The British Horse Society (BHS) has been landed with a bill for £30,000 costs after losing a court battle to save a bridleway in Oxford.

The charity had been trying to prevent BMW (UK) Manufacturing Ltd from stopping up Bridleway 75 and part of an unclassified highway in order to develop its Cowley car production plant. The way links two bridleways giving riders access to Shotover Country Park and Brasenose Woods.

The BHS lodged a formal objection when the company applied to Oxfordshire County Council for the bridleway to be extinguished, and on 15 October a district judge at Witney Magistrate’s court in Oxfordshire approved BMW’s application.

“This is a huge blow to us,” said Mark Weston, BHS director of access. “It will have a detrimental impact on our ability to fight other cases to protect rights of way.”

He added: “It seems strange that BMW is prepared to see Britain’s leading equine charity affected so detrimentally when it sells so many vehicles to riders.”

In a statement the BHS said it regarded BMW’s action as “an attack on horse riders”.

In court BMW proposed to provide an alternative route for cyclists and walkers, but Mr Weston said he was disappointed the plans included no provision for riders.

But Rebecca Baxter of BMW Group Plant Oxford said the company had no objections to the proposed alternative path being adapted for equestrian use.

She added that BMW had records showing there had been “no equestrian use of the bridleway in the past 30 to 40 years”. She claimed it was only when the public consultation opened in spring 2006 that riders started using the route.

“These were protest rides,” she said, “some of which were designed to attract media attention.”

Mr Weston admitted the bridleway had “minimal equestrian usage” but stressed its importance lay in providing access to “one of only two viable riding areas in the city of Oxford”.

Oxford resident Troth Wells, who regularly rides the route and is a member of Oxford Area Bridleways Association, said she was “deeply disappointed to have lost a link in the bridleway network that provides access to pleasant riding areas”.

The BHS plans to launch a “national fighting fund” to recoup the £30,000.

www.bhs.org.uk