What to expect
Our Countryside Access Team look after over 2,000 miles of public paths, with 1,400 bridges, 11,000 signs, 4,000 stiles and 3,000 gates. It's a mammoth task and we rely heavily on volunteers and particularly the Surrey Ramblers, to help out with maintenance. The level of volunteer support on the rights of way network in Surrey is one of the highest in the country.
There are currently two ways that you can volunteer for us. Volunteer Path Wardens work by themselves on minor tasks, many of which they identify themselves. They receive half a days' training, a regular newsletter and are covered by the council's insurance policy and usually have no more than two or three tasks a year. If this appeals to you or if you'd like some more details, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our friendly Access Assistants will be happy to speak to you.
Secondly, some of our volunteers who carry out practical work on public rights of way are members of organised groups, for example Surrey Ramblers, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and local day centres. Work on paths is undertaken as and when suitable tasks are identified and our staff are available to co-ordinate the projects.
Improving Access to the Countryside
The Countryside Access Team are very grateful to local Ramblers and other groups who have made donations to buy kissing gates which can then be installed by our volunteer teams to replace elderly or broken stiles and so improve access. These gates have been put in all over the county in suitable locations and none of these improvements would be possible without the enthusiasm and support of our volunteers .
We are occasionally asked about our policy regarding gates and disabled access so it is worth explaining the policy in full here. Our aim is to improve access for all and so wherever possible we remove stiles and other obstacles to leave the path completely unobstructed.
The Countryside is a working environment and rural paths often need a barrier for stock control purposes. With access in mind, our policy in these situations is to remove stiles and replace them with gates. Stiles and gates are the property of the landowner and this can only be done with their consent. Once consent is given we look at the situation to decide which type of gate will be best, and wherever possible we will install a disability gate suitable for wheelchairs and scooters.
The main limiting factor is often space as disability gates are much larger and take up more space in the fence line meaning that it is not always possible to physically fit one in. The other factor we consider is the suitability of the path itself. For example fitting a disability gate at the top of a flight of steps or on a narrow, boggy or steep path would have little point as the access to the path as a whole would not be improved. Where the nature of a path changes due to development or improvement of the path itself we can always return to either remove the gate completely or replace it with a wheelchair and mobility scooter accessible model.
We are always looking for opportunities to improve access to the Rights of Way network so if you are aware of any paths which could be improved by removing obstacles or upgrading stiles or gates then please do let us know via our contact us or report a problem page.
How can I work safely?
Work should not be carried out on rights of way without consultation and agreement with our Countryside Access staff. We produce Safety Guidelines for Volunteers Working on the Rights of Way Network. This information is issued to groups prior to work being undertaken. Please make sure you have read a copy. It is important to be aware of potential hazards and to work in a safe manner.
Insurance for volunteers
Volunteers who are working on rights of way with the specific prior written agreement of the Countryside Access Officers are covered by the Council's insurance policy for third party and personal accident risk. The policy does not cover anyone working on rights of way without the prior knowledge and agreement of Countryside Access staff.
The policy excludes death or disablement caused directly or indirectly as a result of intoxication, illegal use of drugs or exposure to unnecessary danger, other than in an attempt to save someone's life. The use of power tools is also excluded. However the cover does include the use of strimmers and battery powered drills. We can provide training in using these safely.
What happens now?
If your group would like to register an interest in getting involved, please fill in the general enquiry form available on our contact us or report a problem page. Volunteer work can be undertaken as and when suitable tasks are identified and County Council staff are available to co ordinate the projects. More information about volunteering in the countryside, either in a group or as an individual, can be found on our 'Volunteering in Surrey's Countryside' page.
If you need to report a problem or make an enquiry about a rights of way issue, use our contact us or report a problem page.