BY MICHAEL PENDER-CUDLIP
Marriott’s Way users have welcomed the news from Norfolk County Council (NCC) that a section of the popular trail near Reepham is “very close” to being reopened.
The 26-mile footpath, bridleway and cycle route, which follows the routes of two disused railway lines, runs between Aylsham and Norwich. However, the route immediately north of Whitwell Station has been closed for more than two years owing to badger activity, and an alternative route has been suggested (for walkers and cyclists only).
David Yates, senior trails officer at NCC, said the Council’s engineers have come up with a way of strengthening the path so it will withstand the weight of walkers, cyclists and horse riders and which can be carried out without causing undue disturbance to the badgers.
“Natural England has given us the badger disturbance licence we need to carry out work close to a sett, and a budget has been found to pay for the work,” he revealed.
Meanwhile, the owner of Whitwell Station has agreed to let NCC store materials and machinery in the station yard and provide a temporary diversion through the yard during the daytime while the work is being carried out, which is likely to take eight days.
Mr Yates said the only problem still to be overcome is to ensure that machinery can be safely moved over the bridge across the road to get from the station to the work area.
“The engineer leading the team who will be carrying out the work is liaising with our bridge engineers to sort this out at the moment,” he added. “I’m told that it should be possible if temporary metal sheets are used on top of the wooden slats to spread the load.
“I’m pressing my colleagues to give me a start date so we can let people know when the work will be carried out. It should be within the next few weeks.”
Undermining of the route by a large badger sett near the station and warnings of the danger to horses and their riders resulted in the closure of a several-hundred-metre section of Marriott’s Way in early 2012. NCC put up notices explaining that a “long-term solution” was being sought, and directed users along a road alternative.
Unfortunately, even devising a solution let alone implementing one has taken the best part of two years, with Natural England defending the badgers’ rights as a protected species, and NCC appearing to apply a classic “health and safety” approach to human risk, fearful perhaps of being sued if someone was to be injured.
It is a shame they didn’t go for “Horses prohibited, other users proceed at their own risk” warning, of the type familiar to those who use cliff-top paths.
The absence of any progress over the past two years has led to an increasing number of walkers and cyclists including that section of Marriott’s Way on their outings, and regrettably in some cases actually removing or damaging the barriers. However, there have been no reports of any injuries.
“Getting the trail re-opened has been a painfully long, drawn-out process,” said Mr Yates. “It will be great to finally be able to go all the way from Norwich to Aylsham off-road once again.”
The badgers couldn’t be reached for comment.
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