MEMBERS of the Ringwood and Fordingbridge Footpath Society have been taking a walk on the wild side for the last 40 years and this week, are celebrating their anniversary.

Founded on March 4, 1974, the society held its first open meeting two months later and had 100 members by the time the first Waymark – the society’s newsletter – was published in October.

Now there are more than 400 members, many of whom will be taking part in the anniversary celebrations in April.

Society members do not just enjoy walking the paths and bridleways in the Avon Valley for recreation; they also campaign to keep them open and press for proper protection, carrying out a rolling review of all paths in the area.

Under the direction of footpath secretary, Kelvin Winch, members regularly check the rights of way in the Fordingbridge and Ringwood’s 13 parishes and any problems, such as blockages or broken stiles, are either fixed by members or reported to Hampshire County Council.

Looking back to 1978, founder chairman Rowan Brockhurst said: “At that time we had grave doubts as to the future of the local rights of way network and under the banner heading of ‘Footpaths in Peril’ we arranged a public meeting to highlight the dangers of the loss of this part of our heritage when most people seemed much more interested in outings in their cars rather than in their walking boots.

“Nearly a hundred people came to the meeting and over 60 stayed on to join us.”

During its 40-year lifespan, the society has been involved in the creation and promotion of the Avon Valley Path between Salisbury and Christchurch and the Castleman Trail.

Members enjoy a programme of walks, monthly evening meetings during the winter and a quarterly newsletter.

Current chairman Ruth Croker said: “We aim to maintain and develop what has been achieved since 1978.”