In 2026 any footpaths not recorded on official mapping could be lost forever. Cicerone and the Open Spaces Society need your help to ensure they remain in use. The Open Spaces Society has launched its Find Our Way fund, to support its work against the clock to save our historic public-paths.
The government has ruled that many unrecorded pre-1949 routes will be extinguished on 1 January 2026 unless applications have been made for them to be added to the definitive (official) maps.
The ancient legal maxim, ‘once a highway always a highway’, will no longer apply after 2026. Unrecorded paths, even if they are still in use, could be lost forever.
As walkers and all those who love the outdoors, this is where we hope you can help!
Over the next nine years we must claim those paths that, with the backing of historic evidence, we believe to be public highways; if we do not claim them most will be lost for ever.
So, what needs to be done, and how can I help?
Before claiming a path, evidence needs to be collected from many different places – enclosure awards, tithe maps, Finance Act maps and other official documents, none of which can be retrieved by a few keystrokes on the computer. They must be examined in national and local record offices, in estate archives and among parish and community council papers—wherever the trail leads. Only then can a claim for highway status be submitted to the ‘surveying authority’, ie the county or unitary council.
This sounds complicated, how can I find out more?
Locating and understanding this kind of evidence requires skill, which is why the Open Spaces Society are running training days *(crash courses in finding and understanding the documents) for all volunteers. The aim is to equip participants to get cracking immediately on evidence for claims.
If you can’t get to go on a training day then these three short articles on the Open Spaces website will help you develop a good systematic approach.
There are three categories of path that are particularly vulnerable because we will tend to assume they are correctly recorded and so no one will make an application for their retention. These are:
(1) Ordnance Survey maps showing paths as ‘other routes with public access’ (ORPAs). ORPAs are shown with green blobs on the OS Explorer maps and red blobs on the Landranger series.
(2) definitive map anomalies
(3) routes straddling local authority boundaries.
I know of a path I think may be under threat, but I don’t have the time to research it myself, so how can I propose it so that it can be checked and submitted?
If you want to help but really don’t have time to do any research yourself, then we suggest that you use an old Ordnance Survey Explorer map for noting any routes you find, make good notes and take photographs of the path, (whether it is in constant use, or gated and padlocked / ploughed over / fenced off), and then send as much information as you can to the Open Spaces Society.
Details are here.
‘With less than ten years remaining before many unclaimed routes will be lost for ever, we need to gear up our campaign to record them. We can all apply for paths to be added to the map, we just need to gather the evidence that they are public highways. Otherwise, routes which we have taken for granted, and which could be of value to future generations, will be lost for ever.’Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society