Keith’s paths to glory

Keith Robeson. Senior Scottish Borders Countryside Ranger.
Keith Robeson. Senior Scottish Borders Countryside Ranger.

KELSO’S Keith Robeson celebrates 25 years as a countryside ranger this year.

He was one of more than 200 Scottish Borders Council staff whose long service was marked with certificates and gifts at a ceremony earlier this month.

Asked what he is most proud of over the 25 years, he replied: “That as at team we’ve managed to create a fantastic path network in the Borders.”

When Mr Robeson started as a ranger, the Southern Upland Way (marker illustration at top of page) and the end of the Pennine Way were the only official walks in the region.

“I was outside a lot more, doing maintenance work. There were only two of us in the service, all the work was on the ground doing work that the path wardens do now – maintaining paths and posts, building bits of boardwalk. Now it’s more about management, surveying, checking the walks and organising other people to do the work. It’s changed a lot over the years, ” said Mr Robeson, 52.

There has been a proliferation of routes: the Berwickshire Coastal Path, Borders Abbeys Way, St Cuthberts Way, the John Buchan Way and many marked paths around towns. Mr Robeson and his team take responsibility for most of them.

“In the past, also, we did a lot more work in the schools and taking out walks. That still happens but there’s less emphasis on that and more pressure to manage the path network.

“It’s fantastic that we have got this network in the Borders: it’s well used and that’s all to the good. It’s not just walkers using the paths, it’s horse riders and cyclists too. There has always been a horse riding tradition in the Borders but cycling has taken off and grown manyfold in recent years.

He says getting people into the countryside via the path network is important: “It’s healthy, it gets people outdoors in the fresh air enjoying the countryside. It’s good for tourism and brings economic benefit to the Borders. It’s one way of hopefully informing folk about how the countryside functions, by getting folk out there understanding what’s going on

“There’s potential conflict between land users and land owners – that’s part of my job, to try and inform the public how to behave responsibly in the countryside. We don’t have the countryside code any more, it’s the outdoor access code now. It’s not just a list of dos and don’ts, it’s about taking access responsibly. That’s really important because if people don’t understand what’s going on – for example letting their dog run free in a field of livestock, especially just now – it’s a big issue.”

Asked what he loves about his job, he said: “I enjoy the Borders countryside, it’s brilliant. We’ve got a fantastic resource but one that’s understated. There is still great potential to encourage more folk to use it more.”

Kelso-born, Mr Robeson still lives in the town and credits his late father, Robin, with instilling in him and his brother, Derek, a conservation consultant, at the Scottish Agricultural College, their love of the countryside.

“We were always outside. He was always really keen on wildlife, I’ve always had that interest.”

Mr Robeson spends much of his free time taking photographs of the countryside and of wildlife (www.keithrobeson.com) and regular readers will have seen of his work on these pages.

He’s also chairman of Kelso Community Woodland and of Kelso Paths, which holds its annual meeting at the end of next month.

He said: “We need fresh blood. We want new members to get involved with the paths around the town and to help look after the woodland in Kelso as well.”

Meanwhile he is into week two of the four-week introduction to navigation course of workshops which he is taking with fellow ranger Susan Kevan at 7pm on Wednesday evenings at Harestanes Countryside Visitor Centre near Jedburgh.