We're creating new and better walking routes, enabling more of us to more easily enjoy the outdoors.
Volunteers on the hunt for lost paths have unearthed more than 49,000 miles of routes that are missing from the map, the Ramblers has said.
Now there is a race against time to get the paths, which people have used for centuries, onto official maps so they are not lost forever, the walking charity said.
It launched a mass citizen geography project earlier this year, encouraging volunteers to search 154,000 one-kilometre squares of England and Wales using an online mapping tool to find lost rights of way.
Thousands of people took up the challenge, to uncover paths that were left off the official definitive maps that councils were required to draw up in the 1950s, detailing all rights of way in their area.
By comparing historic maps with current official records, they helped discover 49,138 miles of missing paths, nearly five times the original estimate made by the charity that there were 10,000 miles of unmapped routes.
Some of the “lost” paths are still in use, despite not showing up on modern maps, while others have become overgrown and unusable.
The Ramblers said many could make useful additions to the existing network of footpaths, creating new circular walks or making it easier for people to access local green spaces and countryside – something which has become more important to many people in the light of lockdown.
But if they are not claimed by 2026, the government cut-off date after which time it will no longer be possible to add them to the maps, the public’s right to access them will not be protected in the future, the charity warned.
The Don’t Lose Your Way mapping project will help the Ramblers prioritise useful paths and make applications to get them onto the map as legal rights of way which will mean they are protected for people to use and enjoy.
Jack Cornish, the programme’s manager, said: “The amazing response we had from the public to help us search for missing rights of way just goes to show what an important place our path network holds in the hearts of so many of us.
“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’ll 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 the paths uncovered by the project were in the south west of England, which has more than 9,000 miles of missing routes, with Devon topping the list of counties with the most paths missed off the map.
Missing rights of way range from what could be a missing link of the ancient Mariners’ Way in Devon to a series of paths that stop on the county border between Herefordshire and Shropshire.
The Ramblers is asking the public to help save lost paths with a crowdfunder that has been kickstarted by Cotswold Outdoor with £10,000, and calling on the Government to extend the deadline for registering rights of way by five years.
People can find out about lost paths in their area, how to join in the efforts to get them on the map and make a donation online.
Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.