25 years back along the paths

Ron McCraw takes us on a whistle stop tour of path management over the last quarter century. Ron worked for SNH for 18 years in a range of roles including Access Projects Manager.

Launch of the new cycle path at Tyndrum. © Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Countryside Trust

Launch of the new cycle path at Tyndrum. © Loch Lomond & The Trossachs Countryside Trust

In 1992 I was Countryside Access Officer in Clackmannanshire Council, working mainly on protecting public rights of way. There were only a few similar staff in other local authorities, working in different ways, with little communication between, and little steer as yet from the brand new Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) body, which was soon to build on good foundations laid by the Countryside Commission for Scotland. Otherwise local access was looked after by Ranger Services with strong contributions from Countryside Around Towns projects, where these existed, and with Country and Regional Parks having important roles.

Ron at the start of the John Muir Way.

Ron at the start of the John Muir Way.

There were only three long distance routes and it was early days for the National Cycle Network (NCN) in Scotland. Good pioneering work had been done on upland paths through the establishment of Pathcraft. The 1967 Act provided the main legal basis for rights of way, paths agreements and long distance routes. But things were about to change.

In 1992, Scotways appointed a project officer to catalogue public rights of way. SNH published Public Access to the Countryside Law Guide in 1993 which helped to demystify relevant law for practitioners. SNH deployed consultants to identify mechanisms and needs for local access delivery and there was a gradual increase in workshops, all helping to raise the profile and improve dialogue between practitioners. This activity eventually led to the launch of Enjoying the Outdoors – A Programme for Action 1994 (led by John Mackay) which was instrumental in establishing the National Access Forum and the Paths for All Partnership, both in 1996.

The same year, the Scottish Countryside Access Network (then SCAN, now SOAN) was established as a forum for access staff. Disability legislation came into effect in 1995, advice on liability was published by SNH, and the concept of shared use paths was promoted by SNH and Paths For All (PFA). Then things took off.NWCN_image2

PFA promoted good practice in paths planning and facilitated the development of local access forums and access strategies. SNH supported the effort through its operations staff and grants for Local Authority (LA) access officers. From the early 2000s, many new LDRs became established as did the Upland Path Advisory Group. SNH led work on the new access legislation and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and, as part of this, established the Scottish Paths Record (2002) and undertook LA pilot projects. The Scottish Government provided £23M additional funds to LAs for preparatory work and SNH provided premium rate grants to boost access officer capacity. By the mid-2000s there were over 70 LA staff in post, supporting a huge effort in core paths planning and other functions, steered by good practice guidance by SNH and PFA.

Over the last decade, core paths have gradually been implemented, contributing significantly to Scotland’s 20,000km+ of signposted paths and to the growing family of Scotland’s Great Trails, in turn strengthening the National Walking and Cycling Network, which also comprises improved canal towpaths and the NCN.

This has marked a massive effort over 25 years by the whole sector and there is much to celebrate. Scotland is on the cusp of excellent paths provision, but to achieve this it will need to fully mainstream paths within national objectives to ensure commensurate funding and staffing for ongoing delivery, management and promotion. And let’s not forget the maintenance word! Can-do mind-sets at all levels, making strong links to wider agendas, will be essential to realising the full benefits of paths for everyone in Scotland.

The National Walking & Cycling Network is made up of 6,000km of paths offering active travel and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.  By 2035, this extensive network of routes and connections will extend to 8,000km. Check out our film and animation.






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