Equestrian access to thousands of acres of England’s forests could be lost if public forests are sold off as part of the Government’s efforts to plug the national deficit.
The UK’s largest equestrian charity, The British Horse Society has pledged its commitment to fight for the future of equestrian access to public forests. And groups like the Toll Rides (Off-road) Trust and Essex Bridleways Association say that if riders do not make it clear they want to retain the current widespread access they enjoy, they could lose it.
BHS director of access, safety and welfare Mark Weston said: “It is important that access for equestrians is secured for future generations before any such sale takes place and if that cannot be assured, then we would oppose any sale vigorously.”
In 2010, Defra announced it would sell 15% of its forestry holding to raise £100m. Now it has unveiled a strategy for the other 85%.
It has divided its holding into four broad categories. Plans are to put land in one of these groupings (the heritage community forests) into the care of charitable organisations and sell or lease the rest to local groups, private individuals and companies.
The changes would take place relatively quickly – over the next ten years. And although access for walkers is protected in most areas, current rules would allow new owners to ban riders.
“Horse riders are going to be most hard-hit (as usual!), since most routes are permissive, requiring the purchase of permits.” said Mary Balch, press officer for the Essex Bridleways Association, before urging local riders to sign the online petition.
A Defra spokesman said worried riders should respond to the consultation document (see above). The public consultation period runs until close of business on 21st April and the results will be published in the summer.