The Ramblers are asking people to help identify thousands of miles of unrecorded footpaths across the country before they are lost for good. Kit Vickery found out how you can help, and why the project matters.

Walking across the open countryside is a soothing activity enjoyed by all ages, but your access to undocumented paths could be lost if the routes aren’t added to a map soon.

More than 180 miles of paths criss-cross the borough, with some opening up some of the North West’s most stunning countryside for people to enjoy, and national charity Ramblers is trying to protect these routes with their Don’t Lose Your Way campaign.

It is estimated that 10,000 miles of paths across England and Wales have disappeared from maps over the years and, if they aren’t documented in the next five years, public access to them could be revoked.

Malcolm Deaville, chairman of Bolton Ramblers, said: “Ramblers relaunched the campaign on Tuesday to get people all over the country to adopt a one kilometre square of the map and compare it to an old one to see if there’s a path that’s disappeared.

“They can then report any paths that aren’t on the new maps and Ramblers will investigate.

“There’s 150,000 squares so we need lots of volunteers to help and try and identify the 10,000 miles of paths we believe are missing from new maps.”

These squares are available to view on the Ramblers website, with people being encouraged to look through at least one square to identify any missing paths.

When a potentially forgotten path is discovered, the Ramblers will go to investigate and figure out whether an application to add the path to the official maps is necessary.

Malcolm first got involved with the campaign when the charity’s central office contacted him last year after discovering a lost path in Bolton – asking him to check it out.

Unfortunately, the path that once linked Chew Moor to Ladybridge had good reason to unexpectedly stop, as it was covered in marshland and impassable.

Malcolm was filmed as part of the investigation, with footage being aired on BBC Breakfast and North West Tonight to highlight the campaign.

Although this route was no longer a viable option, he still believes that the scheme is important, as there could be key walkways that are used regularly that haven’t made it onto the map.

He added: “In the old days people used those forgotten paths to get to work and to the pub, and even from village to village but because of roads being introduced some of them have just fallen out of use.

“Some of the historical recorded paths might still be there but just not known on the new maps.

“If we don’t identify them then they could be lost forever because there would be no requirement for the local authority to add them to the map, so the landowner can just put a gate up as there’s no right of way.

“Often people take it for granted but you could lose that right and paths which are regularly used could be taken away.”

From January 1, 2026, it will no longer be possible to add paths to the definitive map based on historical evidence.

This date was set in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) to give landowners a time-frame for possible changes.

The Ramblers are not attempting to restore every path no longer listed on maps, and they’ve already ruled out claiming rights of way that would now go through buildings, but hope to find alternative routes for members of the public to use.

Although there are already 140,000 miles of paths across the country, the charity does believe that there are thousands of potential paths that could create a much better walking network for everyone.

These trails would remove dead ends, complete circular routes, create better connections and provide routes in areas without proper off-road walking opportunities.

Finding and mapping the paths is only the first step in securing the future of these public paths.

Once all the forgotten routes are mapped, a team of dedicated volunteers will be recruited to research the historic evidence required to submit an application to the local authority to get the paths restored to the map.

The charity is currently calling for the 2026 deadline to be extended by at least five years.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs has the power to extend this cut-off date, and the change in circumstance and how stretched local authority resources are has led the charity to believe it is “unrealistic” that all of the important paths can be identified and applied for in the next five years.

The Welsh government has already agreed in principle to moving the deadline but until the law is changed, the work to claim these paths remains urgent.