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Riders who use off-road tracks in Epping Forest have lost a long campaign to continue riding there for free, fuelling concerns that other private landowners may start charging riders for access to popular beauty spots.

Epping Forest Riders Association has been fighting the introduction of a permit system in the Greater London Forest for 15 years.

Spokesman Adrian Liddle says that the association has now admitted defeat and has decided to work with the Corporation of London, which owns and manages the land, to try to ensure that the system is workable.

“A bye-law has been passed to introduce the permit system, which will come into force on 1 October, and there will be a public meeting this week to help local yards get to grips with the scheme,” he says. “But a number of riders have already said that they will not comply.

“The conservators think that they will make money out of the permits, but they will be disappointed — they have estimated that 2000 riders use the Forest, but we reckon it is more like 300.”

The bye-law has been introduced, says the Corporation, to address the behaviour of a minority of riders who cause problems by riding in a reckless manner or using tracks not designed for riding.

Riders will pay £40 per year and riding schools £50 per horse, and will be issued with a numbered bridle disc for identification.

Epping Forest has more than 20 miles of surfaced horse rides and 25 miles of unsurfaced tracks. The Corporation of London says that it has invested more than £1m to create the routes and spends £100,000 per year on maintenance.

“I am concerned that other landowners may consider similar schemes, and force more riders onto the roads,” says Adrian.

Meanwhile in the Lake District the National Parks Authority (NPA) has also introduced a permit scheme at Gatesgarth Pass, the southern end of Haweswater.

The route has been closed to motorcyclists and 4x4s, except for one day a month. Initially riders and carriage drivers were also banned, but now they may apply for a permit free of charge and will be given the combination for locked gates at either end of the pass.

Mark Eccles, access manager for the NPA, says that there was never any desire to exclude riders from the area but that there was no way to exclude motor vehicles without locking the gates.

“Gatesgarth Pass was badly eroded and damage had spread to surrounding vegetation. It was a huge job to repair the worst sections and now we want to monitor its recovery closely. Allowing horses back on to the track is another step forward,” he says.

Read the full story in this week’s Horse & Hound (4 September). Click here to subscribe and enjoy Horse & Hound delivered to your door every week and get up to 19 issues free