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GLEAM survey establishes lengths of green lanes in England and Wales
By Diana Mallinson

November 2016


As part of the work on its amendment to the Deregulation Bill and on its response to the Welsh Government’s Green Paper on access to the countryside, GLEAM organised a survey of highway authorities in England and Wales in 2014/15 to establish how many kilometres of green lanes the authorities are responsible for maintaining and making accessible to the public. These green lanes are historic public rights of way often going back to the days when pack horses and horse-drawn carts were used for transporting goods, and when animals were driven on foot to market. But by the time highway authorities started tarmacing transport routes in the early decades of the twentieth century, these green lanes were not used for utilitarian purposes and so escaped sealing with tarmac. They often form useful links with other public rights of way and so should help to provide routes for the tranquil enjoyment of the countryside by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and carriage drivers. However such enjoyment may be spoilt by motorcyclists and 4×4 drivers who have the right to use green lanes which are recorded as BOATs on the definitive map of public rights of way and who assert that they have the right to use those green lanes which are UCRs (often shown as ORPAs on Ordnance Survey maps). ORPAs and UCRs are not shown on the definitive map because the level of public rights of way which they carry has not been decided.


The total lengths of BOATs and unsealed (i.e. green) UCRs in England and Wales are shown in Table 1 below. Not all authorities responded or were able to provide figures, especially for unsealed UCRs, so these totals are likely to be minimum estimates. However, two authorities (Hertfordshire and Powys County Councils) reported that a proportion of their lengths of BOAT were sealed with tarmac (17% and 25% respectively).

Table 1

kilometres miles
England Wales England Wales
BOATs 4,463    512 2,771    318
Unsealed UCRs 5,261  1,554 3,267    965
Total BOATs and unsealed UCRs 9,723*  2,066 6,038 1,283

* Figures do not add exactly because of rounding.

Wales has fewer BOATs than England, in proportion to its area. However it has many more unsealed UCRs than BOATs, so that overall it has a greater density of green lanes than England. However in both countries, BOATs and UUCRs make up a small proportion of the total public rights of way network available for recreation, as shown in Table 2 below

Table 2

England Wales
BOATs (km)      4,463      512
BOATs and unsealed UCRs (km)      9,723   2,066
Public rights of way (PRoW) on the definitive map (km) 190,000 33,000
BOATs as % PROW on the definitive map         2%      2%
BOATs and unsealed UCRs as % PRoW including unsealed UCRs         5%      6%

There is wide variation in the lengths of BOATs and unsealed UCRs between highway authorities. In part this may be due to differences in policies between authorities when the definitive map was compiled in the 1950s (see below) but this cannot be the only explanation because some authorities (e.g. Hampshire and Powys) have high lengths of both types of green lane. The 16 authorities with more than 200 kilometres of BOAT and UUCRs (accounting for 75% of the England total) are listed in Table 3 below.

Table 3 BOAT and unsealed UCR lengths (over 200 kilometres) by authority in England

Rank Authority Length (km)
BOAT unsealed UCR Total
1 Wiltshire 819 43 862
2 North Yorkshire 53 750 803
3 Devon 72 728 800
4 Hampshire 285 491 776
5 Norfolk 51 460 511
6 Cumbria 106 390 490
7 Northumberland 203 264 467
8 Cambridgeshire 402 Not known

9 Cornwall 209 125 334
10 Lincolnshire 26 303 329
11 Leicestershire 59 197 256
12 Suffolk 190 64 254
13 Dorset 23 223 246
14 Derbyshire 10 234 244
15 Essex 239 Not known

16 Kent 222 Not known

Table 3 shows that, in England, the authority with the greatest length of BOATs is Wiltshire (18% of the England total), followed by Cambridgeshire (9%) and Hampshire (6%). North Yorkshire and Devon have the greatest length of unsealed UCRs (14% of the England total each), followed by Hampshire and Norfolk (9% each).

In Wales, the authority with the greatest length of BOATs is Powys (43% of the Welsh total), followed by Carmarthenshire (13%) and Gwynedd and Neath Port Talbot (8% each). Powys also has the greatest length of unsealed UCRs (44% of the Welsh total), followed by Gwynedd (20%) and Carmarthenshire (10%).

Lost ways

It is sometimes argued that unsealed UCRs do not need to be added to the definitive map because they are already public rights of way by virtue of being maintainable by the highway authority. However, under current legislation, it will not be possible to add them to the definitive map after 2026 on the basis of historic evidence after the cut-off date of 2026 imposed by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. This means it will not be possible to decide what historic level of public rights they have, nor will it be possible to decide their legal width and any legal limitations.

There is evidence from several counties that unsealed UCRs were omitted from the definitive map when it was compiled in the 1950s because the county councils which made the decisions on which public rights of way claimed by parishes were to be included, considered that unsealed UCRs should not be, because they already had records of them.

Unsealed UCRs are therefore a major category of “lost ways”, that is, historic public rights of way which must be claimed for the definitive map before the cut-off date of 2026. Comparison of the GLEAM survey figures with the estimates of lost ways made by the Discovering Lost Ways in England and Wales project in 2002 suggests that unsealed UCRs make up between one third (England) and almost all (Wales) of the project estimates.

Experience in the highway authorities (Derbyshire County Council and Northumberland Council) which are actively adding unsealed UCRs to the definitive map shows that the scrutiny involved in this process reveals anomalies and mistakes in authorities’ records of unsealed UCRs e.g. differences in route between different records, routes diverted without the proper process. Adding unsealed UCRs to the definitive map in all authorities would provide a mechanism for correcting these anomalies and mistakes.