What’s a core path?
Core paths are key routes that form part of the wider path network that together cover around 20,000km of Scotland – almost half-way around the world. Core path plans were drawn up by local authorities and national parks after consultation with communities, land managers and path users, as a requirement of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The plans reflect local priorities with the aim of giving the public reasonable access, and they should provide for the needs of all users – walkers, cyclists, horse riders and even canoeists, since some core paths are on rivers. Core path plans can’t be amended without a process of public consultation.
But we have fantastic rights of access in Scotland, so why are core paths needed?
We’re very proud of our world-class rights to access most land – and inland water. These were established following years of strong campaigning by Ramblers Scotland and our fellow recreation bodies, and mean that people have a right to access the vast majority of land, even when there is no trail, as long as they do so responsibly.
However, paths are very important too! They help more people exercise their rights in an enjoyable and responsible way, especially in lowland areas around farmland. Paths give people more confidence to get outdoors and explore places they don’t know, so they can enjoy the health and social benefits that brings.
Paths also help farmers manage land in ways that supports public access, as they are more aware of where people are likely to be. Core paths in particular can allow visitors and locals to find out about useful routes, benefiting from the combined knowledge of local communities, user groups, land managers, access staff and access forums.
Core paths provide an extra layer of protection, as local authorities have powers to maintain and promote core paths (although there’s no legal obligation to do so) and keep them free from obstructions.
What’s the Ramblers doing to get core paths on the map?
Core paths are not all currently shown on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, or highlighted in any specific colour, even though that was the intention when they were drawn up.
We think all core paths should be designated and highlighted on OS maps, as they give certainty to both those enjoying the outdoors and to land managers – and are a big help when planning routes. They also help community path groups to promote local networks, as they don’t need to negotiate new routes when they make use of core paths.
In 2017, more than 1,100 people pledged support for our campaign to get all core paths shown on OS maps, helping us secure national media coverage, meetings at Holyrood and interesting discussions with decision makers at the OS.
In early 2018, we were pleased that Scottish Natural Heritage published the first-ever map showing all core paths together for the first time - but that's just an interim measure. We continue to campaign for many more of Scotland's paths to be shown on digital and printed maps through our Out There campaign.
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But my local core path is poorly maintained, so why should it be on the map?
While we’re working hard to see all Scottish core paths added to OS maps, we recognise that in the meantime some need maintained, improved and protected.
Currently, most people aren’t aware of core paths, because they simply aren’t available in a single, easy-to-access format. If they were designated on OS maps, it would be much easier for people to let local authorities know where and when core paths need to be improved.
Showing core paths on maps would build greater awareness and scrutiny of them among residents and path users, and help recreational bodies make an even stronger case for investment in Scotland’s path network.
Why are all paths in England & Wales on maps, but not in Scotland?
Historically, not all Scottish paths have appeared on maps, unlike in England and Wales. OS have been able to show all paths on maps in England and Wales since 1949, when rights of way gained legal protection by being shown on ‘definitive maps’ held by local authorities. This legislation didn’t apply in Scotland and over the years, without formal protection, many of Scotland’s rights of way were ploughed up, built on or shrouded by vegetation. Since these paths were only rarely protected in law, it was difficult to defend them. In addition, some landowners didn’t want maps to show paths crossing their land. So although some paths are shown as geographical features, many Scottish paths aren’t shown at all.
What’s next for core paths?
While core paths are very important, less than 5% of the network is on newly-created paths, so there has been little growth in the overall path network since 2003. To encourage more sustainable journeys and help the government deliver its aim to get more people walking more often, we need to expand the network over the years to come. This means ensuring that any missing links are put in place and that the network is meaningful and more coherent across different local authority areas. We’d also like to see core paths properly maintained and promoted.
And what about other paths?
Scotland still has a very low density of paths in lowland areas, especially when compared to England and Wales. Paths are particularly important to form connections between local communities, giving safe, pleasant routes for people to use for transport or recreation. We continue to call for new paths to be created and more investment in extending our path networks - including through our Out There campaign.
Scottish Natural Heritage - Local path networks and core paths
Scottish Outdoor Access Code – core path plans
Updated May 2018