Bridleway experts say that plans to tarmac a route in Suffolk to make it more accessible for cyclists will put riders at risk and could have wide repercussions.

Suffolk County Council has announced a scheme to tarmac a 2½ mile bridleway from West Row village to Mildenhall. The announcement came as a surprise to riders as neither they, nor the British Horse Society, was consulted.

Riders plan an awareness ride along the bridleway next Saturday organised by West Row horse owner Trudy Lovatt. They have been backed by the BHS and by Elizabeth Barrett, who has spent 30yrs trying to establish new bridleways and protect existing ones.

“This plan is appalling,” said Mrs Barrett, who is a BHS activist and leader of the Camino Riders bridleway route. “It will encourage the ‘head down, flat out’ cyclists and there are going to be accidents. Horses don’t hear them coming.

“What worries me is if they get this through here, we could lose every bridleway in the county. It would be unstoppable.”

Village residents are supporting the riders’ campaign. Bill Phillips, who lives next to the start of the bridleway, said that though the council called the plan an upgrade of the bridlepath, it would destroy its character and attraction.

“I take my grandson for walks down here and he loves it. Children need this chance [to explore the countryside] — if they put tarmac down, you might as well walk down the road,” he said.

County councillor Colin Noble said people had been asking for a cycleway between West Row village and Mildenhall for many years, so the county obtained a £150,000 government grant to make this possible.

“The opportunity was there, the funding was there and it was what the community had asked for — though I fully accept, not these members of the community,” he said. “I’m willing to sit down and talk this through with people.”