politics

Ramblers must up their step count to save 49,000 miles of historic byways


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They have been asked to record unmarked public footpaths going back centuries before a Government deadline expires on New Year’s Day, 2026 – and that means the equivalent of walking nearly twice round the world

Ramblers must up their step count if 49,000 miles of historic British byways are not to be lost forever.

They have been asked to record unmarked public footpaths going back centuries before a Government deadline expires on New Year’s Day, 2026.

And that is the equivalent of walking nearly twice round the world

That would mean from Monday the walkers charity will need to identify 33 miles of rights of way a day for the next four years if the public is to continue to have access to them.

Realising the impossibility of the task, the Government is now considering extending the expiry date for the work to be completed.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “Deferring the 2026 cut-off date for registration of historic rights of way is a possibility.

“However, we must weigh this against the desire for certainty around where rights of way exist which the cut-off date will bring.”

The task set for ramblers was to find public footpaths in use before 1949 missed when the last official maps were drawn up 70 years ago.

Ramblers programme manager Jack Cornish said: “We have a huge job ahead.

“We are now racing against time to identify the most important and useful of these paths, collect the necessary historic evidence and submit applications before the cut-off.”

Tory MP Siobhan Baillie said: “We need a revised date. Legally recording all rights of way does not look possible by 2026. We must get it right.”

The South West has most missing walkways with 9,200 miles and the North East the least with 2,000 miles.

Those which are not registered with local authorities by 2026 would no longer be considered as rights of way.

Thousands of volunteers set out to pore over old maps, historical records, ancient photographs and gather testimony from those who had walked the routes for decades.

They discovered there were nearly five times as many missing paths as their original 10,000 mile estimate.

Some are overgrown and unusable while others are being walked constantly without being officially recorded.

And it is now a battle with the clock to provide the evidence local authorities need for inclusion in future maps.

Ms Pow said much of the Whitehall work on the project had been hampered by Brexit preparations and other legislation taking priority over new rights of way laws.

Mr Cornish said: “We understand that Brexit and the pandemic caused delays.

“But we are now calling on the government to extend the deadline to ensure we can protect these routes for generations to come.”

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