Many hitherto-undocumented rights of way in England are at risk of being permanently lost, claim the Open Spaces Society (OSS).
In response to the government's consultation on the future of English rights of way the OSS, Britain's oldest national conservation body, has called for no implementation of the 2026 cut off for claims to add paths to the definitive map of rights of way until there is in place an efficient system for ensuring that path claims are processed swiftly, and every route which is likely to be a public highway has been claimed.
The society was a member of Natural England's Stakeholder Group which drew up proposals, Stepping Forward, for streamlining the process for claiming paths for the map, on which the consultation is based.
'There are countless paths which, 60 years on, have still not been added to the definitive maps of public paths' Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the OSS.
'Since they are unmapped, these secret paths may be at severe risk.'
'We are deeply concerned that nearly half the time has passed between the introduction of the cut-off date for map claims in 2000 and the cut-off date itself of 2026, yet no progress has been made in claiming these lost highways. Many of them have no doubt been swallowed up by development, and we have the right to use and enjoy them all. It is crucial that we get the maps up to date as soon as possible.'
'We appreciate that local authorities are suffering acute funding cuts, but we are sad that for many of them disproportionate cuts have been borne by the right-of-way service which gives immense value for money. Public paths bring income to the local economy, and provide benefits to people's health and wellbeing. It seems short-sighted to cut this vital service.'
'The Stakeholder Group produced a rare consensus among bodies with differing interests—user groups, landowners and managers and local authorities. We urge the government to implement its recommendations as soon as possible, before more paths are lost forever.' says Kate.
But given this government's enthusiasm for cutting both budgets and 'red tape', what realistic hope is there for obscure rights of way?