Campaigners determined to preserve access to the countryside in England were rewarded last month when the Government decided to scrap the 2026 deadline for recording historic paths in England. Any path not recorded as a highway under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 by 1 January 2026 would have been extinguished, bringing an end to public access rights across swathes of the English countryside.
The reason for the axing of the deadline, however, didn’t appear to chime with campaigners’ motivations. The reality seems to be that DEFRA were simply unwilling to undertake the complex legal and technical work which was required to make the deadline operative in English law, rather than celebrating the 41,000 miles of historic ways which campaigners, such as the Ramblers and Open Spaces Society, sought to preserve.
However, it appears that DEFRA is concerned to ensure that landowners are granted a right to apply to divert or extinguish rights of way which cross their land, as part of a “streamlined package of measures in order to help enhance the way that rights of way are recorded and managed”.
How this right to apply might manifest itself is yet to be revealed. Currently, landowners can prevent new rights of access from being created on their land by a simple process under the Highways Act 1980, but the ability to divert or extinguish existing public highways is not anywhere near as straightforward.
Balancing a landowner’s enjoyment of their land against the public’s rights of access is often a highly charged process, and the effect of DEFRA’s announcement may cause more problems than it seeks to solve.
If you have a question about a public right of way, or are keen to protect a part of your property from becoming a highway, get in touch with our specialist lawyers who will be happy to assist.