Is it better to save our nation’s footpaths or let them return to nature?

Ramblers are encouraging Brits to map any overgrown path they can find, but the CLA believe we should focus on maintaining those we have and let the rest fall back to nature.

Some 10,000 miles of historic footpaths in England and Wales are at risk of being lost forever. The Government has a deadline of 2026 to add paths to the official record, after which they will no longer be protected.

The walking group Ramblers is encouraging its members, as well as map enthusiasts and historians, to become ‘citizen geographers’ by using its new mapping site to identify missing footpaths.

‘We need to think about the impact of having more public rights of way on the very wildlife ramblers want to protect and enjoy’

Jack Cornish from Ramblers warned that if ‘we lose our paths, a little bit of our history goes with them’. The group is also calling on the Government to extend the deadline by at least five years so it can complete its work.

Halnaker tunnel in south downs

The CLA, however, believes the deadline should be maintained, saying that a ‘balance needs to be struck between the needs of Nature and the needs of the public’.

‘Ground-nesting birds need to be protected from walkers and dogs’

‘We need to think about the impact of having more public rights of way on the very wildlife ramblers want to protect and enjoy,’ said CLA president Mark Bridgeman. ‘For example, ground-nesting birds need to be protected from walkers and dogs.

Wooden sign by a bridge under a clear blue sky  in summer in the Wealden district. Also showing directions to Litlington, East Sussex, UK

‘It is over 75 years since the Definitive Map came into being and there will have been 25 years to prepare for the cut off.

‘In our view, the focus should be on the real issue in the access debate: ensuring scarce public resources are spent on properly maintaining and looking after the 140,000 miles of public rights of way which are being used in England and Wales so that the public can continue to enjoy them.’

So, is six years enough time to find our missing footpaths? Or should we focus our attentions on those we have and let the rest fall back to nature?