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Gaining access to the Wollerton Wetlands

Wetlands BridgeWhen the Hodnet bypass was built, a piece of land between it and the River Tern (near to Wollerton Mill) was converted to a wetland area – i.e. a series of excavated pools and associated wildlife habitats.

As part of this work Shropshire Council (SC) diverted part of Footpath 28 (FP28) – which runs from Stoke Heath, via Helshaw Grange, to the River Tern – from its original route; so that it passed instead under the nearby bypass river bridge and through the new Wetlands, to reach the original footbridge over the River Tern. From here the footpath becomes FP12, and ran to the edge of Wollerton Mill.

This work highlighted a long standing issue concerning FP12; namely that on official maps it was shown as existing only between the river bridge and the edge of the Mill, but not from there up to Mill Road, Wollerton.

Before the Mill had been converted to a home this hadn’t been of great practical significance, as people freely walked along the Mill driveway and through the Mill grounds. However, conversion of the Mill into a home in the 1990’s saw this access blocked by the new owners – on the grounds that such a route did not legally exist.

Various complaints had been made to SC and Hodnet Parish Council (HPC) about this over the subsequent years and, with an expected increase in the numbers of people wishing to access the wetlands after the opening of the bypass in 2003, HPC decided to look further into the matter.

Wollerton WetlandsIt seemed that when the local footpaths were added to what is called the ‘definitive map’ in the 1960’s, the route from the former Mill sluices up to Mill Road was not submitted for consideration to SC – perhaps because it was assumed that the driveway was a public highway – and as such a right of access existed. In fact, the driveway turned out to be private land and therefore once access was denied, a complex formal process would need to be followed to establish whether a right of way did legally exist. The position was made sensitive by the fact that Wollerton Mill had been sold several times since its conversion to a home, and HPC was keen to find a solution that did not unduly compromise the privacy of the current owners.

As an initial step, HPC investigated whether it might be possible to establish a ‘permissive path’ over nearby land, but that did not prove possible. As a result, and also having become aware that if nothing was done before  a legislative cut off date of 2025 no future claims could be entertained, in 2008 they began to search for claimed ‘past users’ of the disputed route. This involved an invitation to past users to submit written statements about such use and, at a fairly early stage, it became apparent that many had used two different routes to/through the Mill; one via the driveway and one via an adjacent track known as ‘Cow Lane’.

Wollerton WetlandsHPC felt that if this ‘Cow Lane’ route could be legally established, and the existing FP12 diverted to meet it, the remaining claimed routes passing alongside the Mill could perhaps be extinguished – thus permitting legitimate future access from the village to the Wetlands without greatly affecting local resident’s privacy.

Eventually 28 user statements were obtained, plus two from past property owners. Taken together, these showed claimed use of a variety of paths through or around the Mill and, crucially, for some showed a period of use of at least 20 continuous years without challenge by former land owners – a key factor under the relevant legislation.

The next step was for HPC to submit its evidence to SC, and formally ask them to investigate the claims. This took place in late 2009, and a period of legal/practical investigation and negotiation started. In mid 2010 SC issued their draft report, which concluded that the legal case for two of the various claimed routes was strong. This report was made available to all affected/interested parties. A plan showing the detail of the two accepted past routes around the mill, plus the final route created, can be viewed here.

After a further period of consultation/negotiation, during 2012 SC started to issue the necessary sets of legal orders to progress matters; the aim being to first legally re-establish two claimed paths – one accessing the Mill via its driveway and one via ‘Cow Lane’, then divert FP12 to meet the bottom of ‘Cow Lane’ and, finally, to then legally extinguish the paths that were no longer required. This necessarily took time, but in May 2013 all was done and the practical work of clearing the route could begin. The work involved was considerable, as the lower parts of ‘Cow Lane’ had become infilled with rubbish/tipping over many years of being out of use. However, by November 2013 the route was cleared, gates and signs installed and, finally, some new steps ordered for the river bridge.

Hodnet Footpath Group then met with a similar group from Stoke on Tern, to undertake some general clearance work in the Wetlands and, by the start of December, with the new bridge steps installed the route became fully passable. This path will hopefully be a long term asset for the village, as well as playing its role as part in the wider local rights of way networks.

WetlandsAlthough this right of way has now been established, it may take some time for it to appear on public maps – but in due course it will.

It has been a long process, and not without concern for some of the local residents. Parish Councillor, Richard Underwood, who was heavily involved with the project, said “The Council is very pleased to have been able to help resolve a difficult local issue with the minimum adverse effect on residents; and in that regard is grateful to all those who took the trouble to submit ‘past user’ statements, SC for accepting the formal submission to investigate the matter – and then pursuing a ‘minimal impact’ option and, not least, to the owners of Wollerton Mill and the adjacent Mill House for their co-operation”.

Note. The Hodnet Footpath Group intend to keep an eye on this path and the Wetlands and, as necessary, undertake future light maintenance. In this task they would really welcome some extra support; so if you enjoy using this path and would like to help keep it open and in good order, please get in touch – Click Here for more information.

The Footpath Group have also produced a leaflet with a suggested walk which takes in the new path. For more details or to download a copy of the leaflet please see our Local Walks Leaflets page. Click on an image below to see larger pictures.