The Discovering Lost Ways project has become miredA major project to discover forgotten footpaths has lost its way, according to a report about to be published.

Discovering Lost Ways, set up to map disused rights of way in the wake of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, (CRoW Act) has failed to reopen a single bridleway or footpath.

The Discovering Lost Ways project has become mired 

Now, Natural England is recommending the scheme be radically changed, according to a report to be published in The Times today, because it has become bogged down in long-winded processes and red tape.

Two pilot schemes were run in Cheshire and Shropshire, the intention being to map any routes which had inadvertently been omitted from official maps. The CRoW Act means any path or bridleway not recorded by 2026 will be lost forever.

After six years and £4.5m, according to The Times, only five cases have been put to Cheshire County Council and 20 in Shropshire. None have yet been determined.

In Herefordshire, the Local Access Forum was enlisted to look at the project and in Nottinghamshire; it was decided to prioritise the process to areas where the public would benefit most.

The bulk of the work was entrusted to consultants LandAspects, part of the Mouchel Parkman group. The documents searched included Enclosure records, Tithe records, Finance Act 1910 maps, Railway and Canal Acts, Turnpike records and Estate maps. These are held in national collections, such as the National Archives, and at county record offices.

In 2007, Natural England, the body created by the CRoW Act to look after England’s countryside, launched a consultation to see how the project was progressing.

Amanda Earnshaw, a project manager for the scheme, told The Times: “What should have been a sensible process has got itself mired in bureaucracy. As yet we haven’t got any more rights of way on the map.”

Ramblers’ Association rights-of-way policy co-ordinator Janet Davis said the Government had been too ambitious. She told the newspaper:  “The whole thing was totally impractical and that impracticality has defeated them.

“If they allowed our volunteers to help with the work, far more could be achieved with less money. These rights of way are vital: they keep people healthy and create sustainable transport routes — the whole thing just needs to be handled properly.”

Since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, members of the public have had the power to apply to have rights of way restored.  After 1 January 2026, this right will be removed.