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What is the Definitive Map?

Up until 1949, the public had to go through the courts to prove that a path was a right of way. This changed with the introduction of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949 which gave county councils and unitary authorities a duty to draw up and maintain a ‘Definitive Map and Statement’ of the rights of way in their area. This serves as a legal record of a right of way and is used as the basis for Ordnance Survey mapping.


What is the 2026 deadline and why is it important?

The Countryside Act 2000 - Section 53 requires that any 'lost ways' ie paths that have been used in the past but not captured on the Definitive Map, must be identified before 1 January 2026. After this date, no old paths or tracks will be allowed to be added to the Definitive Map based on the grounds of historic use. This means that any public rights of access for example over old footways, lanes or droves which may exist but which are not shown on the local authority's records could be closed.

As a result, many countryside organisations are keen to ensure that any lost ways in their areas are identified and recorded. If there is sufficient documentary evidence to show that a route does in fact carry public rights of way and should be registered on the Definitive Map and Statement, any member of the public can apply to the local authority to have the route registered. 

The attached link from Natural England explains the different types of documentary evidence and how to go about finding it.

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