Reduced funding for vegetation clearance, carried out by contractors, was the first of a series of savage cuts to the Kent County Council Public Rights of Way budget, to be felt by the walking public.
The remaining funds in the KCC coffers had to be accounted for and spent wisely on paths that regularly attract the feet of many visitors.
Priority was given to those that were on a route to the local school and other public attractions. Paths that didn't have that luxury were sidelined. There was no other choice when the highways department was struggling to fill in potholes and maintain roads and country lanes used by motor vehicles. The highways department had overspent its budget. The highways department funds the public rights of way department. The future looked gloomy.
Desperate phone calls were made to KCC by walk leaders, 'I am leading a walk next Thursday with at least 30 people. Is there any chance of you getting it cleared by then?'
It may have been two years since the offending path had seen use and at long last its turn had come. It could be another two years before it happened again. Could KCC be expected to use public money for such an event? We all knew the reality. So we decided to ask the question, 'What can we do to help? If we gathered some willing volunteers could we work in partnership with KCC?'
White Cliffs and Maidstone group did a trial run. We were the first to dip our toes in the water and our success inspired other groups to follow our lead. There are currently nine Rambler groups across Kent with a vegetation clearance team. In 2016, we cleared a combined 20 miles of blackthorn, nettles, brambles, gorse and tall grass to make a difference for every walker.
It would take the entire British army to keep every footpath in good order, but we are doing our fair share and we are making a noticeable difference.
It has to be one of the most rewarding things to do. You arrive at a wilderness with a few cheery volunteers and a couple of satisfying hours later, you leave behind an inviting footpath and a sign to tell the world who carried out the work. It's quite likely that there will be a cup of coffee and some cake or biscuits to be had as well.
Some of us have gone home with the added bonus of fat juicy blackberries, sloes and mushrooms.
KCC supply our tools, training and insurance. Kent Area Ramblers very kindly pick up the tab for travel expenses for those who wish to claim them.
Of course we all know that Mother Nature will ensures that it will grow back again, but like housework and gardening, that's a simple fact of life.
Volunteers are always welcome, the more the merrier, as they say!