively dry run of it. However, there was evidence of mud past all around us. Hopefully, Megan took note of this and fed the information back to her team.
As we ambled towards Buriton we chatted about the role of a ranger as well as the structure of Hampshire Countryside Services (HCS). To be honest, it was difficult to comprehend the former without some knowledge of the latter. This is because it appears HCS has more arms than your average octopus. It is a multi-faceted service that has teams who, among other things, look after our country parks, special sites (like the Hangers), access, pollinator projects, tree protection and forestry partnerships. Megan’s role falls within ‘Access’ but even this is subdivided into Rangers, Community Engagement and Rights of Way Officers as well as geographic areas. Despite these delineations, it was great to hear that they very much function as a team. Everyone seems happy to wield a chainsaw, address a public meeting or fill out a form.
Megan’s route into her job was through volunteering, so she is passionate about providing young people with similar opportunities to kick start their careers. She is already working with schools and other community groups to improve their understanding of the countryside, but also wants to encourage more people living in Hampshire’s towns and cities to engage in countryside projects. In addition to this, her role is about listening and responding to community requests. The pollinator project along the Hangers Way is an example of this type of community partnership. The idea came from the environment-friendly people of Buriton, which the team at HCS are now helping action. Keep your eyes peeled on this stretch for further developments, as well as more insects in due course.
Rather than retracing our footsteps from Buriton, we chose a circular route back to Petersfield via a path that was new to us both. This had a lovely, new, sturdy handrail to help hoist us up the stone steps through the clouds of cow parsley, so we stopped to photograph this welcome addition to our countryside furniture. Thank you HCS.
Another improvement, aiding accessibility to the countryside, is the replacement of stiles with metal gates. This is a rolling programme, which means the work is scheduled rather than coinciding with recently reported problems. For this reason it is still important to register individual issues. As Megan said, her team doesn’t know it’s a problem unless someone reports it. They do have eyes and ears on the ground through their ranger and path warden networks, but they are not all-seeing. Consequently, they welcome people like me…..and hopefully now you too…..reporting faults to them online. You can find details of how to do this below.
Report problems with Rights of Way/Access using these links:
Path blocked by recently fallen tree