The Rights of Way Liaison Officer
Bridget Graham talks to Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle, outgoing RoWLO for Langton Matravers
Published in September ’16
Energetic, incisive and professional are words that come to mind when one meets Ian Vaughan-Arbuckle, the outgoing Rights of Way Liaison Officer (RoWLO) for the parish of Langton Matravers. His five year stint in this voluntary role has not just seen the opening of blocked paths and the repair of rickety stiles and way markers, but also the restoration of the Priest’s Way, a historic three mile track.
Ian is one of hundreds of volunteer RoWLOs in Dorset who quietly work to keep the county’s 2855 miles of public rights of way – 4700 footpaths, 1700 bridleways and 37 byways – open for access. Their role includes monitoring rights of way and building good working relationships with officers of Dorset County Council (DCC), councillors and landowners, as well as user-groups. They may be local councillors themselves or seconded volunteers.
It turns out that Ian is rather over-qualified for the job. He’s expert in getting people, supplies and vehicles from A to B somewhat faster than walking pace as he served in the Royal Logistic Corps in senior ranks for 31 years (including in the Falklands War), and later worked in the Foreign Office. On retirement he moved first to Norfolk and then to Langton Matravers in June 2010.
As a man who confesses to ‘an ingrained sense of public service’, when he heard that the parish council needed a RoWLO, he researched the role then walked all 21 miles of the rights of way – from the cliffs, through nearby Acton, across Langton itself, through the valley’s woods, and up to a stretch of the Purbeck Way that runs along the top of Nine Barrow Down in the north –
before offering his services. Once formally appointed, he set about clearing a season’s overgrowth, undertaking small repairs and fixing designation signage.
En route, he canvassed the views of those whose paths he crossed, both locals and visitors. ‘Time and time again, people pointed out that the Priest’s Way was in a terrible state,’ he explains. While this ancient track was an easy stride in summer, in winter parts could be impassable except by the best-booted walker. Ian set about getting it repaired. ‘I’m a glass three-quarters full person,’ he says. ‘If there’s a problem, I will always try to find a way around it.’
Funding was scarce but, working with Dorset County Council (DCC) officers, he succeeded in securing a total of £180,000 via DCC’s own Rights of Way Improvement Plan (2011-2021), the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust and, primarily, the EU-funded Paths for Communities scheme (2012-2014), which provided ring-fenced funding for 35 projects for the development and enhancement of the
public rights of way network in England to give social, economic and environmental benefits to rural areas.
The project had been beyond the budget of the main landowner, the National Trust, whose local projects have to be funded by local revenues. ‘I’d been trying to find a way of funding this for ten years, and it wasn’t until Ian found a way that it happened,’ explains Jonathan Kershaw, the National Trust’s Senior Ranger for South Purbeck, who has worked closely with Ian during his tenure as RoWLO.
Representatives from Worth Matravers and Langton Matravers Parish Councils, Swanage Town Council, Dorset County Council and the National Trust, the major landowner, teamed up to realise the project. The work took three months and
the Priest’s Way reopened in January 2014.
The track’s new surface has mellowed sympathetically into the landscape and it is now enjoyed by many more people of all ages and capabilities year-round.
Without exception, according to Ian, feedback has been positive. Jonathan Kershaw endorses this: ‘Working in partnership in a community-led project has made a real difference not only to the quality of the work, but to how it has been received. It’s also transformed how people use the Priest’s Way. Now families with small children and disabled people are using it regularly.’ Benefits have rippled outwards. There’s better access for farmers and others who live south of the track and the National Trust and many other local businesses benefit. ‘And the benefits for health are huge,’ Ian points out.
Day-to-day issues with footpaths and bridleways will always arise and minor problems are reported to DCC. Ian is exasperated by occasional littering, fly-tipping and also by irresponsible dog-walkers. ‘Why leave dog poo bags in hedges? I’ve also seen the shocking results of attacks on livestock by out-of-control dogs,’ he says.
Ian is also keen to see the retention of time-proven measures that reduce soil erosion and flooding. ‘Our predecessors weren’t daft. They recognised the importance of caring for hedgerows to stop soil erosion and digging ditches correctly for good drainage,’ he stresses.
Last year, Ian and a small team of volunteers undertook a full condition report of the village’s rights of way. They identified two key footpaths as priorities for particular TLC: one linking Windmill Hill to New Barn; the other through Wilkswood used for daily access to school by one family. Working with Langton Matravers Parish Council and Dorset County Council, he’s now facilitated a service level agreement between the two so that DCC will maintain these paths, the two sharing the cost of 42p a metre, amounting to a very reasonable £252 for 600 metres a year.
Ian is now relinquishing the role after five years’ rewarding volunteering. He’ll advise on the Priest’s Way if needed, but he’ll have more time for
family and for cricket umpiring here and abroad. His legacy is more than improved accessibility in the area: it’s the hundreds of extra hours of enjoyment that others get from walking in and around Langton Matravers. And while his successor – whoever that will be – may have a lighter workload, the role is sure to be just as rewarding as Ian has found it.