Volunteers begin clearing rural footpaths around France: can you help?

The national drive to strim undergrowth runs until March 17

France’s rural footpaths are often unmarked and known only to locals
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Thousands of volunteers around France are participating in a national drive to clear undergrowth from the hidden rural footpaths that were once a key part of countryside life.

The chemins ruraux, or unmarked footpaths - not to be confused with the GR, GRP or PR hiking routes - are the local countryside trails that people have used since time immemorial in France.

However, more often than not they are unmaintained due to a lack of funds, and as a consequence, many have fallen into disuse or become overgrown.

In response, volunteers are working to restore them as part of the Journées des Chemins movement organised by the Codever association.

The programme of clearing the paths began on March 2 and will run to March 17 at over 50 sites around France.

“We don’t know yet exactly how many volunteers are participating this year,” Charles Péot from Codever told The Connexion. “Last year there were around 600, but it will be far more this time.”

“The movement has attracted a lot of attention this year and grown considerably.”

In November Stéphane Delautrette, MP for Haute-Vienne, told Le Figaro that the paths were in danger of disappearing.

“These paths are a real heritage, and can help the development of tourism, hiking, horse-riding and cycling,” he said.

“It's a heritage that needs to be preserved. Over 200,000 kilometres of rural footpaths have disappeared in France in the last 40 years.”

Read more: Call for action over disappearance of rural footpaths in France

How to join in

If you would like to volunteer to clear the footpaths, click on the arrows on the map below to find the contact details of a local organiser.

Credit: Google Maps / Codever

The right to travel on rural footpaths unimpeded was a key demand of the French revolutionaries in their Cahiers de doléances.

Since 1959 they have been the private property of communes. However, many private landowners actively discourage the use of such trails that cross their land.

“Anyone who is willing and ready can join in,” said Mr Péot. “Sometimes we do fall foul of local landowners, but people have a historic right to use these paths.”

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