Countdown begins to prevent loss of thousands of footpaths and alleyways in UK

Ed Jones ed at
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 <>. 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 
<>, 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 
<>, the 
British Horse Society 
<>, andThe Ramblers, 
all have volunteers with expert knowledge.
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