government fails to honour pledge deadline for saving lost paths remains

Government Fails to Honour Pledge: Deadline for Saving Lost Paths Remains

by Bob Eccles | 2nd July 2023 | Comments: 0

In a surprising turn of events, the government has reneged on its earlier promise to scrap the deadline for saving ‘lost paths’ across the country. This development has sparked widespread disappointment and controversy, especially amongst ramblers, environmentalists, and historical preservation societies.

Lost paths, or rights of way, are historic trails and footpaths that, for one reason or another, have been erased from official maps, yet still exist in the British countryside. These paths may have been used for centuries for various purposes such as travelling to work, leading animals to grazing areas, or even smuggling goods. The term ‘lost’ stems from the fact that, though they may still be physically present, they have been overlooked or purposely omitted from contemporary mapping systems.

In 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW Act) set a deadline for registering these lost paths – January 1, 2026. Any path not officially recorded by this date risked being lost to public access forever. This legislation posed a significant challenge, as the identification and validation process for these lost paths is complex, time-consuming, and labour-intensive.

In response to public outcry and intense lobbying by organisations such as the Ramblers Association, the government promised in 2021 to eliminate this looming deadline, giving preservationists indefinite time to uncover and register these lost paths. The decision was hailed as a significant victory for nature lovers and history buffs alike.

However, the recent about-face by the government has drawn widespread criticism and dismay. The conservation community, already strained by limited resources and the Herculean task of registering these forgotten paths, is left scrambling as the deadline looms once more.

Critics argue that the government’s decision fails to recognise the cultural, historical, and environmental value these paths hold. They serve as windows into the country’s past, reminders of historical land usage and age-old traditions. Moreover, the paths also provide a vast network of trails for people to engage with the outdoors and nature, thus promoting physical health and mental well-being.

Supporters of the initial deadline contend that it allows for more clarity regarding property rights and land usage, thus preventing future legal disputes. They argue that registering all lost paths may inadvertently infringe on private lands, leading to unnecessary conflicts.

Yet, many feel this argument overlooks the potential compromise of creating an extended or rolling deadline, giving conservationists more time without indefinitely delaying the process. This solution would maintain a sense of urgency while providing a more achievable goal for the preservationists.

The government’s decision to uphold the initial deadline of the CROW Act marks a significant setback for conservation efforts across the country. As the clock ticks closer to 2026, campaigners are working tirelessly to protect as many lost paths as possible, thereby safeguarding pieces of the nation’s history and natural beauty.

Meanwhile, the public waits to see if the government will reconsider its decision and find a balanced approach that respects both the country’s rich historical legacy and the practical concerns of landowners and citizens. The issue of the ‘lost paths’ extends beyond mere trails in the countryside—it is about the preservation of history, access to nature, and the right of way.


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