The British Horse Society (BHS) has been working with Isle of Wight Council Rights of Way team to ensure that a replacement bridge on the path between Alverstone and Sandown is safe for horses. Riders will then be able to enjoy off-road access from Sandown right through to Newport.
Petronella Nattrass, BHS South Access Field Officer, and Tricia Merrifield, volunteer BHS Access and Bridleways Officer for the Isle of Wight, liaised with the Rights of Way team to ensure the new design is suitable. “The existing bridge, which was never designed for equestrian use, really wasn’t suitable. The metal surface could be slippery, and there were no kick boards along the sides to prevent a slipping hoof going over the edge. We hope that, by working with the Rights of Way team from initial concept stage, we have been able to secure not just a safe replacement bridge, but that the whole route can now be opened up to horse riders, giving them additional safe off-road riding,” said Petronella.
The BHS has contributed £5000 to the cost of the new bridge. £2000 of this has come directly from the BHS Isle of Wight committee. The committee, which raises funds through events such as veterinary talks put on to improve horse owners’ knowledge, was keen to pledge funds to the project. Chair Andrea Durham explained “Improving access to safe off-road riding is a hugely important part of the BHS’ work. The roads are increasingly becoming scarier places to ride with more and more reports of accidents and near-misses where vehicles are passing horses too fast and too close. We want to do all we can to help increase off-road routes. We need the Island equestrian community’s support to do it though, and I’d urge all Island horse owners and riders to join the BHS, support our events and maybe, if they have some free time, even consider joining our small committee and helping us do more.”
The remaining £3000 came from the BHS Ride Out Fund, a centrally held fund for the specific purpose of increasing equestrian access, either by creating new routes or making unusable paths safe again. The Ride Out UK fund was established in 2015 and is made up of donations from the public and through volunteer-led fundraising events. Equestrians can donate to the Ride Out Fund at any time, but particularly by supporting the annual Ride Out UK campaign and locally organized events. This year, the campaign went ‘virtual’ in answer to the pandemic, with riders asked to get sponsorship to ride 70km.
Petronella explained the opportunity for future Ride Out UK funding on the island. “Thanks to the BHS Isle of Wight committee’s generous contribution to the Alverstone Bridge, it meant that the Ride Out UK fund contribution could be reduced by the same amount for this particular project. That means we have £2000 to spend on more improvements elsewhere, and we are keen to ensure this is on the island. We’d really like to hear from anyone who has a right of way near them that needs some work – maybe a bridleway in desperate need of some drainage, or a difficult gate that needs to be replaced to make it safe and easy to operate when mounted. Please do get in touch.”
A further donation of £2000 was made to the Council’s bridge works from the BHS Affiliated Isle of Wight Bridleways Group. The Council expect the work to be completed by around 23 November.