RURAL paths in the South East could be lost forever, according to a walking charity report.

Ramblers, which works to promote and safeguard the outdoor pastime, has produced the ‘Paths in Crisis’ document that it claims reveals many of the region’s “historic paths” could be gone forever by 2026.

The organisation says a backlog of 4,000 routes, all waiting to be made public rights of way, are in danger of being lost unless officially recorded. It said under current legislation they would take more than 13 years to be put through.

In response Ramblers has launched a campaign alongside landowners and local authorities and has called for the government to save the “well-trodden paths”, adding outdoor tourism contributes billions to the UK economy. MPs discussed the proposals this month, which would see the rules changed to allow routes to be claimed more quickly.

Ramblers chief executive Benedict Southworth said he and others have worked for over three years to simplify the law around rights of way “for the benefit of everyone”.

He added: “Our network of paths provide an important role connecting people to green spaces, allowing them to travel to shops and to schools and are enjoyed by millions each year.

“This unique network attracts tourists from around the world and provides a vital contribution to the economy – last year alone visitors to England’s outdoors spent £21 billion.

“We hope that this new legislation will make it easier for our historic paths to get the protection they need so that we can continue to walk and enjoy them.”