These lovely smooth paths are (hopefully) free from litter with the vegetation cut back, occasionally have information boards, and have their potholes filled. Much like our highways, these things don’t happen by magic. Often, depending on who owns the land, there are volunteers who will look after the paths and maintain them for enjoyable use by everyone. Volunteers make a huge contribution to the benefits of path users, dedicating regular hours to the task over long periods of time or just by simply doing the odd bit when they’re out on the path.
If you’d like to give a little back to your local cycle paths then here are some small actions you could take:
1) Litter pick
An obvious place to start with a quick and easy way to immediately improve your local path is to pick up litter when you’re out exploring. Of course, this is much easier when you’re walking but there’s nothing stopping you from carrying a rucksack on a leisurely bike ride and stopping to smell the flowers (or pick up crisp packets… ). Some routes will even have litter pickers and bags stationed at entry points. To go the extra mile, you could join a local litter picking group.
2) Record wildlife
Cycle paths are often vital green corridors in built-up areas. These allow birds, insects and small creatures to live, feed and safely pass through areas where there may be roads and houses. Knowing the variety and extent of wildlife using an area can help inform protection measures. If land managers don’t know what’s there, how can they properly protect it? They can also demonstrate the general health of an area. For example, if an area has a high population and variety of butterflies, this is seen as a thriving wildlife area. The website iRecord is a great resource for recording sightings or there are other specific record collections depending on the organism e.g. hedgehogs or red squirrels.
3) Report issues to the land managers
Land managers will usually have a huge area to cover, often spanning entire counties. Therefore, they can’t always know immediately when something is wrong. This could be an incident of fly tipping, a broken gate, graffiti, etc. The easiest way to report an issue would be to your local council (unless you know the path is owned by another organisation). They’ll likely have an area on their website to report issues or you could contact them directly on Twitter. This is easily done on your mobile so can be done whilst you’re out on your bike ride.
4) Improve signage
Signs on cycle ways will be subject to all weather conditions, as well as occasionally being targeted by graffiti artists. This means they are often in less than ideal conditions, which can make them difficult to read by path users. If you live close to a route or happen to be carrying the appropriate materials, it can be useful to clean up a sign so that they are clearly visible by passers-by. Reporting damaged signs as per the previous point can be helpful too. Occasionally, they can even be pointing the wrong way, so it helps to check and change it if possible.
5) Donate a bird box
Often the organisations that manage such routes will have minimal resources, which to spend and use on path maintenance. Paths through nature reserves especially may be run by a wildlife charity, and would no doubt be thrilled by the donation of a bird or bat box. It’s best to check with them first if they need any but it can be really rewarding to see a bird box installed on a route you use daily and watching who takes up residence!
6) Share the route
Cycleways will often receive more funding if they are heavily used but landowners may not have the resources to publicise the route. By taking photos and sharing the appreciation you have of a path, you can encourage users to utilise it and share in the enjoyment they’ll receive by using it too.
If you’ve dipped your toe into maintaining your local cycleway and find yourself enjoying it, there are plenty of ways you can become a regular volunteer. Volunteers will usually only be recruited by charities but there are plenty who manage such routes. Wildlife organisations as well as walking and cycling charities or even ‘Friends of’ groups will recruit volunteers for regular work days. You can meet like-minded people, pick up new skills and get to truly enjoy the route the next time you cycle through, knowing that you’ve made a contribution to bettering the area.