Campaigners are celebrating a victory in the battle for public access to the countryside, after the government agreed to cancel a deadline to register forgotten footpaths.
Walkers and horse riders had been given until 1 1月 2026 to apply to save any rights of way through private land that existed before 1949 but did not appear on official maps, after which they would lose the opportunity to add them to maps.
A clause in right-to-roam legislation introduced by the Labour government in 2000 stated that any pre-1949 paths must be recorded by 2026 to continue to carry public rights. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act contained a provision that will extinguish those rights if the paths have not been properly recorded.
に 2015 campaigners including Ramblers raised the alarm about the need to register the paths, with Dr Phil Wadey, a space satellite scientist and vice-chair of the conservation body Open Spaces Society, telling the Guardian: “These paths are all over the place. A lot of them are actually paths that are in everyday use. They are not hidden. We are not talking about paths that have fallen into disuse. There are actually people walking or riding or cycling along them. But they are not on the official map, so they will vanish if applications are not made … People won’t realise until they are gone and then it will be too late.”
The deadline had already been abolished in Wales.
The announcement was made by Ramblers, which campaigns for public access to the countryside, after its representatives received assurances from the government in a stakeholder meeting on Wednesday. The charity said it had identified 41,000 miles of potentially missing rights of way to be investigated and applied for in England.
But it was not just countryside rights of way that were at risk. Experts have previously told the Guardian that urban alleyways were also at risk, with shortcuts behind houses under threat from homeowners extending their gardens, or fencing-off paths that had existed for decades.
Jack Cornish, head of paths for Ramblers, called the U-turn “a cause for celebration”. “This welcome decision means that, with the help of our brilliant volunteers, we’ll be able to make sure the most important and useful paths are added back to the map and protected for future generations,” Cornish said.
“As well as being an important part of our history, our path network makes a huge difference to our health and wellbeing. We’re more aware than ever of how good it is for us to be able to easily get outdoors into green spaces, and this is a step in the right direction for the government towards making it a reality for more people to enjoy the benefits of walking and connecting with nature.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “Public access is key to connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing.
“The government has decided to take forward a streamlined package of measures in order to help enhance the way that rights of way are recorded and managed.”