On Sunday 5 October, a bridleways association and a Scout group joined forces in an innovative community project to make crucial improvements to two popular Surrey paths in time for winter.
The Worplesdon and District Bridleways Association (WDBA), an affiliated group of The British Horse Society, instigated the project with the Runnymede District Scout Group in order to carry out maintenance work on Bridleways 144 and 413 in Brookwood, Surrey. Used regularly by local horse riders, cyclists and walkers, BW144 had become overgrown with vegetation making it difficult to pass safely, while BW413 is prone to significant flooding. The work was imperative to ensure that both routes remain useable throughout the winter months.
The project was especially important to the WDBA, as the group had led previous restoration works with help from the BHS to transform both BW413 and an adjoining path to create a link onto Sheets Heath Common. To do so, they fundraised an impressive £15,000 in six years. Restoration of the adjoining path was only possible after close liaison between the WDBA, Natural England and Woking Borough Council, both of which had to approve the project, and the Surrey Heathland Project, that manages the Common.
For the Phoenix Explorer Scouts from the Runnymede Group, the project facilitated their attainment of the Environmental Partnership Award, a Scouting award in which Scouts are required to identify a partner in need of assistance and develop a project plan which is of benefit to the local community.
David Breakwell, leader of the Runnymede Scout Group, said, “This project ticks all the boxes for the award – it helps to enhance the local environment, and it gives the Scouts appreciation for the need to maintain the paths they walk, cycle or ride across.”
Throughout the day, while WDBA members concentrated on removing vegetation from BW144, the Scouts helped to clear the drainage ditch that was created when BW413 was originally restored. They also removed vegetation from the adjacent stream in order to prevent flooding. “The Scouts were all really keen and enthusiastic,” said Pamela Mosby, Chairperson of the WDBA. “It was hard work, but the difference that they made was amazing.”
“Where the Scouts had cleared the stream it was flowing much quicker. It was several inches shallower where it crosses the bridleway compared to its height at the beginning of the day. This will make a significant difference to the usability of the overall route during winter.”
“The project worked really well,” said David. “It was a great teamwork activity and all the Scouts left with a real sense of achievement, as they could see the physical difference that their work had made. They’re up for doing it again!”
The work of the WDBA and the Scout group will ensure that local residents can continue to enjoy using BW144 and BW413, regardless of whether they ride, walk or cycle. Pamela added, “While we are a bridleways association, we help to keep paths open for the benefit of the entire community – not just horse riders. The help offered by the Scouts enabled the WDBA to achieve significantly more than we would have been able to do alone. We certainly need more people like the Scouts to help us keep countryside paths open.”
Richard Pike, a local resident, uses the paths frequently as a dog walker and cyclist and is thrilled to see the improvements to the routes. “The work the WDBA has done is excellent,” said Richard. “It really will benefit everyone in the area, whether they walk, cycle or ride. The routes are so splendid, a lot of people may think it’s been upgraded by the Council, but it’s actually volunteers who are responsible for the paths’ restoration. More people should be aware of the great work volunteer groups do in their area.”
The British Horse Society has over 120 affiliated Equestrian Access Groups throughout the UK, who work to improve countryside access for all users. By supporting a bridleway group, you’re supporting the maintenance and development of off-road routes in your area for use by everybody – not just horse riders.
Find out where your nearest group is and how you can get involved.