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Public Rights of Way

Public Rights of Way are useful ways for paddlers to access rivers and come in the form of waterside paths, old fords and ferry crossings.

‘Once a highway, always a highway’ is a phrase often used in reference to all kinds of rights of way. However, for the first time in England and Wales some of our historic Rights of Way will be lost – and it could have big impacts for paddlers.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 has set a deadline for registering certain historic routes which are not currently recorded on the ‘Definitive Map’ or registered with a local authority by 2026; paths not captured will be lost!

We are particularly keen to save those paths which provide important access to our rivers to enable people to enjoy the benefits of paddling. Access is a high priority for British Canoeing as outlined in our Charter Clear Access Clear Waters.

– Chantelle Grundy Access and Environment Officer

How can I get involved?

British Canoeing is encouraging its members and volunteers to support The British Horse Society’s (BHS)  Project 2026.

It aims to work with volunteers to find unrecorded routes and to get them registered before the 2026 cut-off date. Generally the work involves desk top research, looking at old maps on line and occasional visits to the local archives to view historic documents and submitting a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO) application to a local authority.

If you are new to this area of work, then there are plenty of resources and training available. The British Horse Society have created a 2026 Toolkit detailing how you can ensure your routes are recorded so they won’t be lost after 2026. With generous support from Sport England through the British Equestrian Federation, and BHS’s own funding, they are able to offer a grant of £100 to volunteers towards expenses for each eligible application that you submit to a local authority and is accepted on their statutory register of DMMO Applications. 

Due to funding conditions, the grant is available in England only; for bridleway status and higher. To apply for the grant, your application must meet the criteria summarised on the Record of Application which you will also need to complete and return.

Ensure you tell others which routes you are researching by logging your work at:

Tips for paddler claims:

High priority routes for paddlers would include:

  • Rivers without overly steep banks enabling suitable launching
  • Popular rivers

The BHS is keen to work with everyone who is interested in helping to save as many unrecorded rights of way as possible from extinguishment in 2026. It is in the interests of all who wish to improve and protect access to the countryside to work together and coordinate efforts. We at the BHS are already collaborating with the Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society on Project 2026 and we look forward to supporting volunteers with British Canoeing in the future.

– Mark Weston Director of Access at the British Horse Society

Resources and Further Reading

Read more

The 2026 Toolkit

Researching a Route guide

Recording a Right of Way leaflet 

Rights of Way - Restoring the Record by Sarah Bucks & Phil Wadey

You can also find out about the efforts being undertaken to protect historic routes through these organisations: 

The Ramblers - Don't Lose Your Way

Outdoor Spaces Society - Find Our Way

British Mountaineering Council - Folkard: Having a voice

For more information please contact [email protected]