A report released by The Country, Land and Business Association has given horse riders and carriage drivers great cause for concern, according to The British Horse Society.
The UK’s foremost equestrian charity is concerned that the report, ironically titled The Right Way Forward: The CLA’S Common Sense Approach to Access in the Countryside, contains very little common sense.
In the report the CLA makes numerous recommendations that fail to recognise the economic and recreational value of the definitive rights of way network, in fact they even fail to recognise that carriage drivers are legitimate users of the network.
No proposals are put forward to connect the existing equestrian public rights of way network so that equestrians have a safe off-road network to use. This despite the fact that NHS statistics for 2010-11 show that 3,875 horse riders or occupants of horse drawn vehicles were admitted to hospital in England as a result of being injured on our busy roads. Figures such as these prove the inadequacies of the current fragmented equestrian network and demonstrate the need for a comprehensive connected network. With each accident potentially costing the nation thousands of pounds the cost of getting further equestrian routes put onto the definitive map represents good value and provides a recreational resource for walkers and cyclists as well.
There is no recognition in the report of the contribution that the horse industry makes to the well being of the rural economy. The horse industry contributes £7 billion pounds annually to the national economy, a large proportion of which benefits rural businesses either directly or indirectly through the purchase of livery services, feed, bedding, all weather surfaces, fencing and so on. If the industry is to continue to flourish, equestrians need safe off-road places to ride which are definitive and not liable to be closed or obstructed at the whim of a landowner.
One can only suspect the contribution of CLA members to furthering the definitive network is insignificant, as the report does not state how many kilometres of definitive equestrian routes CLA members have created voluntarily in the 20 years since it last published its policies on public access and rights of way, or indeed how much access its members have provided for equestrians under section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
The Association’s desire to halt claims for unused, unrecorded ways amounts to a misappropriation of public property, as those public rights would become private property at the stroke of a pen. The BHS believes that the only method which has delivered significant gains to the equestrian network has been restoring historic routes to the public domain. This method helps to provide a useable equestrian off-road network, and preserves historical routes, a part of our cultural heritage, for future generations. Using a route with historical significance greatly adds to the riding, walking or cycling experience.
In the past when horses were the main means of transport, these routes used to be the best way of crossing the country. Some of them still have the remains of drainage facilities and hard surfacing, meaning the cost of bringing them back into use is often less than creating a brand new route. Correctly recording historical ways has added some 100 miles of equestrian public rights of way in North East Yorkshire alone. When equestrian users ask landowners to dedicate a useful linking route, the answer is all too often ‘no’. But when historical evidence can be produced that a route is in fact a historic route, many landowners are willing to accept this, and the route goes onto the Definitive Map without the need for a modification order.
Mark Weston, BHS Director of Access, Safety and Welfare, said: “There is little in the report that will provide comfort to equestrian users of the public rights of way network and those businesses that rely on the network for their economic survival.
“The BHS believes that the current system of recording routes onto the definitive map can be more efficient and urges the Government to implement in its entirety the recommendations of The Stakeholder Working Group on Public Rights of Way.
“The Society agrees that local authorities should be more proactive in enforcing the rights of way legislation so that routes are not obstructed and are open for use by the thousands of users who use the network every day.”