Walking enthusiasts have uncovered nearly 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of footpaths that are missing from official maps in England and Wales, putting them at risk of being lost forever, according to The Ramblers.
The Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way campaign found 49,138 miles of rights of way missing from the definitive map in England and Wales.
In total, the volunteers discovered 49,138 miles of historic footpaths – enough to stretch around the world nearly twice – were not marked on official maps.
More than a fifth of the lost paths found are in the South West of England (over 9,000 miles) with Devon topping the list of counties with the most missing rights of way, while the West Midlands had the highest density of lost paths to potentially be added to the map.
The routes include part of the Icknield Way, an ancient trackway in eastern and southern England, which some scholars believe to be prehistoric. Others connect to old Roman roads.
Volunteers found the lost paths by using an online tool to scour historical maps for footpaths missing from current official maps that record legal rights of way.
A mass ‘citizen geography’ project launched in February this year – part of the Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way campaign – which saw thousands of volunteers join forces to find all these lost rights of way. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge of interest in the countryside in Britain, with restrictions to control the virus’s spread ending many other leisure activities.
While some of the 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 improve the existing network, creating new circular walking routes or connect people more easily to local green spaces, nature and the countryside.
Jack Cornish, the Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way programme manager, said: “The amazing response we had from the public to help us search for missing rights of way just goes to show what an important place our path network holds in the hearts of so many of us.
“By getting the most useful of these paths back on the map, we will not only be saving a little bit of our history, we’ll also be able to improve the existing network, creating new and better walking routes, enabling more of us to more easily enjoy the outdoors.”
The Ramblers will now work with volunteers to get the most useful and important of the lost paths on the map by searching for historical evidence to support applications for their inclusion to local authorities.
The vast majority of paths were still viable despite the expansion of towns, cities and infrastructure like motorways. The additional paths would add to an existing network of 140,000 miles of paths and bridleways in England and Wales.
The Ramblers are rushing to meet a government-imposed 2026 deadline to get the paths added to official maps, a step that would protect them for future generations.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com