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The future for protecting right of way as 2026 deadline to register historic paths is dropped

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By Jack Cornish, Head of Paths for the Ramblers

Five years ago, I walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Over four months I saw the importance of the paths that connect villages and travel through fields across the length of the country. I joined the Ramblers to help protect those paths.

Walkers on a drove road (Ramblers)
Walkers on a drove road (Ramblers)

So, after four years working on the Ramblers Don’t Lose Your Way campaign, the UK Government’s announcement that it intends to scrap the 2026 cut-off date for registering historic paths in England comes as a huge relief, for us and our team of fantastic volunteers who have been racing to save thousands of miles of rights of way at risk of being lost forever.

Over the past two years, in particular, walking has really kept me going. A way to connect with nature and escape the anxieties of the world. I’m lucky to have some great parks on my doorstep, but I know not everyone is so fortunate. Some of our most deprived communities are the least likely to have access to safe and pleasant places to walk; now it seems more important than ever to change that.

Threemilestone path in Cornwall (Ramblers)
Threemilestone path in Cornwall (Ramblers)

Restoring even a fraction of the paths missing from the map could make a real difference. We want to find the most useful and important ones – the paths that will improve the existing path network, creating new circular walking routes or make better connections to green spaces and our amazing landscapes for people who currently can’t easily reach them.

Redditch Holloway (Ramblers)
Redditch Holloway (Ramblers)

The removal of the 2026 deadline gives us some breathing space, alleviates the rush of having to research and apply for a potential 41,000 miles of unrecorded rights of way in England be added to the map in less than four years. But we can’t relax yet.

Now we’ve had a celebratory moment, it’s back to saving these paths. Each path needs careful research and applications to be made so that they can be added to the map – and that’s an enormous amount of work.

We’re getting on with prioritising the missing paths. Our dedicated volunteers continue to research the history of the paths and submit applications to their local authorities. But with thousands of miles of paths to investigate – digging through archive maps and documents – it’s not quick work. We’d love to get more volunteers on board to help put these paths back on the map, and on the ground, so they can be accessible to everyone.

Jack Cornish (Ramblers)
Jack Cornish (Ramblers)

And once the applications are made, the next part of the work falls to local authorities. We know that many local authorities want to improve paths and support walking locally. But after a decade of austerity, local authority budgets are often squeezed to the point where even maintaining existing paths is a struggle. Without better support and funding for local authorities, the backlog of applications which could lead to improved walking routes will take many years to process. We want to work with local authorities to put these paths back on the map, open up our historic path network and get more people out walking.

By abolishing the 2026 deadline, the Government has acknowledged the importance of walking and spending time in nature, but they can’t stop there.

People who walk more are healthier and happier and communities where people walk are better connected communities. Well maintained paths and good connections to green spaces encourage people to walk more. Supporting initiatives like Rambler Wellbeing Walks helps people get walking, tackles growing issues like loneliness and can have a long-term impact for social care. That’s something worth investing in.

To find out more about Ramblers Don’t Lose Your Way campaign and how you can get involved, visit here.

If you think a job in Rights of Way is for, click here to see the current vacancies. 

Updated information October 2023:

Despite announcing in 2022 that it wanted to remove the deadline to register lost paths, the government has more recently announced it would be implementing a deadline of 2031. The Ramblers campaign to claim lost rights of way continues: Don’t Lose Your Way – Saving lost paths - Ramblers

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Posted On: 20/04/2022

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