Over 49,000 miles of historic paths are missing from official maps in England and Wales. The figure has been released today (Monday 2nd November) by walking charity the Ramblers, following a mass 'citizen geography' project launched in February this year - part of their Don't Lose Your Way campaign - in which thousands of volunteers helped to find and record forgotten rights of way before they're lost for good.
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. Many of these lost rights of way could improve the existing network, creating new circular walking routes or connect people more easily to local green spaces, nature and the countryside.
These paths could so easily slip away and it's only when things have gone that people tend to regret what they've lost
If they are not claimed for inclusion on the definitive map, the legal record of rights of way, by January 2026, the public risk losing these routes permanently. But if successfully claimed as rights of way, the missing paths will have the potential to increase the path network in England and Wales by up to a third.
In the most comprehensive survey of lost rights of way to date, thousands of volunteers searched 154,000 one-kilometre squares using a bespoke online mapping site and found that there are nearly five times as many missing paths as the initial estimate of 10,000 miles. But now the project is up against a tight deadline. After the Government cut-off date of January 2026, it will no longer be possible to add paths to the definitive map based on historic evidence, meaning the public right to access them will not be protected for the future.
More than a fifth of the recorded paths were found in the South West of England, with Devon topping the list of counties with the most missing rights of way, at 2,949 miles. North Yorkshire came second with 2,651 miles, while the West Midlands had the highest density of lost paths to potentially be added to the map. The lion's share are in England, while Wales has 7,468 miles.
Jack Cornish, the Ramblers' Don't Lose Your Way programme manager, said: "The amazing response we had from the public to help us search for missing rights of way just goes to show what an important place our path network holds in the hearts of so many of us. By getting the most useful of these paths back on the map, we will not only be saving a little bit of our history, we'll also be able to improve the existing network, creating new and better walking routes, enabling more of us to more easily enjoy the outdoors."
Recent research by the Ramblers has shown that being able to walk to and access nature and green space in their immediate neighbourhood is more important to people than ever following COVID-19, with 60% saying that more or better walking routes near where they live would improve their quality of life.
Jack added: "As we increasingly recognise the huge benefits of being able to easily get outdoors and access nature, saving these paths takes on an even greater urgency. With just five years to go, it's more important than ever to protect this precious asset for generations to come. We are asking the public to help us to save these paths and our Crowdfunder has been generously kickstarted by Cotswold Outdoor, with a contribution of £10,000."
The mapping project has for the first time given the Ramblers a true picture of the scale of missing paths, enabling them to start prioritising those that would be the most useful additions to the definitive map, research the historic evidence and make applications to local authorities to add them to the map. Once legally recorded as rights of way, and added to the definitive map, they are protected by law for people to use and enjoy indefinitely.
John Bainbridge, a path campaigner and Ramblers volunteer, explained why he felt it was important to get involved: "Paths are my passion, but like many walkers I took them for granted in the early days. Walk a path and you are walking in the steps of countless generations, who walked the same way for work or pleasure. Yet these paths could so easily slip away and it's only when things have gone that people tend to regret what they've lost."
"I knew there were quite a lot of paths that weren't on the definitive map but I hadn't realised how many. We've got to get out there, find the historic evidence for these paths, and save them. It's going to be a massive, massive job, and we really need as many people as possible to get involved, in whatever way they can."
The Ramblers is now calling on people to join their team of volunteers, researching historic evidence and submitting applications to local authorities ahead of the 2026 deadline, to get the most useful paths restored to the map. They are also calling on the Government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.
To find out how many lost paths there are in your local area and to make a donation to help save them before they are lost forever, visit www.ramblers.org.uk/DLYW.