Attempts to recover more than 49,000 miles of ‘lost paths’ in England and Wales could significantly impact already-strained rural resources and endanger wildlife.
Rural groups sounded the alarm as farmers dealt with an influx of visitors to the countryside during the festive period, with many fearing stricter Covid-19 restrictions will see numbers further rise.
Farmers took to social media to highlight irresponsible behaviour, with families of sledgers illegally trespassing and incidences of ambulances unable to attend call-outs due to parked cars blocking access on single-track roads.
In Buckinghamshire, a farmer suffered damage to his wheat crop and financial loss after walkers expanded the public footpath up to 11m wide to avoid mud.
Sharing the image on their social media account, Buckmoorend Farm, said: "Countryside cannot cope. Polite requests do not work. Do not know how to save profit in this field from being trampled on in front of my eyes."
The Ramblers published a detailed map outlining the forgotten paths as part of its Don’t Lose Your Way campaign, which calls on volunteers to collect and submit evidence to restore the most useful routes to the legal definitive map before the Government cut-off date, January 2026.
If successfully claimed, the missing paths could increase the path network up by up to a third.
Jack Cornish, The Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way programme manager, added: "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 will also be able to improve the existing network, creating new and better walking routes, enabling more of us to more easily enjoy the outdoors.”
More than a fifth of lost paths were found in the South West of England, with Devon having the most missing rights of way.
But CLA president Mark Bridgeman highlighted there were already more than 140,000 miles of public rights of way and 2.5 million acres of open access land in England and Wales for people to enjoy.
“We want everyone to be able to make the most of these while staying safe,” Mr Bridgeman said.
“The danger in trying to recover ‘lost paths’ is not only the significant impact on already strained local authorities in terms of resources, but on our already-threatened wildlife and fragile ecosystems which need protecting.”
Back in December, 78 applications to rescue lost commons in England’s seven pioneer areas were made by the Open Spaces Society, which if successful will give the public the right to walk, and in some cases to ride, on the land and protect it from encroachment and development.
The group plan to submit applications for Cumbria and North Yorkshire by March 2027 and Wales by May 2032.
The CLA has reminded those visiting rural areas to do so responsibly and follow the Countryside code.
View the map here.