Getting back on track – how to help
With more than 10,000 miles of paths at risk of being lost, you can play a part. Your area will have lost and forgotten footpaths that you could help rediscover. Both urban and rural areas need volunteers to search out paths. Here’s how to get started. 1 Get in touch with the Ramblers. Its Don’t Lose Your Way project is coordinating the search throughout England and Wales, and helps avoid any replications. Contact [email protected] 2 When out walking, look for clues revealing historical paths in the landscape: worn stone stiles, cobbles laid in river beds and old stone surfaces in fields can all indicate historical rights of way. Other signs can be hollowed-out paths or rows of two hedges, often hawthorn, marking the route of an old carriageway or bridle route. 3 The government’s website lists footpath modifications that have already been approved. Every council (apart from inner London boroughs and the Isles of Scilly) are required to keep a definitive map of rights of way. There should also be a register of all applications for lost rights of way that have yet to be processed. Search for “DMMO register” or “rights of way applications” with the name of your local authority. 4 Study the current OS map. Are there paths that end inexplicably? Does a neighbouring parish have significantly more, or fewer, paths? Does a path fail to reach a road? All these can indicate a missing right of way. Out in the field, an app such as Viewranger is useful to locate your position on the map. Next, compare the current OS map with historical maps, many of which are available online. The Ramblers has created a handy directory of these sources. The National Library of Scotland has a useful website. Old OS maps and Greenwoods county maps (published in the 1820s) are good sources. 5 A helpful book is Rights of Way: Restoring the Record by Sarah Bucks and Phil Wadey. 6 It is worth checking that footpaths you use are on the definitive map. The law requires evidence of 20 years of public use without any attempt by the landowner to prevent access. That evidence can be maps, photographs, newspaper cuttings and written statements from members of the public (six is normally considered the minimum).
Paul Howland (below); with a group of ramblers (above)