You may have heard the date 2026 mentioned in relation to public rights of way and have
been wondering what's it all about. It's complicated but here's a simple explanation.
The footpaths shown on Ordnance Survey maps are based the Definitive Map (OM) of
public rights of way held by County Councils. The presence of a route on the OM is
conclusive proof in law that the public has the rights shown.
Most of the paths were placed on the OM soon after its inception in 1949. It continues to
grow as previously historic unrecorded paths are investigated and claimed. .
The Countryside & Rights of Way Act (CRoW) in 2000 included legislation that will close
off the Definitive Map to further additions in 2026. This change in the law will be
achieved by extinguishing, as from 1 January 2026, all pre-1949 rights of way, which have
not by then been recorded. In practice what this means is that claims for paths solely
based on documentary evidence of pre-1949 existence will no longer be possible and
paths you may be using cannot then be claimed as public rights of way.
So what's the problem?
A recent report produced by the Ramblers has revealed a serious backlog of paths -
It is estimated this backlog will take more than 13 years to clear if processed at the
In Sussex there are 13 paths that are on the waiting list and countless more that have yet
to be identified.
What do we do about it?
Ramblers have launched the Don't Lose Your Way campaign. They have been working with landowners, land managers and local authorities to find ways to make the process for recording paths more efficient, consistent, and less contentious, helping to claim as many historic paths as possible before the 2026 cut-
But we need to do things at the local level here in Sussex. Local walkers who know their
areas, walk the paths and are familiar with their own localities are an obvious source of
information about where these paths may be. They can identify missing paths: either
through their own knowledge, listening to older residents, scanning through copies of
Explorer maps or the older Pathfinder series and looking for obvious gaps in the network.
Thin black dotted/dashed lines showing paths that are not 'public' ones but are still
paths, are identified on some OS maps.
How do we go about it?
At the local level we need volunteers to take on a number of roles; identifying missing
footpaths, carrying out searches at local records offices to seek historical evidence,
initiating a claim to place a path on the Definitive Map. We also need a volunteer to act as a team leader for the campaign here in Sussex.
The necessary investigations would not only be of interest to active walkers but will also
appeal to those interested in local history and maps.
These are not onerous tasks and there is guidance, training and other volunteer support