Thursday, 20 January 2022

Hurrah for work of those footpath wardens

IT’S blackberry time again and also time to look in the hedgerows for the damsons which

IT’S blackberry time again and also time to look in the hedgerows for the damsons which will be ripe after a frost, for the holly you will want to pick but only has a tinge of pink on the berries now — there seems to be a good crop coming — and for conkers and the Spanish chestnuts which have soft spiny cases but are rarely big enough to eat in this country.

To our delight, the stiles have been replaced by solid wooden kissing gates at our favourite blackberry field, thanks to the work of the Green Gym.

The Green Gym was the brainchild of Sonning Common GP William Bird, who was also a pioneer of Health Walks.

In this area we are fortunate to have the South Chiltern Path Maintenance Volunteers, organised by the Chiltern Society, whose work parties regularly replace stiles and repair path furniture for the landowners who are legally responsible for the upkeep of foot- and bridlepaths.

The funding comes from the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment, created to manage the landfill tax, which is paid by firms on the proportion of waste they send to landfill rather than to recycling.

The training in rights of way legislation and safe use of tools and machinery is provided by Oxfordshire County Council.

Finally, there is a network of parish path wardens who walk the paths with their secateurs, loppers and paint pots clear and mark the ways and to alert the volunteers and/or county council to fallen trees and blocked paths.

Contact the Chiltern Society if you would like a parish of your very own.

Complicated isn’t it? And it requires  co-operation from the landowner, possibly also the tenant, who gets to choose from a range of wood and metal gates, stiles and bridges.

This is not usually a problem when they discover that the work is to be done for them free of charge (as are the blackberries).

So don’t take those paths for granted — many volunteer hours have been devoted to keeping them open.

In the silence as you pick the fruit, you can listen to the “chook, chook” of jackdaws, the low screech of the jay, the robin singing his sub-song on the other side of the hedge and even the swish of the pigeon’s wings as it speeds overhead.

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