The Ramblers is calling on the public to join the search to find and map thousands of miles of lost historic paths across England and Wales, with the launch of a new Don’t Lose Your Way online mapping site today [11 February].
An estimated 10,000 miles of historic paths – the equivalent of the distance from London to Sydney – are thought to be missing from the map in England and Wales. These historic paths are a vital part of our heritage, describing how people have travelled over the centuries, yet if they are not claimed by 2026, we risk losing them forever.
We want to build a movement of ‘citizen geographers’ to help find all these missing rights of way before it’s too late.
Join the search
We’re calling on walkers, historians and map enthusiasts everywhere to log-on to our mapping website to help us find, map and save all the rights of way that have gone missing from the map.
The new mapping tool divides the maps of England and Wales into 154,000 one-kilometre squares, which users can select to compare historic and current maps of the area side-by-side. Simply select a square, do a quick ‘spot the difference’, mark on any missing paths and click submit. It takes just a few minutes to check a square.
Jack Cornish, Ramblers Don’t Lose Your Way programme manager, said: “Our paths are one of our most precious assets. They connect us to our landscapes – ensuring we can explore our towns and cities on foot and enjoy walking in the countryside – and to our history and the people who formed them over the centuries. If we lose our paths, a little bit of our past goes with them. This is our only opportunity to save thousands of miles of rights of way and time is running out.
“Joining our group of citizen geographers is a really easy way to help and by doing so, you’ll become part of the movement that puts these paths back on the map for generations to come.”
While some ‘missing’ paths are still in use, others have become overgrown and unusable, but what they all have in common is that they did not make it onto the official definitive maps that councils were required to draw up in the 1950s. Many of these lost rights of way could make useful additions to the existing network, creating new circular walking routes or connecting people more easily to local green spaces, nature and the countryside.
There are just six years until the Government cut-off date of 2026, when it will no longer be possible to add paths to the definitive map based on historic evidence, meaning our right to access them will not be protected for the future. The mapping project will give the Ramblers a true picture of the number of paths missing from the map, enabling them to prioritise those which should be researched and applied for ahead of the deadline.
Archaeologist and TV presenter Mary-Ann Ochota is supporting the campaign. She explained: “I feel healthier and happier when I’ve walked, it’s the perfect tonic for busy, modern life. But to do it I rely on paths. Many of those paths are routes with deep histories, telling the stories of how our ancestors travelled about the land – to market, to church, across their farms, or even pilgrims making the journey of a lifetime. The Ramblers Don’t Lose Your Way campaign to save those paths missing from the map is really important and we all need to get involved.”
Finding and mapping the paths is only the first step. Once all the lost rights of way are mapped, the Ramblers will be recruiting people to join a team of dedicated volunteers, researching historic evidence and submitting applications to local authorities ahead of the 2026 deadline, to get them restored to the map. The Ramblers is also calling on the Government to extend the deadline for registering historic paths by at least five years.
Start searching for lost rights of way and find out more about how you can get involved.