Defra has announced that it will retain a cut-off date for anyone wanting to register historic rights of way.
Last year, it appeared to relax its views about how rights of way were recorded and added to the ‘definitive map’ of historic paths in England.
The move had caused much consternation among farmers and landowners who faced the prospect of claims hanging over their land for long periods.
Walking access group, the Ramblers has claimed that more than 49,000 of ancient paths and bridleways have been lost from the map that allows public access throughout the country.
Many of these paths have fallen out of use and the group has actively sought to have access rights restored where they can be proven to have existed.
A Defra statement read: ‘The decision provides much-needed certainty for landowners, local authorities and users – and reflects the original intention of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW).’
Landowners and farmers had been worried that last year’s announcements could lead to the prospect of a claim being made for access through their land at any point in the future.
Although Defra announced that it will be keeping a cut-off date for new right of way applications, it has decided to extend the original date from 1 January 2026 to 1 January 2031.
It has also announced that it will be making reforms to how these historic rights of way are recorded.
‘As part of our reforms, local authorities will have more powers to reject weakly evidenced applications, ignore irrelevant objections, and agree on appropriate modifications directly with landowners. Local Authorities will also be able to correct obvious administrative errors through a significantly shortened process.
‘We want to promote responsible access, protect nature, and support those who work and live in the countryside – while streamlining the process.’
A spokesperson said: “We are committed to increasing access to nature and our Environmental Improvement Plan sets out our ambition for every household to be within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water.
“We are now moving forward with plans to reform the existing bureaucratic process and make it easier and faster to update the legal record of rights of way.”
The government appeared to change its mind following lobbying from farmers and landowners, including the Country Land and Business Association and the NFU.
A statement on the NFU website, stated: ‘Such paths have often not been used for more than 70 years, with some now passing through the gardens of family homes, working farmyards or commercial premises, but campaigners can apply for them to be reinstated, if they can produce historical evidence the route once existed.’
In response to the news of cut-off date being retained, NFU chief land management adviser, Sam Durham said: “We are pleased that Defra has reconsidered its decision.
“The NFU has been actively campaigning for more than 10 years to bring about changes to historic rights of way legislation.
“Many farmers have claims for rights of way hanging over them for long periods, which significantly impacts the farm business.
“The reinstatement of a cut-off date will remove the uncertainty for landowners, and free up the backlog of claims that local authorities are dealing with as well as allowing legitimate claims to be ratified.”