Is there anywhere better to walk than Monmouthshire?
We have a proud history here: the Wye Tour inspired artists such as Turner and Wordsworth.
We have the river and canal walks, the coast path, the Offas Dyke Path, and of course our own Bannau, the Sugarloaf, Skirrid and Blorenge and more.
With more than 1,000 miles of footpaths and rights of way and hundreds of bridges, we would struggle to look after the network without volunteers and responsible landowners who keep the paths clear and stiles and gates mended.
We do struggle; there are too many paths that have had to be closed for safety, or that are awaiting improvements for public access, to make it easier for those who are less nimble to enjoy the countryside. So, I really celebrate a new partnership with Ramblers Cymru, which will bring in their expertise and resources to work with three new local areas and Community Councils have been invited to put themselves forward.
We need to educate everyone, locals and visitors, to respect the countryside; to keep to paths, close gates, keep dogs on leads and take their litter home. The partnerships we have between schools and farmers strengthens that message.
Our authority has many statutory duties and services, but there are other areas of life in Monmouthshire where our job is to support community action, to work with partners and to enable volunteers to make a difference.
An example is the Wales in Bloom competitions.
Co-ordinated by town councils, volunteers have made urban areas more beautiful showcasing how green pockets can bring us all joy all year round. Monmouthshire County Council has been glad to support this through the hard work of the Grounds Maintenance and Countryside teams, but here it is our job to provide the frame and not the picture.
I have been meeting all the town councils in turn to discuss how town and county can work better in partnership, and we have also been discussing how we can support the many volunteer-run community buildings in Monmouthshire: places where so much of the fun in life happens and are increasingly important when life is hard.
While the council’s financial resources remain very limited, I am bolstered by the knowledge that our county is rich in people with skills, passion and energy and it is a privilege to work alongside them.