Walking charity the Ramblers has condemned the UK government’s announced U-turn on a commitment to scrapping the deadline to save lost paths, calling it ‘an attack on a national treasure’.
In 2020, as part of the Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way campaign, the public helped discover 49,000 miles of lost paths across England and Wales. These paths are currently not recorded on maps and have no legal protection, and many have become part of private land. Public access to these paths is currently based on historic evidence of use on old maps, and campaigners have been trying to register them again as legal rights of way based upon this evidence.
The UK government had previously placed a 2026 deadline for registering paths as part of a package of reforms applied to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW), but campaigners complained this put too much pressure on local councils to verify and register the paths and in 2022, the government agreed to scrap the deadline. Earlier this month however, the government broke its commitment by reinstating a deadline of 2031.
Jack Cornish, Head of Paths at the Ramblers, said:
‘Our paths are a national treasure, which should be cherished and protected. Last year, when the UK government announced it would scrap the deadline for saving lost paths, it was the right decision. But this U-turn is another broken promise, coming just weeks after it claimed to be committed to ensuring everyone is within a 15-minute walk of green space.
‘We have amazing landscapes and countryside in England, and our paths help us explore them safely and responsibly. They open up opportunities for communities to get outdoors and connect with nature. This decision by ministers is inexcusable.’
The Welsh government has already taken action to remove any deadline for recording lost paths in Wales, but the reinstatement of the deadline in England threatens access to the remaining 41,000 miles of unregistered pathways. Public access to any paths not registered by the 2031 date could be lost forever.
Over 140,000 miles of public paths criss-cross England and Wales. This network has evolved over centuries with many paths dating back to medieval times, linking villages, hamlets, roads and towns. Paths in England describe how generations before us travelled to the pub, field or shops and reflect the changing patterns of human interaction with the landscape. Nowadays, they serve as a means of passage for horse riders, walkers and cyclists and access to these paths and the green spaces they often lead to has well-documented benefits for mental and physical health.
There are currently over 600 volunteers working to register historic rights of way in England, but with a backlog of more than 4,000 applications, the deadline once again increases pressure on already under-resourced local authorities. The process of registering paths begins with prioritising the most important ones, after that an application is built for each one based on historical evidence.
‘Unless the government rethinks this decision or puts the necessary funding in place to make it possible for paths to be researched, applied for and processed within the time limit they’ve imposed, historic paths will be lost for future generations,’ says Jack.
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