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Footpath Care

One of the principal aims of the Ramblers' Association is "To protect and enhance the Public Rights of Way network"

West Essex Ramblers does this by providing two footpath secretaries to orchestrate any necessary work, twenty eight parish adopters who each oversee the paths of a selected area and a working party that maintains the footpaths.

Volunteers for the working party are required, normally every Tuesday, and everyone is invited to attend.

Contacts are given in the West Essex members' magazine - the West Essex Programme (WEP).


... for the working programme and

... for a detailed write-up on footpath care.


Bridge Replacement

Near Harlow

August 2005

The Working Party Programme


The working party of the West Essex Group operates within the Epping Forest District area.

Essex County Council provides all the necessary tools, materials and equipment.

The work is progressed in a relaxed atmosphere with members working at their own pace and doing tasks for which they are best suited.

The geographical areas in which West Essex Ramblers operate

West Essex Ramblers work in Epping Forest district, which comes under Essex County Council, who are the Highway Authority and in the London Borough of Waltham Forest.

Epping Forest District

Many people, even local residents and West Essex Group members, have the impression that Epping Forest district consists primarily of Epping Forest and the nearby communities. In fact the district embraces 28 parishes stretching well into the Essex countryside. It borders Harlow and Uttlesford in the north (Stanstead airport is located in Uttlesford), Chelmsford and Brentwood in the east and south-east, as well as the London Boroughs of Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest to the South. the river Lea and Hertfordshire form the western border. Click here for a larger parish map in pdf format: Epping Forest District - Parishes .

Epping Forest District - Parishes

London Borough of

Waltham Forest

This London borough was formerly (prior to 1960) part of Essex and comprises Leyton, Walthamstow and Chingford. It is part of Essex Area of the Ramblers' Association.

Epping Forest

Some notes on Epping Forest may be helpful. This area of land was dedicated for public recreation and enjoyment under the Epping Forest Act of 1878. It is administered by the Conservators of Epping Forest, who come under the Corporation of the City of London, and no general charges are levied on local people for this administration. The Conservators are required to keep the Forest open and unenclosed and to preserve its 'natural aspect'.

A substantial part of the forest is located in Epping Forest District, but parts of it are in the London Boroughs of Redbridge, Waltham Forest and Newham. Since there is public access throughout the Forest, there are few formal public footpaths and the usual problems of footpath access and maintenance found in the agricultural countryside are largely absent.

Public Rights of Way (PRoW) ... and ... Highways Authorities (HA)

One of the principal aims of the Ramblers' Association is the protection and enhancement of the Public Rights Of Way network. Perhaps the most important contribution to this aim is walking the path network, thereby showing that the paths are used. This is undertaken by the Group's walks' programme.

Public Rights of Way - Defined

PROW include public footpaths, public bridleways and certain other categories of track such as by-ways. A public footpath is one where the public has the a right to pass on foot. A bridleway is one where the public has the right to pass on foot, on horseback (or leading a horse) and on a bicycle. These PROW are usually shown on Ordnance Survey maps.

Public Rights of Way - Changes

PROW can only be diverted or extinguished by going through a legal procedure. The procedure normally requires public notice of the proposed change and gives opportunities for objection. In case of objection the proposed change must go to a public inquiry. The legal PROW cannot be extinguished as a result of blockages on the ground, the removal of signs showing a public right of way or the erection of misleading notices.

Public Footpath Law

Public footpath law is complicated: for more information about it see the Ramblers’ national website at www.ramblers.org.uk  Or see 'Rights of Way: a Guide to Law and Practice' (also known as the Blue Book) by John Riddle and John Trevelyan, fourth edition, jointly published by the Ramblers' Association and the Open Spaces Society in 2007 at £29.95, ISBN 978-1-901184-99-0.

Highway Authorities

For the Epping Forest District the HA is Essex County Council (ECC).

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a HA itself.

Highway Authorities - Responsibilities

Each highways Authority (HA) keeps a set of definitive maps and statements of the PROW in its area.

The HA have duties with regard to the maintenance of  PROW, such as erecting finger-posts where they leave a metalled road, the installation and maintenance of bridges along the route, and they have a duty to require land-occupiers over whose land a PROW passes to keep the path clear of obstructions.

To protect and enhance the Public Rights of Way

How West Essex Ramblers' work to achieve this:


Footpath Secretaries

The group has two footpath secretaries, one covering Epping Forest District and the other covering the London Borough of Waltham Forest. They are part of a larger team of Footpath Secretaries who between them cover the whole of Essex (including those London Boroughs which were at one time part of Essex).

They are:

Epping Forest District:

Richard Brady:



London Borough of Waltham Forest:

David Boote:



Footpath Secretaries'


The responsibilities of a footpath secretary are:

to receive from the appropriate local authority information about proposed diversions and extinguishments of PROW and to respond to them (this may involve attending and giving evidence to public inquiries);

to receive information about developments affecting PROW and to comment on them (in Epping Forest district this is done in conjunction with the Countryside Officer – see elsewhere in this website);

to receive and act upon problems and complaints about PROW notified by members of the public;

to inform him/herself about and as appropriate become involved in other matters related to PROW in the district, including claims for the inclusion of paths not currently shown on the definitive map as PROW;

to meet with, discuss and coordinate actions with the footpath secretary for the Essex Area of the RA and other district Footpath Secretaries, and to contribute to RA consultations relating to PROW.

