Did you know that on January 1st, 2026, all paths established before 1949 that have not been formally recorded as rights-of-way by that date will be ‘extinguished,’ and lost forever?
It’s all down to greedy landowners who don’t like the hoi-poloy tramping across ‘their’ land. Apparently there are about 20,000 footpaths that we just assume are rights of way because they always have been – but which haven’t been formally set down as such – usually because we didn’t know we needed to.
At the time when the government passed the law (2000) they thought it might be a bit unpopular (can’t think why) and so they started a project to start recording the most-used paths. But it proved really red-tapey and cumbersome and the project was quietly abandoned. Strangely, the law the project was brought in to counteract was not abandoned.
The Ramblers Association is at the forefront of a campaign to get rid of this law, and, given that no one seems to know it was actually passed, they’re having a bit of an uphill trek.
One of the reasons this is so important to everyone is that it’s not just pretty little country lanes that are in danger. It’s those little cut-throughs and snickleways that we use every day, and just assume are ok. One day a builder closes it off, you assume it’s just while a new development is going up, and yet somehow it never re-opens.
A very interesting case is on the other side of Maze Hill station, eading to the south side, from Vanbrugh Hill. Will that path ever re-open now we have ‘Seren park’? Who can tell.
I don’t know the details, but this is one thing that mustn’t go unnoticed. I have a friend up Vanbrugh Hill who has recently had a baby who has to hump a pram over the railway bridge, along past the pottery and back up over the footbridge just to get onto the platform. Shame on South Eastern.
But back to Countdown 2026. This is potentially a serious issue. We can do two things. We can sign the usual petition (I’m never sure how much good they do, but since it’s there we might as well…) and we can look at the paths that we personally love. There are definitive maps of paths recorded so far. We can check that the ones we use and love ourselves are included on the maps, and if they’re not, we need to use them and get proof that we did. The Ramblers Association will help.
We mustn’t let this one slide. I understand that even marked footpaths and some famous paths are included on the ‘at risk’ list. If they are, then heaven help the little byways that, though they might not be the prettiest sight ever, we use every day and which make our lives that little bit easier…