UK Government set to crush our right to use up to 41,000 miles of paths across England

26 October 2023

Defra ministers will confirm their plans to impose a cut-off date of 2031 for lost paths to be registered as legally protected public rights of way. This is a crushing blow to England’s much-loved path network, the gateway to the outdoors for most people, by the very same government that purports to be committed to ensuring everyone is within a 15-minute walk of green space. 

At a time when we should be unlocking more access to the outdoors for the health and wellbeing benefits associated with spending time in nature*, this devastating reversal of an earlier commitment by Defra to completely abolish any deadline is sadly evidence that this government continues to undervalue people's access to nature, and in particular, the path network.  


Timeline of events 

In 2020, the Ramblers embarked on a mission to retain lost paths across England and Wales; rallying volunteers to identify over 49,000 miles of potentially lost paths through their Don’t Lose Your Way campaign. 41,000 miles of these paths are in England. Fast forward two years and the UK government announced its commitment to abolishing the 2026 deadline to get lost paths legally recognised in England**. This was followed one year later by the UK government reneging on that commitment, reinstating a new – albeit longer – deadline, to 2031; before the latest blow was announced today, confirming plans to make the deadline of 2031 law in November 2023.


The Ramblers launch the Don’t Lose Your Way campaign through which thousands of members of the public identify 41,000 miles of lost paths across England. 


Volunteers undertake the painstaking work of delving into the archives for evidence to save lost paths  

February 2022  

The UK government announces it a commitment to abolishing the 2026 deadline to get lost paths legally recognised in England*. 

March 2023 

The UK government announces U-turn, reinstating a deadline but with a five-year extension to 2031. The Ramblers steps up campaign to abolish any deadline. 

October 2023 

The UK government confirms plan to make deadline of 2031 law in November 2023. 


The wellbeing value of our paths 

Last month, extensive new research commissioned by the Ramblers and written by the New Economics Foundation, found that usage of the path network in England has an estimated wellbeing value of £1.8 billion, demonstrating that our paths hold the key to significant physical and mental health benefits.  One key way to improve access to nature for populations across England is to reinstate rights of way that have been used for generations by legally recording and protecting lost paths. 



Defra ministers and shadow Defra ministers may not be aware of the impact this decision could have right on their very own doorsteps.  Data from the Ramblers shows that the authorities in which their constituencies sit could lose hundreds of miles of paths: 


DEFRA ministers (England) 

table of contents


Shadow DEFRA ministers (England) 

table of contents

Jack Cornish, Head of Paths at the Ramblers says: 

“We have amazing landscapes and countryside in England, and our paths help us spend time walking in nature which is fantastic for our health and wellbeing.   The UK government needs to put in place a strategy, legislation and targets to provide a long-term focus and momentum in improving access to nature. Instead it is actively choosing to put at risk thousands of miles of paths, preventing more people from enjoying the outdoors. It's baffling.” 

The Ramblers currently has more than 900 volunteers working hard to do the research required to save as many miles of lost paths as possible and is training more volunteers weekly on how to put together the complex evidence required to save these paths.  But the Ramblers believe there is already a backlog of more than 10,000 applications waiting to be processed due to lack of government resources.  

* According to new research commissioned by the Ramblers and written by the New Economics Foundation:  

** Earlier this year, the Welsh government started the process of scrapping the deadline for recording lost paths in Wales with consultation on the draft Statute Law (Repeals) (Wales) Bill 

A family of mum and dad and two children  in a long grass field look on into the distance

Ramblers research reveals the wellbeing value of our paths

Paths hold the key to significant physical and mental health benefits. But communities that would benefit most from greater access to nature are missing out.


Don’t Lose Your Way – Saving lost paths

We have searched England and Wales and found over 49,000 miles of paths that could be lost forever. Time is running out to save them for future generations. 

A group of people walking together down a path between trees

Expand the freedom to roam

Help us to expand the freedom to roam. It is one of the biggest things we can do to increase access to the outdoors for everyone.