Countdown begins to prevent loss of thousands of footpaths and alleyways in UK
ed at acrewoods.net
Tue Dec 29 09:05:33 GMT 2015
Thousands of footpaths, alleys and bridleways across the UK face being
lost forever within a decade under a clause in right-to-roam
legislation, campaigners have warned.
From 1 January, walkers, horseriders – and even those taking regular
shortcuts to the shops in towns – will have 10 years to apply to save
any rights of way that existed before 1949 but do not appear on official
Experts on land access rights say the clock is ticking to save routes
that many people take for granted as public highways but that do not
appear on official records.
The consequences of failing to act could be far-reaching, said Dr Phil
Wadey, a space satellite scientist and vice-chair of the conservation
body Open Spaces Society <http://www.oss.org.uk/>. Gathering the
evidence and applying for paths to be recorded was “a painstaking and
lengthy” business, warned Wadey, who raised the prospect of farmers
taking down stiles and putting up fences, and field gates being locked.
“On 1 January 2026, old footpaths and bridleways that are not recorded
on the councils’ official Definitive Map of Rights of Way may cease to
carry public rights,” warned Wadey, the co-author of Rights of Way:
Restoring the Record, a guide on how to collect evidence and make an
application to register a right of way
He said urban alleyways were of greatest concern, with shortcuts behind
houses under threat from homeowners extending their gardens, or fencing
off paths that have existed for decades.
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.
This could affect popular shortcuts on many housing developments; even
if the homes were built after 1949, the path around which they were
constructed could have existed for longer and so be at risk. The same
applies to “desire lines”, or well-worn informal direct routes.
Given these are unrecorded paths, numbers are unknown, but campaigners
believe potentially thousands are at risk. Wadey has made some 400
applications, called definitive map modification orders, or DMMOs, in
Hertfordshire alone, including 30 for unrecorded urban alleyways in one
district of Bushey.
“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,” said Wadey. “People
won’t realise until they are gone and then it will be too late”.
Tom Ferwins, policy and advocacy manager of Ramblers
<http://www.ramblers.org.uk>, said the walking charity was scaling up
its training of volunteers and running workshops offering advice and
guidance on how to make DMMO applications.
Time was of the essence, he said, as cash-strapped local authorities
faced huge backlogs in processing applications. “We have a rights of way
network which is really historic and has been around for hundreds and
hundreds of years,” he said. “We do take an awful lot for granted.”
Ferwins said it was essential to legally protect that network of routes
to preserve “history, culture, heritage, convenience, and a way of
making your life happier and healthier”.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed it was
working on secondary legislation and guidance to ensure applications for
routes would still be considered if an application were pending after
the 2026 cut-off.
Wadey said: “The real worry is [about] rights of way that people are
using every day – suddenly they will stop having that right, which means
the landowner could close it at any instant. Some old roads, typically
unmetalled green lanes, might disappear, as well as your urban alleyways.”
There were lots of instances where the basic route was recorded, but
because of changes or inconsistent records, there might be a 20ft gap
where a footpath should join a road, Wadey said. “And if you lose that
gap, somebody can put a fence across it, quite lawfully.”
Anyone wishing to register a right of way can seek advice from their
local authority, the Open Spaces Society
British Horse Society
<http://www.bhs.org.uk/access-and-bridleways/2026>, andThe Ramblers,
all have volunteers with expert knowledge.
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