“People counters” installed on Weavers Way, Marriott’s Way and Paston Way footpaths

North Norfolk's green and pleasant landscapes have long offered walkers the chance to escape modern life - but now 21st-century technology is about to reach into the most rural corners of the district.

Norfolk County Council has begun installing discreet 'people counters' along a footpath network of some 400 miles stretching from Great Yarmouth to King's Lynn, Cromer to Thetford.

A total of 21 pyroelectric infrared sensors, costing �2,000 each, are being placed at strategic points along some of the nine footpaths which make up the Norfolk Trails.

The total will include three sensors on the 26-mile Marriott's Way, from Norwich to Aylsham, four between Great Yarmouth and Cromer on the 61-mile Weavers Way, and two on the 20-mile Paston Way linking North Walsham and Cromer.

The council says the count, and associated surveys, are a long-term investment and it hopes data gleaned will help boost rural businesses, bring people and their money into villages, and enable experts to track and adapt to changing patterns of leisure activity.

Similar devices set up several years ago along the The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, which together form one of Britain's 15 national trails, recorded a 46pc increase in the number of walkers from April to September 2009, compared to the same period the previous year.

The rise coincided with the start of the economic slump and may have reflected a surge in the number of people holidaying at home and looking for free leisure pursuits, according to Tim Lidstone-Scott, the county's senior trails officer.

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The information had enabled officers to liaise with businesses along walking routes, including bed and breakfast and public transport providers, so that they could adapt their services.

The new devices, hidden inside wooden posts, will record the time and number of people who pass through an invisible infrared beam across the path.

Survey boxes stocked with forms will be placed near some of the posts. Walkers will be asked to fill in and return them, giving more specific details of their outings.

Last October the council's cabinet caused controversy when it voted to save �578,000 by stopping the pro-active cutting of Norfolk's public rights of way network, calling instead on walkers and parish councils to first report overgrown paths.

But Mr Lidstone-Scott said there was nothing negative to fear about the people count and survey.

'Exactly the opposite,' he said. 'It's about evidencing that where we are spending money is worthwhile. We know that the pay-back into the local economy is about 20:1 compared to what we put in. It's an argument for continuing to invest in the local routes. It allows us to further understand who our customers are and what they want.'

? Volunteers are needed to help re-stock the survey boxes and input data results on-line. Email: helen.timson@norfolk.gov.uk.