National Trust - Managing a Path inventory in OSM: Towards an Open Paths standard in OSM for the UK

Huw Davies

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The talk describes the use of OSM as part of an asset management process using a crowd of National Trust staff, volunteers and the public to maintain an network inventory of an estimated 20,000 km of paths (both Public Rights of Way and permissive paths). The process pro-actively notifies local staff of changes to enable on-ground validation.  The process required the definition, and consistent application of, a UK standard for path tagging.

The National Trust (NT) is a charity set up to look after special places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Now the largest land owner in the UK, NT cares for more than 250,000 hectares of land including 775 miles of coastline, 100,000 hectares of statutory wildlife sites, 28,000 buildings and structures, 300 historic mansions and gardens.
The NT operates a membership business model which provides members with complimentary access to our pay-for-entry visitor attractions, but also seeks to provide extensive free access to the countryside. The pay-for-entry visitor attractions welcomed 2.5 million visitors in 2018, and an estimated 300 million visits to countryside sites. 
Recent internal analysis estimates that NT look after a network of 20,000km of footpaths which comprises both legally designated ‘Public Rights of Way’ (25%) and permissive paths (75%). Permissive paths are those where access to members and/or the public is provided, and the condition of the path is monitored. Currently there is no single digital inventory of Public Rights of Way or permissive paths in the UK.
The Paths Project is capturing a digital inventory of paths on National Trust in order to:
• Demonstrate how NT are fulfilling our core purpose of providing access to special places.
• Improve asset management including maintenance and enhancement of the path network,
• Provide a digital base for trail curation and enhanced visitor experiences.
A review of options concluded that the OpenStreetMap would be the best system for management of the National Trust Paths Inventory. This enables the capture of a digital path data to a defined standard to be carried out by the Trust’s extensive local
staff, volunteer network and also any citizens with an interest in paths.  The data is then available royalty-free to anybody for the development of products to encourage appropriate access to our special places.
This approach is not without challenges. The constancy of path tagging in OSM is not currently suitable for describing the access to the path network. In order to ensure the paths data met the NT needs we worked with OSM UK, and other partners to apply consistent data standards for tagging paths in OSM. This standard is specific to the UK context and enables to differentiation between legal rights of way and permissive paths. 
In working with local staff to review the current representation a number of challenges were identified relating to the official register of paths and the reality on the ground. This is an evolving area and as the project progresses it is expected that other challenges will emerge.
The project set-up an automated process for notifying local staff to changes in their area of knowledge so that changes could can be validated against the reality on the ground.  This work provided an interesting technical and organisational challenge and is a somewhat novel approach for large asset owning organisations seeking to utilise OSM and the power of the crowd to manage asset data.
The initial focus of the project is on the existence of paths and the legal basis for access. Once this is captured additional attributes relating to accessibility, condition will be considered.
Whilst this project is still to be completed, other potential asset types that could be managed in OSM in this way have been identified.
The true value of a UK wide paths inventory will only be realised by having a comprehensive, authoritative and trusted dataset. This cannot be achieved by NT alone. When the project is suitable mature NT will make available any parts of the process to other organisations to encourage adopt a similar approach.