28 May 1999


Next week (May 30-Jun 6) the BHS is holding its access week. It aims to reach the hearts and minds of MPs, landowners and motorists to help improve the safety of riding. Tamara Farrant reports.

The number of accidents involving horses continues to rise. The official figure is eight a day, although some believe a realistic figure is more like 29 a day. While riders and horses are arguably the most vulnerable road user – recognised in the new Highway Code – they have the least "off-road" provisions.

Salt was rubbed into the wound when provisions for the "right to roam" did not mention riders. "It is incredible that the DETR recognises the difficulties yet totally ignores the needs when it comes to allowing them safer off-road riding," says BHS chief executive Hywel Davies.

There are over 2m riders, and they, as well as other road users, would welcome more off-road riding. Incredibly some 25% of bridlepaths are blocked or unusable. This gets worse rather than better! This is despite the efforts of the BHSs 126 regional access and bridleways officers who research the history of rights of way, gather evidence and fight cases.

However, there are some glimmers of hope for riders and carriage drivers.

From Apr 1, the Forestry Commission has agreed to work towards free access for riders. Yet this good news has so much small print that in many areas the situation has not changed.

&#42 Bridleway network

Nichola Gregory, the BHSs press officer points out that those in Scotland, without a bridleway network, will benefit most. Also in the north of England riders can now use forestry land without a permit. Unfortunately the access status of every wood has to be checked with Forest Enterprise or the local BHS bridleways officer.

"This is a foot in the door. Where riders want to work towards improving access local committees will be set up, which will also include the Local Bridleways Association. Some forests will be putting on controls: they may want to know who is riding through the woods and know that they are insured. This clearly requires a logging or permit system."

In Sussex and Kent all forests continue to have a paid for permit system.

South East Toll Rides, a charity that organises off-road riding, is administering this. Nichola adds, "Access to Forestry Commission land has to be approached gently. The potential is enormous, but riders do have to show that they can be trusted. We hope that if riders adopt a sensitive approach: keep to specified paths, close gates behind them and avoid poaching, then access will spread to more forestry land."

Volunteers at South East Toll Rides have worked hard to obtain around 300 miles of off-road riding for its members. Farmers with livery businesses often provide off-road riding as part of the service. Also some landowners provide access to tracks and headlands for an annual fee.

During Access 99 the BHS is hoping that people with bridleway issues will take part in the access forum on its internet site:

Aims of Access 99

1. Alert landowners and local authorities to the need to keep bridleways open.

2. Encourage riders and carriage drivers to look after and act responsibly on existing routes.

3. Ensure the government fulfils its pledge to bring horses into its access policy.

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