Words By Andreas Lange.
The sun peeks in between the green leaves swaying faintly in the warm September breeze, the calm hum of bees working to collect the season’s last remnant of honey is faintly heard in the background as I thread my way between different plants and flowers. For a moment it may seem like I was taking a walk through a lush national park, however, today the garden of Brighton based Reuben Hawthorn Orbach will do just fine.
Reuben, a 37 year old Self Employed carpenter who grew up in an environmentally self-sufficient commune in West Wales, spent his upbringing outside, climbing trees, exploring rivers, chopping wood. As a self employed carpenter today one might say his world hasn’t changed too much when it comes to the woodwork part of his life. And residing in Brighton for the past 20 years, nature hasn’t been unattainable as he is still an eager kayaker, biker of the south downs, and like many residents of Brighton & Hove, an avid hiker. In some ways one might even say his life is quite the same as his upbringing, but nothing lasts forever.
Because in January 2026, a little more than three years from now, the deadline for registering historic footpaths in England and the UK will run out. A deadline that were set out by the British government in the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Which means that footpaths and bridleways existing before the 1941 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act came into place and haven’t been put on definitive maps by January 2026, will vanish. And when that day comes, the public are in danger of losing access to 49 000 miles of footpaths and bridleways, research from Rambler has found.
“Losing that would be a tragedy really, as for the routes I take when I’m walking I can guarantee some of them are not registered, but they are quite clearly routes.” Reuben says and continues, “The large problem in Sussex is actually land ownership. (WordPress page but he is a published author) You can’t just roam in the same way you can in the hills and the peak district, the lake district or in Wales. Every bit of nature we have here needs to be protected and looked after.”
And this is what Rambler, “a charity whose goal is to protect the ability of people to enjoy the sense of freedom and benefits that come from being outdoors on foot.” According to their website, has set out to do with their campaign, Don’t lose your way. A project having so far engaged more than 3000 people and more than 96 000 miles have been searched, discovering 49 000 miles of unregistered footpaths and bridleways in Wales and England.
But with 2026 fast approaching the likelihood of registering every pathway is growing slimer. And in a world of growing urbanization, Reuben is worried about the possible consequences of less access to nature by effectively having the rights to use unregistered historic public footpaths revoked, should they fail to be registered in time for the 2026 deadline..
“As society becomes more and more urbanized I think that the break between nature and society is becoming larger really, we really need to maintain this link I think. If people are going to look after the world, they need to appreciate it and if people only grow up in cities and don’t enjoy nature then the chances are, the future generations are not going to be caring as much.”
For now the future increase in urbanization and city living is not about to stop anytime soon as a 2018 report released by the UN forecasts that 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050, a 16% increase from today’s 55%. And with city living in some instances being “associated with higher rates of most mental health problems” according to research done by the Centre For Urban Design and Mental Health.
It’s fair to say that access to nature is of paramount importance to human beings, as a 2015 Stanford study found that “people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.” Something Reuben has similar views on and experience with
“Growing up in a rural area helps but I do think nature is important for people’s mental health in all sorts of ways, the exercise, the calmness. I would be unhappy without it and it’s always been a part of my life.” Reuben says and points at the importance of maintaining the historic footpaths is important from a climate perspective as well.
“I commute to work offroad, I see more and more people doing that, with an electric mountain bike. Bridleways and footpaths in the countryside suddenly become totally viable ways of commuting, which is fantastic if you’re on a bike because you’re no longer stuck with all the diesel and petrol fumes and the risk of getting run over when you are out into the countryside. It takes almost the same amount of time for me now to get to Lewis offroad as it does riding along the A27 which is miserable, you know with electric transport i can see the sort of bridleways there may be a resurgence in use of them, not just for leisure, but for commuting.”
For now Ramblers are in the process of advocating in the process for a postponement of the 2026 deadline under the following reasons with more details outlined in their online briefing:
“Lack of additional resource to assist the voluntary sector”
“Delay to commencement of the Deregulation Act.”
“Lack of time to review and improve processes.”
“Local authority resource”
I have retreated back into the sunny Brighton streets and Reuben is heading off to the open access areas of Western Wales for the weekend. A visit to his place of upbringing and nature freedom, a visit he may have to do more often after January 2026. What the future holds however, is a journey not yet travelled.