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SCRUTINEER-ODD JOB

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David Munn, rights of way officer ...
David Munn, rights of way officer

When foot-and-mouth disease forced footpath closures earlier this year, the effect surprised David Munn. 'It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before,' he says. 'All three phones in our office at East Sussex CC were ringing all day long. As soon as one was put down, it rang again. When we go out in the week we don't meet many people on the paths, yet the level of impact the closures had on the public, farmers, pubs and shops was amazing.'

His brief is to protect and maintain public rights of way, which include footpaths, bridleways and byways open to all traffic, operating in the context of a series of countryside Acts - the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Countryside Act, 1968, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and last year, the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 with its right to roam aspects.

He's responsible for day-to-day management of a team of five, who are kept busy following up problems or complaints and administering the paperwork. There is a lot of contacting landowners - some very helpful, a few unhelpful and the vast majority reasonable - and they have a range of enforcement powers. The team includes a parish and volunteer liaison officer who co-ordinates volunteers supplying invaluable labour.

They recently acquired a new uniform - casual polo shirts with the county's logo.

'We're getting a much better reaction these days from farmers than when we turned up in suits .'

There are also a couple of two-person teams, who do anything from cutting back overgrown vegetation to rebuilding bridges.

'There are 2,100 miles of footpaths managed by East Sussex. We get 12-20 letters every day from people who have been out for a walk and found a stile broken or damaged bridge.'

He got into the job accidentally 15 years ago. He wanted to do Ordnance Survey mapping, but training at East Sussex turned up and he has been a rights of way officer ever since.

'I love my job. It's becoming very professional now, with an association, The Institute of Public Rights of Way Officers, and university courses in the subject - and next year a distance learning course coming up with the Open University.'

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