Path surveys to record the current condition of paths are useful for monitoring changes over time, and for making informed management decisions about practical work needed to maintain or improve paths, and halt or reverse erosion. Surveys can vary in scale and detail according to need. A brief but detailed survey may be needed to plan the work on a particular stretch of path. A large scale survey, such as that undertaken for the Countryside Commission, is aimed at gaining a general picture of the state of paths, rather than locating particular sites where work is needed.
Since the mid 1980s, much progress has been made in developing methods of surveying rights of way and other paths. The methodology was originated by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Scotland, and then developed on the Pennine Way Project and the Three Peaks Project in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Further developments have been made by the Pennine Way Coordination Project, the Cleveland Way Project, the Countryside Commission, the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. For major projects, methods of survey and data processing rely on computer technology, in particular Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Survey information can be recorded in the field using hand-held computers such as PSION. Many County Councils are also using GIS for mapping and management of public rights of way. A British Standard for GIS for rights of way work is currently being produced by the Local Government Management Board. The Countryside Recreation Network are active in promoting exchange of information in this rapidly developing area of work.
A brief description follows of the various types of surveys, followed by more detailed information on surveying paths which may be useful for local project officers or countryside managers.