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Historic Footpaths: Don’t Lose Your Way

David Green, the Chairman of Access and Rights of Way Committee, is working with other organisations to identify historic footpaths and byways that may have gone unregistered. Claims can be made until 1 January 2026.

The path up Amberley Mount

If you are a local walker, you may have more than a passing knowledge of the historic footpaths in the areas in which you live. I am hoping therefore that this campaign will be of interest.

Until 1949, the public had to go to court to establish the existence of a right of way. That changed with the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 which required surveying authorities (county councils and unitary authorities) to draw up and maintain a ‘definitive map and statement’ of the rights of way in their area. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, many rights of way slipped through the net and were never recorded.

An application could still be made to modify the definitive map by adding a historic right of way, but we only have time until 2025. Section 53 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provided a cut-off date of 1 January 2026 for all claims to a right of way based on historical evidence to be submitted to surveying authorities. It follows therefore that on that date we stand to lose many unregistered historic footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways.

Fortunately for us, the Ramblers have undertaken a major piece of work to prepare a map of potential lost rights of way. It is available here. It was drawn up by comparing an Ordnance Survey map from around 1900 and a Bartholomew map of around the same year. The routes that were shown as footpaths, bridleways or roads on the old maps, but are not shown on the current definitive maps as rights of way, are marked with blue dashes.

There is a small group of lost way activists at Sussex ‘Don’t Lose Your Way’ led by Chris Smith of the Open Spaces Society.  Its membership is made up of members of the Ramblers, Friends of the South Downs, Open Spaces Society and others with a particular interest in preserving lost rights of way. Our help is needed in identifying those routes in our parishes that really would be a valuable addition to the rights of way network.

Chris Smith says, ‘Please don’t exclude historic paths just because you think that they may have been blocked up or diverted, unless you are absolutely sure that they have been diverted. DLYW will be checking diversion orders later. You may feel that you have enough rights of way already, in which case there is no need to reply, but I thought you ought to be given an opportunity. This is probably the last chance.

‘We cannot promise to research every path that is sent in. Indeed, we may come back to you for help, but we will do what we can. The best way for you to reply is to cut and paste an image of the route in question into a Word or similar document. You can do this using Windows tools “snipping tool” or “snip and sketch” and there are similar tools on the Mac. Failing this the grid references will do.”

Please use the Contact Us button at the top of the page to get in touch with us regarding this project.

David Green

Access & Rights of Way Committee Chairman

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