Rights of way have been built up over hundreds of years, they are an important part of our historical landscape, and once they are lost, they are lost forever. It is important to put them back on the map and not lose these rights and access that people have fought hard to secure. By protecting these routes at risk, we are safeguarding our landscape and our right to access it for the future. Many of these rights of way will also help to create a better rights of way network, linking up other routes, completing circular routes or resolving dead ends.
After 1 January 2026 we won’t be able to use historical evidence to add rights of way to the definitive map (the legal record of rights of way). This date was set in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) and was intended to bring a level of certainty for landowners. Initially government committed to supporting this work directly but as that hasn’t happened organisations like the Ramblers, The British Horse Society, The Trails Trust and The Open Spaces Society are stepping up and helping put these paths back on the map.
Why is there a cut off date? the‘Closing’ of definitive maps to historic paths
1998 The Countryside Commission (later the Countryside Agency, now Natural England) proposes that paths which rely on historical evidence to show they exist should no longer be added to definitive maps. It says there should be a notice period and staggered deadlines to introduce the change, as well as money to research missing paths, but that the maps should be ‘closed’ within 10 years.
1999 The Countryside Commission suggests the Government states its intention of closing definitive maps to further changes based on historical evidence, but only if historic paths are researched to a high standard. It also says the Government must give highway authorities and volunteers enough resources to carry out the research. It recommends it explores the scale and cost of researching and recording missing paths and that it prepares a plan for the work so that completion dates for the maps can be set.
1999 The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions publishes a consultation paper which takes forward many of the Countryside Commission’s recommendations, in particular that any claim for a path based solely on historical evidence should be invalid ten years from the start of new legislation.
2000 The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 officially introduces the cut-off date for adding historic paths to definitive maps but opposition from the Ramblers and others means the period before the cut-off date is extended from 10 to 25 years. This means paths (footpaths and bridleways) which existed before 1949 and which aren’t recorded on definitive maps by 31 December 2025 will be extinguished.