This article was authored by Josie Mizen from the Ramblers, a charity devoted to protecting Britain’s footpaths, to keep nature and green spaces accessible to all. The Ramblers will be running a session on their Don’t Lose Your Way campaign – and how you can get involved – towards the end of this month.
Find out more and book onto their upcoming session below…
The Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way campaign has discovered 49,000 miles of lost paths across England and Wales that are at risk of disappearing forever. But finding them is only the first step. Now, we need to save them.
The lay of the land
Paths are our gateway to the outdoors. Winding through the countryside and linking our cities to the nature that surrounds them, they can often feel like enduring elements of our most treasured landscapes. But, for many of our paths, this permanence is an illusion – and the places we love to walk are under threat.
Tens of thousands of miles of paths have been left off the definitive map of public rights of way. Without any official record of their existence, these paths lack legal protection and are vulnerable to closure, obstruction or being lost to time. Protecting a path as a public right of way ensures that we have a right to access it, not just for the present, but for many generations to come. Without this protection, our rights can be removed almost overnight.
Time is running out: the government has put in place a deadline of 2031 to register these paths in England. Any paths not registered by then will automatically be extinguished, and we will no longer be able to save them. But we know change is possible – the Welsh government repealed their deadline after a successful campaign from the Ramblers and other groups.
Paths to equality
Why is it important that we save these lost paths? Put simply, by protecting and restoring these routes, we’re protecting our right to access the outdoors. For many of us, paths are how we get outside: whether we’re city-dwellers using off-road routes to get around or nature-lovers on epic hikes through the mountains.
But access across England and Wales is starkly unequal. Many of the paths that are under threat are in areas that already lack convenient, safe and attractive access to green space. Losing our ability to record lost ways would further widen the divide between those who have easy access to the outdoors and those who do not. Paths connect us to our history, to our landscape and to each other. With the Don’t Lose Your Way campaign, the Ramblers is fighting to protect these connections.
Saving lost paths: One step at a time
The good news is that these paths can still be saved. Anyone can apply to have a lost way legally recorded by finding evidence to prove that the route was historically a public right of way. Even if the route hasn’t been used in decades, if it was once a right of way, it is still a right of way today. The only exception to this is if it has been legally extinguished (sometimes referred to as ‘stopped up’) or diverted.
Ramblers volunteers across England and Wales are currently doing just this: finding evidence in historical sources to suggest that a route was once a public right of way and applying to their local authority to get it saved. It’s a bit like detective work or piecing together a puzzle. But we need lots more people to get involved, to ensure we can save as many paths as possible before the 2031 deadline.
Our Don’t Lose Your Way volunteers work in local teams and take on varied roles, from researching historical evidence in archives, to writing up an application to save a lost way, to supporting teammates with admin tasks, coordination or meeting facilitation. There’s really a role for everyone. And you don’t need any prior experience, as we’re developing a growing library of training and guidance to support you with your journey.
Together, we can protect our access to the outdoors for generations to come.
Find out more about the Don’t Lose Your Way campaign in our exclusive session with the Ramblers…