Historic walking routes across the North East could be lost if councils do not process a right-of-way backlog.
A report by the Ramblers has revealed a serious backlog of paths waiting to be recognised as public footpaths. Any historic paths not officially recorded as public rights of way by 2026 will be extinguished.
Accurate numbers in the North East were not available, but campaigners say nationally some 4,000 routes would be lost forever.
To help combat this problem the Ramblers has launched the Don’t Lose Your Way campaign. The Ramblers has also been working with landowners, land managers and local authorities to find ways to make the process for recording paths more efficient, consistent across the country, and less contentious, helping to claim as many historic paths as possible before the 2026 cut-off date.
Derrick Joanes, of the Berwick group, said there was good reason to back the campaign. He said: “It is really important that we preserve these footpaths and the access to them. In Scotland the rights of way are better, we can go where we want as long as we are not invading someone’s privacy in effect, but in England the rights of way have to be recognised.”
As well as leading walks the Ramblers groups across the North East have played a role in combatting some wind turbines, with the groups often involved in objections to turbines and wind farms which specifically intrude in sensitive areas or would be an obstruction to rights of way.
The group’s recommendations were put forward to Government and have now been included in the draft Deregulation Bill. MP’s discussed the proposals for the first time on February 3.
Ramblers chief executive Benedict Southworth said: “The proposed legislation has been carefully put together by representatives from landowners, paths users, and local government – including ourselves and the NFU – who have worked together for over three years to simplify the law around rights of way for the benefit of everyone.
“This carefully crafted solution should make it easier for historic paths to be added to the definitive map – the official record of all public paths. Many of these paths have existed for hundreds of years – they are an ‘inscription on the landscape’ made by generations of people going about their business, and are as much a part of our heritage as our ancient monuments and historic buildings.
“By adding them to the official map they cannot be blocked off or built upon and are protected for future generations to enjoy.
“Our network of paths provide an important role connecting people to green spaces, allowing them to travel to shops and to schools and are enjoyed by millions each year.
“This unique network attracts tourists from around the world and provides a vital contribution to the economy – last year alone visitors to England’s outdoors spent £21 billion. We hope that this new legislation will make it easier for our historic paths to get the protection they need so that we can continue to walk and enjoy them.”