The Ramblers are calling for 'citizen geographers' to help find and map every 'missing' path across England and Wales, in a race to protect thousands of miles of historic rights of way before they're lost for good.
An estimated 10,000 miles of old footpaths are thought to be missing from the map in England and Wales, says the walking charity. These historic paths are a significant part of our heritage, yet if they are not claimed by 2026, they risk being lost forever. There are just six years until the Government cut-off date, after which it will no longer be possible to add paths to the definitive map based on historic evidence. If they are not recorded then our right to access them will not be protected for the future.
Through their new Don't Lose Your Way campaign, launched today, the Ramblers is hoping to enlist public help in a bid to find these missing rights of way.
They are is calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts to join the search, using their new online mapping site. The mapping project will give the Ramblers a true picture of the number of paths missing from the map, enabling them to prioritise those which should be researched and applied for ahead of the deadline.
Volunteer Bob Fraser has been leading the search for lost ways in Cornwall. A keen walker all his life, Bob started investigating and making applications for lost paths six years ago, he says:
"Most of my applications have been for paths I have used from time to time and would like to continue to do so, including one which I have used occasionally since I was eight years old.
"Some unrecorded paths are blocked and no longer useable and one application was the result of the threat to build a house across an old road.
"Some of the applications have been made as a result of the delight at discovering, while out walking, an unrecorded path that I had not been aware of. After a public inquiry, a government Inspector recently reported that he believed that my first application path should be added to the map - it's a great feeling to know that it will now be there for generations to come."
Jack Cornish, Ramblers Don't Lose Your Way programme manager, said:
"Our paths are one of our most precious assets. They connect us to our landscapes – ensuring we can explore our towns and cities on foot and enjoy walking in the countryside – and to our history and the people who formed them over the centuries. If we lose our paths, a little bit of our past goes with them. This is our only opportunity to save thousands of miles of rights of way and time is running out.
"Joining our group of citizen geographers is a really easy way to help and by doing so, you'll become part of the movement that puts these paths back on the map."
While some of the missing paths are still in use, others have become overgrown and unusable, but what they all have in common is that they did not make it onto the official definitive maps that councils were required to draw up in the 1950s. It's thought many of these lost rights of way could make useful additions to the existing network, creating new circular walking routes or connecting people more easily to local green spaces, nature and the countryside.
Stuart Maconie, President of the Ramblers, said:
"Thanks to the efforts of organisations like the Ramblers, we have greater access to our landscape and countryside than ever before. But access is only meaningful if people can safely and satisfactorily enjoy the freedom of the open spaces. Public rights of way are our birthright and genuine national treasures. That is why the Ramblers Don't Lose Your Way campaign is so important. We must find and record and walk these sometimes ancient ways and preserve and protect them and the spaces they open up for ourselves and generations of walkers to come."
The new Ramblers Don't Lose Your Way online mapping site divides the map into 150,000 one-kilometre squares and makes it easy to compare historic and current maps side by side. Users simply select a square, do a quick 'spot the difference', mark on any missing paths and click submit. It takes just a few minutes to check a square.
Finding and mapping the paths is only the first step, they say. Once all the lost rights of way are mapped, the Ramblers will be recruiting people to join a team of dedicated volunteers, researching historic evidence and submitting applications to local authorities ahead of the 2026 deadline, to get them restored to the map. The Ramblers is also calling on the Government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.
- Don't Lose Your Way is supported by players of People's Postcode Lottery, who raise money for the Ramblers and other good causes.
- To get started with your search for lost rights of way, visit www.ramblers.org.uk/dontloseyourway and register on the mapping site.
- Download the Ramblers Don't Lose Your Way guide to find out more about how you can get involved.