How to Rewild

Create Paths

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Create Paths

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Seasonality

What You Can Do

In a grassland ecosystem, paths can be a valuable way of creating diversity, while in other habitats, they can steer visitors away from sensitive areas.

A path can reduce disturbance of neighbouring land, but a well-designed route also takes you and your visitors on an interesting journey across your project, helping to make nature more accessible.

Surface Material

In areas with low foot traffic, a mown footpath is the best option, which can have a beneficial impact on local plant and invertebrate diversity. By creating lower patches of grass in an unmown field, you increase the diversity of wildflowers which can live in the habitat. 

Be sure to collect up the grass trimmings and move them into a large compost heap, or stack them in haystacks at intervals along the path. This will help to mitigate nutrient buildup, which will reduce plant diversity over time. Avoid mowing or cutting in May, to allow plants to flower and set seed.

In areas with higher foot traffic, creating multiple trails may help to reduce the trampling effect, but people tend to take the most efficient route on a public footpath. This differs on a private estate or small landholding, where multiple paths can offer interesting alternative journeys. If a direct route isn’t provided on a footpath, the public will typically create a ‘desire path’ over time by walking through vegetation, undoing your work.

On land with moderate foot traffic, woodchip is a cheap way of bringing in bulk material to reduce the impact of feet in winter. However, it will need to be reapplied every year to avoid creating a mud bath.

Gravel isn’t usually applied on its own – typically you would lay a foundation layer of aggregate before applying the gravel. A weed membrane is often used between the two, to keep the gravel in good condition. The sides of the path may be lined with trunks, planks, or you can use gravel grids to help hold the gravel in place. Weed membrane and gravel grids are plastic products, while gravel production and transport is highly energy-intensive.

For higher traffic paths and those with accessibility requirements, please refer to the Sensory Trust guidance, linked below.

Mushrooms on woodchip path
Woodchip is good as a path material, because it provides a home for fungi and invertebrates. However, it isn't perfect for accessibility.

Machinery & Supplies

On projects less than 3 acres in size, a brushcutter and a determined attitude will keep grass paths short enough to use year-round. Any larger than this, and you may need to use a ride-on mower to keep these paths open. Technically it is possible to do this work with a scythe, but unless you want to end up at a chiropractor’s, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Woodchip can be sourced free of charge from local landscaping companies – they may be able to deliver for free, too, depending on the accessibility of your site. This will be dumped in huge piles, and you should bear in mind that it rots down to (high quality) compost if not moved fairly swiftly.

A local quarry may be the best bet for large volumes of gravel, which also reduces the distance this heavy aggregate has to be transported. You can order the sub-base at the same time. It’s worth noting that the construction of a gravel path is a labour-intensive job and you may need to hire a ‘wacker plate compactor’ for the sub-base. You may need planning permission for a gravel path.

 

Create rewilded paths
On our pilot project, most of the paths were cut with a brushcutter, but driving the car on and off kept the grass short on this section.

Case Study

On the pilot project, we started getting an infestation of deer tick in year two, and I purchased a brushcutter to create safe paths that would reduce our exposure to these parasites (which can carry Lyme’s disease).

What I failed to realise is how much these paths would improve our enjoyment of the land. By improving the accessibility of the site during summer months when the grasses are usually impenetrably high, it suddenly felt more like a nature reserve than a field.

However, maintaining all the paths across 3.5 acres of land with a brushcutter wasn’t easy. It took many late evenings, especially as I purchased an electric model, with limited battery life (though it’s a dream to use – much quieter than petrol equivalents). Part of the issue is that raking up the arisings takes just as long as cutting the grass. And raking is back-breaking work, especially on uneven ground, and in hot weather.

It was certainly worth the effort, and I will continue to cut paths through the project this year. But I’ll reduce the overall path length and I’m starting earlier in the season (March), to avoid the growth getting out of control.

Further Guidance

The Sensory Trust has an extremely useful guide to creating accessible footpaths, with information about surface types, path width, camber etc.

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