***This blog relates only to routes in England and Wales***
Could your local ramble, hack or cycle route be lost forever in the next 5 years? It’s possible if it isn’t recorded properly that it could be lost after the 1st January 2026.
There are an estimated 140,000 miles of rights of way in England and Wales with roughly 10% of these under recorded with lower rights and around 10,000 miles of routes missing completely. Routes must be correctly recorded on the definitive map by 2026, this means that we need to check that the routes we use and love are not only recorded but recorded as the right status. Many routes are under recorded as footpaths when there is historic evidence for higher rights.
The Definitive Map came about because of The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. This Act meant that local authorities were required to keep an official record of their Public Rights of Way, which created the definitive map and statement.
These maps were drawn up by a range of people from parish councils to Scout groups, the people drawing them had no training so many maps are still inaccurate to this day and require a legal order to amend them. Another issue is that landowners were often sat on parish councils, this meant that they made sure that routes across their land weren’t included on the definitive maps and statements.
This is why there are still anomalies today, for example dead end routes to parish boundaries where each parish had different opinions of the route when drawing up the maps. It also explains where routes change status randomly, more often than not again at parish boundaries. Check out a full history of the definitive map on the Ramblers website here.
We can all get involved today to protect our much loved routes, the first step is to check if they’re on the map at all and, if they are, that they are the right status.
We do this by checking an OS map, checking that the route is shown as a Footpath, Bridleway, Restricted Byway or Byway Open To All Traffic as shown on the OS keys below.
If your route is shown as the correct status then you can rest easy that it should be safe after 2026, if it’s not shown at all or not as the right status (or you want to be absolutely sure about the route that you did find recorded) then you will need to compare the OS map to the definitive map for the parish.
The definitive map and statement for each parish is held by the Local Highway Authority (usually County Council) these maps are either scanned copies or an online version of these maps. This is the legal record of routes so will show its legal status and its legal alignment.
These maps can look very different to modern OS maps as the working copy of definitive maps has either been digitised by the Local Authority on their GIS mapping or is still the original map from the mid 1900’s.
If the route is missing or not shown as the right status then a legal order is required to amend the map and statement called a Definitive Map Modification Order. There are two means of DMMOs. These are either a historic claim or a user evidence claim, the historic claims are the important ones for the 2026 cut off date.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 introduced the 1st January 2026 as a cut off date for adding all historic routes to the definitive map. Routes that existed pre 1949, which are not recorded correctly on the definitive map, will be extinguished in just over 5 years from today.
Check out this weekends blogs about how you can get involved by submitting a DMMO to protect your unrecorded/under recorded routes.