Exciting news today! The government have announced they intend to scrap the 2026 deadline!
For more than 20 years this deadline has threatened our rights of way network throughout England and Wales.
The 2026 deadline put tens of thousands of miles of paths at risk, the 1st January 2026 was set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, this deadline would extinguish any public highways that weren’t correctly recorded. These routes would then be lost forever meaning they would have no legal status leaving them vulnerable to being engulfed by development, being overgrown and forgotten and free to obstruction by landowners if they wanted to.
The DEFRA statement said: We will repeal the 2026 cut-off date for recording historic rights of way, as set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, to allow more time for paths to be identified and added to the public rights of way network.
Mark Weston, Director of Access at The British Horse Society, said:
“This is fantastic news for our equestrian community who already have very little off-road access available to them, meaning they have no choice but to travel on the road. We were delighted to see the Welsh government abolish their cut-off date last year for Wales, and this is brilliant news that England will now be following in the same way.”
Sophie Gordon, Cycling UK’s campaigns officer, said:
“It’s fantastic that the Government has listened to calls from lovers of the outdoors to scrap this arbitrary deadline, which put unnecessary pressure on volunteers striving to save their historic paths. English councils have such a backlog of claims to process that they are only adding an average of one historic bridleway a year to the map. We applaud the work of Ramblers and the British Horse Society in campaigning for the 2026 deadline to be repealed.
“However, with over 49,000 miles of potential unrecorded rights of way, relying on the efforts of volunteer researchers to dig through the archives was always unworkable. We need a more proactive focus from Government on how to improve and link up our rights of way network to reflect how they are being used today, to enable more people to explore the countryside – whether by bike, on horseback or on foot.”
The Open Spaces Society’s general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, said:
‘We are greatly relieved that Defra has recognised that the 2026 guillotine is impractical. Much legal and technical work remained to be done before it could be imposed, and this has stalled for some time. We are pleased that Defra has taken this sensible and pragmatic decision.
‘Now, users can carry out their work without a Sword of Damocles hanging over them, and we can ensure that valuable ways are saved. However, it is also important to record them in order that people know where they are and they can be protected from development. Therein lies a serious problem because local authorities have a long backlog of applications.
‘The rights-of-way reform package, agreed by the SWG and included in the Deregulation Act 2015, was intended to expedite path claims and assist local authorities in processing them. We hope that these can be extracted and implemented in any case, to help the applications from building up.
‘We are concerned, however, that Defra proposes instead to focus on implementing measures to give landowners a right to apply for path changes, which could divert hard-pressed local authorities into prioritising proposals which are not in the public interest. We shall be advising and lobbying on these provisions’
Jack Cornish, Head of paths for The Ramblers, said:
“After years of campaigning by the Ramblers, the announcement by the government that they will abolish the 2026 deadline for registering historic paths is 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. And we no longer have the pressure of an arbitrary deadline in either England or Wales that put so many of our rights of way at risk.”