According to the Ramblers our footpaths “are one of the country’s most precious assets, hidden in plain sight, and often taken for granted.
“Shaped by our ancestors over centuries, they tell the stories of our landscape, our history and our heritage, they describe how generations before us travelled to the pub, field or shops, and they allow everyone to enjoy the countryside, both on our doorstep and across Britain’s iconic landscapes.
“But an estimated 10,000 miles of paths across England and Wales are at risk of being lost forever, unless we come together to save them.”
All rights of way must be identified before a government deadline of 2026, after which it will no longer be possible to add old paths to the official record.
The walking group Ramblers is calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts to use a new mapping tool to identify missing footpaths.
The online tool divides the country into 150,000 1km squares so users can compare historic and current maps side by side, spot any differences and submit missing paths. Once mapped, Ramblers will recruit volunteers to make applications to restore paths to local authorities before the 2026 deadline.
Under English common law, rights of way do not expire but the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 required all rights of way to be recorded. The Ramblers is calling on the government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.
The preservation of historic rights of way is not only an issue in rural areas. In many built up areas, footpaths between and behind houses that may have been the continuation of ancient rights of way are often vulnerable to being blocked up or taken into gardens.
Coventry Society Secretary, John Payne, has signed up for the online map tool and tried it out for us. John states “It is a very easy tool to use. You choose a map square to examine and are presented with a map of a 1 km square with an up to date OS map and an older OS map from between 1883 and 1913. Both maps are shown, with a slider so that you can move between the two maps. You then mark any footpaths that exist on the older map but not on the newer one. You don’t need to know the area you are checking, but its more interesting if you do.“
You can access the mapping tool here.