Monday, October 15

The Internet as Historical Document - Safeguard those Rights of Way

An oft-overlooked feature of this Internet gizmo is its use as a historic record.

True how enduring, or more importantly how permanent, it eventually turns out to be is very much a tale that has yet to be told. But as a means to document cultural and contemporary context it has undoubtedly expanded the ability of Joe Public to join in on that game previously enjoyed only by those with access within the traditional communication medias.

It can be hacked, spammed, and at times use for misinformation or even downright lies and libel. But an educated reader is able to collate a variety of views on a topic, sift the evidence, and then use their own intellect and experience to form a relatively well informed opinion outside of the normal information controls. And now this is done so very quickly (e.g. the recent protest in Burma)

But why my reflection at this moment in time?

Back in the 1990s I adopted a number of local footpaths. A central and local government initiatives were inviting members of the public to monitor and report on the state of local rights of way, and by their regular use ensure that such paths would continue to be available for all, rather than subject to future legal challenges to close or reroute them.

On the whole its been an easy task, with the local council taking note of any path blockages, usually fallen trees, and resolving them.

But one of these routes at the southern end of the Avon Valley Footpath as it moves towards Christchurch and bordering a dormitory estate, was the centre of a change of use a few years back. In places a narrow rise ‘n dip dirt track. Bounded by a small tree lined ditch on one side, and a tall earth bank forming the edge of the field border above. The path barely wide enough for two people to pass by without one giving way. A dirt track amongst the nettles basically.

But despite this, and with concerted lobbying by the local horse riding fraternity, backed by their national organisation, the public review process determined that this path should be upgraded to a Public Bridleway.

Now I’ve no issue with this where the path is suitable for shared pedestrian and horse traffic. But in this case the width of the path just would not permit it. At the public assessment much was made of prior usage made of the path by horse riders, despite little actual factual evidence to back it up. Furthermore the inspector's assessment of the path’s suitability for mixed traffic concluded somehow that the path width was acceptable.

As a result whilst out for a quiet stroll with the collies I’ve had occasions when I’ve been faced with rider(s) cantering straight down the path towards me. My only escape route a muddy ditch. And at times some brusque manners from the horse gentry who seem to have dropped their Ps & Qs like the large piles up steaming dung that now have to be avoided (Why it is dog shit is Bad, but horse shit is Good, when both are found on a country footpath?)

More to come on why a seemingly trivial incident has a value all its own.

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