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A timeline (hugely incomplete!) of notable events, facts, policy developments and research findings on walking, pathways and green open space.

If you have data that would be of interest here (past or present), please let us know and we’ll add it.

  • 1777 when the first map of Essex was produced, you could walk on heathland all the way from Colchester to Maldon; now all that remains is Tiptree Heath, just 25 hectares (‘Living Landscape: A vision for the future of Essex’ Essex Wildlife Trust, 2010).

  • 1791 the advent of the Ordnance Survey – originating as a military survey (for the Board of Ordnance, later Ministry of Defence), commisioned by King George II in the context of the threat of invasion posed by the Napoleonic Wars. The survey began in Scotland, undertaken by a young engineer, William Roy, using the Ramsden thedolite constructed for the purpose.

  • 1801 the first Ordnance Survey map produced, of Kent, followed by Essex.

  • 1824 the Association for the Protection of Ancient Footpaths in the Vicinity of York was formed, and in 1826, the Manchester Association for the Preservation of Ancient Footpaths (the tow earliest Ramblers groups)

  • 1865 the Commons Preservation Society was formed (today known as the Open Spaces Society), campaigning for access to common land across the country.

  • 1879 formation of the Sunday Tramps, a London-based walking club, comprising a group of late Victorian intellectuals (writers, philosophers and professionals).

  • 1892 the first federation of groups of ramblers took place in Glasgow, with the formation of the West of Scotland Ramblers’ Alliance.

  • 1905 representatives of early English Ramblers groups formed the Federation of Rambling Clubs.

  • 1931 the National Council of Ramblers’ Federations was established.

  • 1932 mass trespass on Kinder Scout in which several ramblers were arrested and subsequently imprisoned.

  • 1935 the Ramblers’ Association was officially founded, replacing The National Council of Ramblers’ Federations.

  • The war years – the Ramblers leaflet ‘Walking in Wartime’ gave advice on wartime precautions, e.g. always carrying identity cards and finishing walks before nightfall.

  • 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act became law (following Ramblers campaign): all footpaths henceforth to be surveyed and recorded; the framework for the creation of official long-distance paths was established, and likewise of national parks, the first of which was the Peak National Park in 1951.

  • 1965 the 250-mile Pennine Way became the country’s first official long-distance footpath, 30 years after Tom Stephenson (the Ramblers’ Association’s first full-time secretary) first suggested the idea.

  • 1968 the Countryside Act was passed giving county councils in England and Wales a duty to signpost footpaths.
  • 1980 The Highways Act spells out how paths can be created, adopted, dedicated, diverted or extinguished, and sets up the 14 day/24 hour rules about ploughing/cropping on crossfield routes. Also covers provisions for improving drainage, removing obstructions (including “nuisance” barbed wire), maintaining grass verges for horses & livestock, and much more.
  • 1981 The Wildlife & Countryside Act
  • 2000 the Countryside and Rights of Way Act granted freedom to roam in open countryside in England and Wales.
  • 2000 the DETR report that more than 25% of all journeys are pedestrian (DETR, 2000:3), and recognise the impact of pathway design on pedestrian behaviour in government advice to Local Authorities: ‘we want to create conditions in which people will choose to walk rather than walking only if there is no alternative’ (2000:13).
  • 2000 DETR Encouraging Walking: advice to local authorities
  • 2001 the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE) proposes that ‘walkers should be given primacy in the urban environment’ (2001:1)
  • 2003 the Land Reform Act gave Scotland the most progressive access regime in Europe, granting statutory access rights to almost all land.
  • 2003 Morris reports on declining walking levels with diverse groups seen to be at risk – people aged over 45, ethnic minority communities, and those on low incomes (Morris, 2003:15).
  • 2003 Health, Well-Being and Open Space (Morris, OPENspace: the research centre for inclusive access to outdoor environments)
  • 2007 the Department for Transport (DfT) advocate ‘a user hierarchy […] with pedestrians at the top’ (2007:13).
  • 2007 I’DGO find ‘good quality paths’ to be one of the critical issues affecting older people’s access to the outdoors (Newton et al, 2007:28)
  • 2008 DfT Walking Maps
  • 2009 Hazreena Hussein’s research into sensory gardens finds that the layout of pathways and pathway connectivity have a significant influence on how users interact with a space (2009:13-17)
  • 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act passed, establishing the idea of a coastal path around England’s shoreline.
  • 2010 What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Jo Barton and Jules Pretty. Environmental Science and Technology Journal. Finds that as little as five minutes of exercise in a green space can boost self-esteem and mood; effects further enhanced by the presence of water, and found to be most significant in young people and those affected by mental illness, regardless of gender.
  • 2023 Natural England launch a 'Green Infrastructure Framework', described as 'a major new tool to help towns and cities turn greener [...] Aimed at planners and developers, the Green Infrastructure Framework aims to help increase the amount of green cover to 40% in urban residential areas.
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