There are 140,000 miles of public Rights of Way in England and Wales. Although they have been used for 100's of years, recording through the 'Definitive Map' was only first established in 1949, when the monumental National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed.
In my capacity as PNFS Inspector of Footpaths for Bury (specifically my home town of Prestwich) I have made a comprehensive study of the state of all the Rights of Way in Prestwich. This was back in 2009. In 2023 it was time to hand over the inspector reigns to someone with younger eyes and fresher impetus. However, before I ‘retired’, I made another painstaking study.
Although each footpath is officially numbered, my first job was to break down my working area into manageable zones and formulate a simpler method of recording and numbering each path. From there, I set about photographing each path in meticulous detail, reporting any problems (path blockages, inadequate signage, stiles in need of repair etc.).
I am pleased to say that we Prestwich folk can enjoy a fantastic network of paths that are by and large in good order. To reflect modern access advances, a wonderful compliment of ‘permissive’ trails and cycleways have also been introduced.
Some paths have been made redundant, eg. due to a motorway construction, others are impassable and require significant maintenance or agreeable re-routing. Others no longer exist and serve no purpose … removal (‘extinguishing’) is the obvious solution(?).
All RoW’s must be identified before a government deadline of 2026, after which it will no longer be possible to add old paths to the official record (otherwise they could be lost forever!). I reckon that I have pinpointed several of these in Prestwich and relish looking at next year’s Ordnance Survey edition to view the changes.
In conclusion … when I first embarked on this mammoth task I thought it would simply be a matter of reporting any obstructions and maintenance issues. Indeed this is the case, but as I got more absorbed into the project, I grew more convinced that a more fundamental legacy would be to make people aware that they exist in the first place and where they are located(???).
The Peak & Northern Footpaths Society has been active for well over 100 years, promoting the interests of public footpath users in the N Midlands and NW England. They monitor, protect and improve the footpath network for the benefit of all.
The Society is a registered charity and all work is done by volunteers.
UPDATE – the government (Defra) has now put back the 2026 deadline by five years … although this decision has been met with great relief by the walking fraternity and a different government might take a different view … the work goes on!