Phil Nichols – Access and Bridleways Officer for Warwickshire – explains the threat to unrecorded routes used by riders and carriage drivers.
‘AK-SES’ The means or opportunity to approach or enter a place.
Access is something we all generally take for granted; we access the roads to travel, enter the supermarket and go into the pub or restaurant on the way home.
Access could also be considered a basic human right; we can’t live our lives without access to a host of things and because of this networks of accessible things have developed over the millennia.
This is particularly true of transport access. Tracks or footpaths became established by common usage of individuals and then groups travelling from a hamlet to the market or church; bridleways appeared for the use of pack animals or carts taking goods from village to village; drove roads were established to take herds of domesticated animals from the hills and pastures to the market towns.
Fairly recently, in historic terms, it was decided that all the known routes should be recorded and put on a map, the ‘Definitive Map’, to be held and maintained by the local authority for the purpose of determining the legal status and usage of these routes.
While this is fine in theory, it became apparent that, particularly with relatively little used tracks, this was not so easy. The surveyors were generally not local people so they recorded what they could see and what they could measure.
This meant that they would survey a route, measuring its width and where it went from and to; they also recorded its usage, so, if when they were there they saw, say, ten peasants carrying a shopping basket each and going from the village to the nearest market, then that track was recorded as a footpath. The fact that on every other day of the week the track might have been frequented by travellers with horses and carts and should have been recorded as a bridleway or byway would have been missed.
We are living with the legacy of this today: footpaths which logically and reasonably should be bridleways, bridleways connected at each end to a footpath with no other means of getting to it, negating its use as a bridleway and tracks unsuitable for anything other than foot traffic being used by mechanised vehicles.
In 2026 the definitive map will be ‘frozen’. Any right of way not on it will not be added after that date; anything recorded erroneously will remain at that status with no potential for upgrade. Basically, if we haven’t got it before 2026, we won’t have it after.
Riders and carriage drivers are poorly provided for and we are being deprived of our heritage and historical rights. It seems that every piece of new legislation affecting access and transport adversely affects equestrians.
Please consider what you want as a rider or driver, get together with your friends and fight for your rights, ride the routes and keep them open.
Remember, use it or lose it - we're running out of time!
To contact Phil Nichols regarding access concerns in Warwickshire, email firstname.lastname@example.org