Typical Path Problems reported to our secretaries

While most PROW are usable, they are subject to a number of problems, of which the most common are as follows:

1 Broken, missing or obscured finger-posts;

2 Obstruction by ploughing and the growth of crops over paths;

[In our district, where arable farming predominates this is probably the main problem that walkers face. According to the law the farmer can plough a cross-field path where he/she has traditionally done so, but has to make good the surface and restore the visible line of the path to the minimum statutory width (1 metre for footpaths) within 14 days. Headland paths (paths along the edges of fields) must never be ploughed and must be maintained to a minimum width of 1.5 metres). But note that the Highways Authority is responsible for vegetation growing on the line of the headland path, which often forces people to walk in the crop. It is rather obvious that the law on ploughing and cropping is very frequently ignored; legally, failure to comply creates an obstruction].

3 Lack of clarity of route due to absence or damage to way-markers;

4 Obstruction of paths by materials dumped on the path, overgrown hedges, locked gates, illegal barbed wire or electric fences etc;

5 Broken, damaged or overgrown stiles and bridges;

6 Threats from dogs and other animals.

[NB land-occupiers can keep animals in fields crossed by PROW – including non-dairy bulls where cows or heifers are also present – but are liable if they harm a person walking on the path].

If you encounter any problems when out walking please contact one of our footpath secretaries. He will then discuss the matter with the parish adopter and if necessary with ECC's Footpath Officer, or with the appropriate official in Waltham Forest.

Alternatively or in addition, in the case of paths in Epping Forest district, contact directly ECC's Footpath Officer for Epping Forest district at the West Area Office, Warwick House, 1 Roydon Road, HARLOW, Essex, CM19 5DX Tel: 01279 642500

Parish Adopters

Each of the 28 parishes in Epping Forest has an 'Adopter', who is a volunteer member of the West Essex Group, who keeps an eye on the state of the paths in the parish and reports problems as a basis of undertaking remedial work.

The adopters have a good knowledge of their parishes and are aware of which problems are longstanding and intractable and those which can be dealt with fairly quickly. The London Borough of Waltham Forest is not included in the adopter scheme.

Normally the footpath secretary refers complaints from members of the public to the relevant Adopter to check them, and then the Adopter passes them on (in many cases the complaint will refer to a problem that has already been identified). This report is usually passed to the Coordinator for the adopter system.


Three main courses of action which Adopters can take to remedy problems

1 The standard procedure is to report the matter to the official in the HA who is responsible for ensuring that PROW are kept in good order. If the land-occupier does not reinstate a path or remove a crop or other obstruction the council can arrange to have the work done and then charge the land-occupier, and the person can be prosecuted.

2 In co-ordination with the local authority, some kinds of work (such as bridge building, erection of stiles, building of steps on slopes and clearance of vegetation) may be undertaken by the Working Party (see further below).

3 In some cases it may be possible to make a direct approach to the land-occupier or owner.

The Working Party

The working party consists

of volunteers from within

the group who meet

every week, normally on

a Tuesday, to carry out

footpath improvement

work. It liaises closely

with the Public Rights of

Way Officers of Essex

County Council.



In the winter months the work consists mainly in clearing overgrown paths, particularly those which run between hedges and are very prone to becoming choked with brambles, nettles and young trees.


In the spring, when birds start to build nests in the hedges, the work changes to the installation of footpath furniture, i.e., footbridges, waymarks and gates.

Steps for Slopes

Paths on steep slopes often benefit from the installation of steps.

Step over Stiles, Kissing Gates, Rambler Stiles

In recent years we have largely given up installing the traditional type of stile with its one or two steps since these can be an impediment to the less agile walker or even dangerous when they fall into disrepair. If there is a need to control animals a preferable solution is to install a kissing gate (one which swings within a box) or a rambler stile, which has swinging arms which allow one to walk through when they are pushed aside.

Installing a Footbridge

When a footpath crosses a stream or ditch it is usually beneficial to have a footbridge so that people can cross safely and easily. These are all built from timber kits to a standard design and vary only in length. A team of four people can install one in half a day.

Waymarker Posts

Waymarker posts help to make the route of a path clearer and are particularly helpful when paths go through gardens or by the side of houses where one might think one was trespassing or over large open fields where the line of the path is indistinct.



9/08 to 8/09

9/09 to 8/10

9/10 to 8/11

9/11 to 8/12

Days worked





Parishes covered





Average turnout



Finger posts installed


Finger posts firmed up





Finger post fingers installed



Finger and WM posts cleared





WM posts installed





WM posts reset





WM posts firmed up



Footbridges installed





Footbridges repaired




Footbridges cleared





New handrail installed





Gates installed



Stiles repaired





Gates cleared





Stiles cleared


Steps installed





Barrier installed


Gaps cleared


Clearance heavy





Clearance light