Walks And Walking – Historic footpaths at risk of being lost forever
A recent report produced by the Ramblers has revealed a serious backlog of paths waiting to be recognised as public footpaths. Any historic paths not officially recorded as public rights of way by 2026 will be extinguished, meaning thousands of well-trodden paths, and other potentially useful routes would be lost forever.
The “Paths in Crisis” report revealed more than 4,000 paths are on a waiting list to be determined as legal rights of way in England and the Ramblers estimates this backlog will take more than 13 years to clear if processed at the current rate.
To help combat this problem the Ramblers has been working with landowners, land managers and local authorities to find ways to make the process for recording paths more efficient, consistent across the country, and less contentious, helping to claim as many historic paths as possible before the 2026 cut-off date.
The group’s recommendations were put forward to Government and have now been included in the draft Deregulation Bill. The second reading of the Bill is due to take place on 3 February.
These proposed changes to rights of way legislation are part of a package of measures which, if taken as a whole, will benefit walkers and landowners alike. The aim is to simplify rights of way legislation, meaning the process for claiming paths will be easier so that they can be added more quickly, helping to clear the substantial backlog.
Ramblers chief executive Benedict Southworth said: “The proposed legislation has been carefully put together by representatives from landowners, paths users, and local government – including ourselves and the NFU – who have worked together for over 3 years to simplify the law around rights of way for the benefit of everyone.
“This carefully crafted solution should make it easier for historic paths to be added to the definitive map – the official record of all public paths. Many of these paths have existed for hundreds of years – they are an ‘inscription on the landscape’ made by generations of people going about their business, and are as much a part of our heritage as our ancient monuments and historic buildings. By adding them to the official map they cannot be blocked off or built upon and are protected for future generations to enjoy.
“Our network of paths provide an important role connecting people to green spaces, allowing them to travel to shops and to schools and are enjoyed by millions each year. This unique network attracts tourists from around the world and provides a vital contribution to the economy – last year alone visitors to England’s outdoors spent £21 billion. We hope that this new legislation will make it easier for our historic paths to get the protection they need so that we can continue to walk and enjoy them.”