Countryside Public Rights Of Way Under Threat

Countryside Public Rights Of Way Under Threat

Chris Smith of Ramblers Sussex got in touch to highlight a little known fact that could see the loss of access to many of our routes of access by 2025. He is calling for help from members from Equestrian and Mountain Biking backgrounds to help identify routes of access across Kent, Sussex and Surrey and to have them added to the map before the deadline.

The history

In 1949 the government set out to create a list of all the rights of way in the country, including footpaths, bridleways and byways. Each highways authority (For example East Sussex Council for East Sussex) was to draw up a definitive map of rights of way. You can see the routes that are currently on the definitive East Sussex map here, or you can apply to view the Kent or Surrey maps.

But it was recognised that some routes would be missed and so it was decided that, for a time, routes that had been missed out in the initial survey could be added, provided that there was evidence that there was a highway. This evidence could be quite old because the law says that once a route has become a highway (including footpaths etc.) it remains a highway, even if it is not used, unless the rights have been extinguished, for example by a closure order.

Nobody did much about this because there was no deadline. But in 2000 the Countryside and Rights of Way Act set a deadline for adding these pre 1949 paths to the definitive map. That deadline is the end of 2025, in roughly 9 years time. Experts estimate that there are 3-5 unrecorded rights of way in each rural parish. In towns the numbers are likely to be higher.

(Routes that have come into being since 1949 will still be able to be claimed as rights of way by showing that the route has been used as if it were a right of way for 20 years, but rights on older paths will be extinguished).

Action To Be Taken

Chris is forming a group, which so far includes members of the Ramblers, the Open Spaces Society and the Mid Sussex Bridleways Group, to apply to have the missing routes added to the definitive map.

But in order to make the application it has to be proved that the route was used as a highway for pedestrians, horses or other traffic, for a significant period in the past prior to 1949 and that it has not been stopped up. This involves going through Turnpike records, inclosure records, early road order, stopping up orders, Farm survey records etc.

If you are interested in helping carry out this work in neck of the woods please contact my colleague Graham Elvey at [email protected] It may just save that much loved trail…

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