Barriers to Access?

Heritage Lottery FundLast week, a colleague of mine was at a well-attended evening meeting organised by Cambridgeshire County Council concerning the future of parish paths. This was also attended by representatives from several Parish and District Councils as well as the Local Access Forum; the latter is the County Council’s Statutory Advisory body on countryside access issues.

Walkers - Ellie and Simon Trigg - permission granted

Walkers at Fen Drayton nature reserve. Image by Pete Johnstone for Cambridgeshire ACRE

My colleague had brought along a nice display explaining what the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme tries to achieve – this attracted a good deal of attention. As a result, she managed to talk to a lot of people about how they use the Ouse Washes area and what they would like to see changed.

Some interesting points came out of these conversations which I thought would be useful to share with you:

  • Rights of Way and public access to the countryside is clearly something people care deeply about.
  • People felt that maintenance of existing pathways should be a priority over the creation of new ones.
  • Promotion of the existing footpaths and bridle ways could be improved.
  • A surprising number of people mentioned that they find the area too linear/straight and generally ‘boring’; several people also thought that the area is only interesting if you are a birdwatcher. I did not expect that from this group which consisted of a large number of active walkers. Also, this seems to contradict what came out of the word association exercise reported on before.
  • Many people seemed, nevertheless, to be interested in the area’s history; they do want to get a better understanding of how the Ouse Washes area has been shaped and how it functions.
  • There also seems to be a need for more information about the reasons why the Ouse Washes are flooded regularly.

The Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme might well be perfectly placed to address several of the above points:

  1. As part of the delivery phase, we will set up a project through which we intend to help create active volunteer groups – these could then, for instance, help in the maintenance of local path networks.
  2. The website which we will create as part of the project’s delivery phase will bring together all information about circular and long-distance walks, cycle routes, horse riding trails and waterway links, and will also promote their use. I aim to start this process through this blog throughout 2013.
  3. High on our agenda is to educate people about their own environment, creating a better understanding of the landscape, its history and heritage assets. Providing an understanding of what the area has to offer, what is special about it and how it all functions will be at the core of what we will be doing over the next four years.
  4. Providing an understanding of the reasons for the frequent flooding is also one of the subjects that we want to explore throughout the Landscape Partnership scheme. There are multiple interlinked reasons behind this, which I will explore through this blog in due course.

The above is also encapsulated in two of our strategic objectives (see for the full aims and objectives our Resources Page):

• To make available, through varying multimedia, a range of information sources, that tell the story of the landscape past and present and open up new dialogue that inform debates about changing and adapting management processes in the future.

• To improve access to and to encourage people to visit, respect and appreciate the Ouse Washes nature reserves and historically important sites through enhancing interpretation and facilities.

Ouse Fen RSPB

Sign with walking routes at the RSPB’s Ouse Fen nature reserve. Image by Pete Johnstone for Cambridgeshire ACRE

At the heart of the scheme is a wish to leave a sustainable legacy for the Ouse Washes landscape – getting the local people’s input into this will be crucial to the scheme’s success. The discussions and comments captured at last week’s meeting have already given us a good flavour of the stimulating discussions we hope we can encourage.

As part of the research we are carrying out during the development phase, we will conduct extensive community consultations in the local villages and surrounding market towns. Through this, we hope to capture what people know about the landscape, how they use and value it, and what people perceive as barriers to engagement with the Ouse Washes landscape. These community consultations are likely to happen in and around May this year – more about this in due course.

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Sign at Fen Drayton lakes nature reserve. Image by Pete Johnstone for Cambridgeshire ACRE

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This entry was posted in Access, Communities, OWLP Strategy, Stage 2-Development Phase, Theme 2-Hidden Heritage, Theme 5-Future Heritage and tagged , , , , , , by markatousewasheslps. Bookmark the permalink.

About markatousewasheslps

Programme Manager for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, leading on the 1-year development and 3-year delivery phases of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) scheme, on behalf of and in close cooperation with a wide range of local, regional and national partner organisations. The Ouse Washes LP centres around a portfolio of projects which focus on: conservation works to historic and natural environmental assets; improving community participation & engagement with the landscape and its heritage; increasing access and learning opportunities; and providing more opportunities for training in traditional land management skills. The overall aim is to leave a long-term legacy for this fascinating and unique landscape, in the process creating tangible improvements to social, economic and environmental aspects of this landscape, its heritage and communities. Find out more about the landscape, the aims of the project and the partnership by following our: Blog, https://ousewasheslps.wordpress.com/ Twitter: @ousewasheslp

2 thoughts on “Barriers to Access?

  1. An interesting Blog – Here are a few comments:

    1. The Ouse Washes is mostly arable – perhaps people don’t like walking down straight footpaths on the edges of arable fields – the paths can go for a considerable way before any change in direction and then few do a return loop. The Rights of way network, as good as it is, was not designed for recreational use so could the OWLP consider creating new footpaths where there is a real need? This could even include some new bridges where appropriate!!

    2. Years ago the Countryside Commission created the Parish Paths programme, with the help of highway authorities and parish councils – why not look at how those Parish Paths Projects were run to get the best practice on how they were set up and managed. Parish Path projects would be eligible for Awards for All and other funding.

    3. Other barriers to access apart from physical access,include, lack of awareness, lack of transport and lack of income to get out and enjoy the area – massive issues to resolve but one way is to improve the local economy through supporting commercial ventures such as pubs, boat hire and market towns as tourism and heritage centres.

    • Thanks for your interesting comments, Pete.

      We will take these on board as part of our ‘Audience & Access Development Plan’ which we will start on next month. Getting an understanding of what people feel are barriers (both real and perceived) to access to the Ouse Washes landscape will feature strongly in our community consultations which will form part of the Audience & Access Development Plan.

      One way of getting funding for the upkeep and improvements to your local path network is through the Path for Communities Grant Scheme,
      http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/access/rightsofway/p4c.aspx, managed by Natural England. Note that all applications for this scheme will have to be handed in and approved before the end of 2013.

      If people have more ideas about possible funding sources for path maintenance, please let us know.

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