Ramblers wants Owl and Owl’s followers to take their phones for walks to make sure lost footpaths are added to the oficial register before it’s too late.
An estimated 10,000 miles of historic footpaths are thought to be missing from the map in England and Wales.
People are being urged to pore over old maps to help identify thousands of miles of lost footpaths before time runs out to add them to the official register.
The Ramblers has launched a website with historic and modern maps of England and Wales. It wants thousands of “citizen geographers” to compare the maps to detect lost paths.
The walking charity believes there are 10,000 miles of paths missing from modern maps. If not claimed by the government cut-off of 2026 they can no longer be added to the official map after and the public’s right to access them could be permanently lost.
It can take years of research to prove the case for adding a path to the official map. The Ramblers wrote to the government last year asking for the deadline to be extended but has not received a reply.
The Ramblers believes that many of the lost paths were not included on modern versions which are based on maps councils were required to draw up in the 1950s.
The Don’t Lose Your Way website divides England and Wales into 150,000 1km squares. The Ramblers said: “Users simply select a square, do a quick ‘spot the difference’, mark on any missing paths and click submit. It takes just a few minutes to check a square.”
Some of the lost paths are still in use, despite not showing up on modern maps, including a well-used track near Knightwick, Worcestershire, while others have become overgrown and unusable, such as a “missing mile” of the Markway in Hampshire, which vanished when a Hurricane fighter base was built in the Second World War.
Jack Cornish, manager of the Don’t Lose Your Way campaign, said: “Our paths are one of our most precious assets. They connect us to our landscapes — ensuring we can explore our towns and cities on foot and enjoy walking in the countryside — and to our history and the people who formed them over the centuries. If we lose our paths, a little bit of our past goes with them. This is our only opportunity to save thousands of miles of rights of way and time is running out.”
Stuart Maconie, the Ramblers’ president, said: “Public rights of way are our birthright and genuine national treasures. We must find and record and walk these sometimes ancient ways and preserve and protect them . . . for ourselves and generations of walkers to come.”
Now to the phones.
The Pathwatch app
“We’ve built an entire app that allows you to report features on the go – straight from your pocket.
Using the app you can report positive and negative features, send us photos and even share your discoveries via social media. Using GPS and your phone signal, the app can locate you on OS maps and will allow you report what you’ve found with the press of a few buttons.
The app also works offline and allows you to download OS grid square maps for your walks in England and Wales.
You can report features directly through the online version of the app.
It’s slightly different to the app but still gets us all the information we (and local authorities) need. It also syncs up with the features you record on the app, so you can view all your reported features. Online, you can also report features anonymously and won’t need to register or login.
Just like the app, you can scroll around Britain on OS Map data to find the location of the feature you’re reporting.”