A SMASHING opportunity has arisen for anyone with a keen interest in rights of way and access to the countryside to get involved with the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The independent Yorkshire Dales Access Forum provides guidance and advice on ways to improve and manage public access, and also looks at opportunities for open air recreation.

It also plays an important role in advising more generally on matters of recreation and access across the thousands of kilometres of footpaths, bridleways and byways in the national park.

And of the 18 member forum, there are currently four vacancies.

Rachel Briggs, the authority’s access development officer, said following the extension of the park boundary in August, there was now 841 square miles of very special countryside, covering parts of North Yorkshire and Cumbria and Lancashire.

“The Forum’s job is to work with individuals and organisations that live and work in the national park and use or visit the area for leisure and enjoyment," she said.

“The members represent interests ranging from land management and agriculture to local business and outdoor recreation and their job is to advise on ways to improve open air-recreation in this special place."

Members also take part in access consultations on a range of documents and strategies issued both at local and national level - such as area's local development plans.

Skipton councillor Robert Heseltine, a Craven District Council appointee member on the national park, and its champion for development management, said an ideal member of the forum was someone with a love of the countryside with an interest in maintaining and improving the public rights of way.

He said from the birth of the national park, it had always been a priority to make sure its rights of way were kept in the best possible condition in order to maintain its visitor numbers and ensure the park remained a magnet for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers.

"We have a good section of users in the national park, horse riders, walkers and even on motorised vehicles, where they are allowed. Definitive maps need to be kept up to date and rights of way maintained, " he said.

The Forum meets three times a year, but members also help through a variety of advisory groups that meet regularly to consider specific issues in more detail and report back accordingly.

Forum Chairman Alistair Thompson said: “There are 86 forums in England and they aim to improve access in the countryside and to help resolve potential conflicts between the people who own and work the land and those who use it for recreation. For that reason, it’s important that the members have a range of interests that enables the forum to represent a balanced view.”

In carrying out its functions, the forum must also have regard to the needs of land management and the desirability of conserving the natural beauty of the area for which it is established, including the flora, fauna and geological features of the area.

The deadline for applications is November 17. To find out more about applying, contact Rachel Briggs on 01969 652363 or by email at Rachel.briggs@yorkshiredales.org.uk or via the website yorkshiredales.org.uk/ydaf .