Not just for walking – Ramblers’ Environmental Protection work

(Photo by Colin Speakman – Penhill, south-west of Leyburn)

Mike Willison is the Countryside Sub- Committee Chair for the West Riding Area; here he explains more about how Ramblers’ volunteers work to preserve the environment, as well as our rights of way

The Ramblers’ countryside work is enshrined in 2 of its charitable objectives.

‘The protection and enhancement for the benefit of the public of the beauty of the countryside and other areas by such lawful means as the trustees see fit.’

‘Advancing the education of the public in subjects relating to access to and the preservation and conservation of the countryside.’

Over the years volunteer roles have existed at both Group and Area levels for Countryside Secretaries. These roles have essentially involved commenting on planning applications for inappropriate developments in the countryside, and influencing planning policy by providing input to local authority Local Development Plans as they pass through the various consultation stages. These volunteers have in the past been supported by 2 full time staff at Central Office.

The last 10 years or so have seen Central Office dedicated staff support for Countryside Volunteers disappear. During this time West Riding Area has been lobbying the trustees to once again provide the necessary support centrally for this important area of the Ramblers work.

Within the last couple of years this lack of support has been reversed. Alison Hallas is a Policy & Advocacy Officer based in Central Office and her remit is both Countryside and Access. Although not full time on Countryside work, Alison’s presence to support this area of work is nevertheless very welcome. She has led the revision of the role descriptions for Group and Area Countryside volunteers, and the revision of the Handbook.

Following a survey of all volunteers engaged in countryside protection activities, Alison invited interested volunteers to be part of a sounding board. The sounding board’s remit was to:

Review the existing role names and descriptions for countryside protection volunteers

Review, and agree any alterations needed to, the current draft guidance to enable Ramblers volunteers to respond to countryside protection issues, including planning applications with positive and negative impacts on the countryside.

Discuss the support needed from Ramblers staff to help countryside protection volunteers.

Discuss actions which Ramblers staff and volunteers can take in order to help recruit countryside protection volunteers where they are currently absent, or where an existing volunteer is planning to step down.

The last two bullets are dependent on available staff resources at Central Office.

Reviewing the existing role names, it became clear that the word ‘countryside’ may well be appropriate in rural areas but equally may give rise to confusion, or even puzzlement, for example, in the urban areas of the cities and towns of West Riding Area. It was agreed a more appropriate description would be ‘environmental protection’. It was also suggested that nowadays the word ‘secretary’ sounds a little old fashioned. So instead of countryside secretary, a more appropriate name for the role is environmental protection officer.

In summary, the volunteer roles discharging the Ramblers’ countryside work enshrined in the two charitable objectives, as stated above, will in the future be referred to as environmental protection officers. This also reflects the much wider remit of these volunteers commenting on many applications or proposals that affect the landscape visible from the footpath network or access land but do not directly affect the PROW network or access land, the specific remit of footpath and access officers.

Does this aspect of the Ramblers’ work attract you to want to become an environmental protection volunteer? Do you have planning, legal or landscape and visual impact assessment expertise which would be a tremendous asset? There is a shortage of such volunteers amongst the Groups within the West Riding Area.

If you interested in volunteering please join us at our next Area Countryside meetings on Monday 21st October at 7.00pm in St George’s Centre, Leeds, LS1 3DL.

Mike Willison