Off-road hacking could be lost ‘for ever’ after Government U-turn

  • The Government has U-turned on its decision to scrap the 2026 deadline for historic routes to be included on the definitive map, putting swathes of off-road riding at risk of being lost for ever.

    In 2022, the British Horse Society (BHS) welcomed the news that the 1 January 2026 deadline had been abolished. But the Government has now backtracked on this, while extending the deadline by five years.

    The BHS has condemned the decision and has said that it puts “horse riders at increasing risk on England’s roads”.

    “The British Horse Society (BHS) is extremely disappointed to learn that the UK Government has broken its commitment to abolishing the 2026 deadline for saving vital off-road routes,” said a BHS spokesman.

    “This decision will mean such routes across England will be lost for ever, resulting in even more restrictions when it comes to accessing the countryside.

    “For horse riders, who currently have access to just 22% of the rights of way network, this decision will be particularly damaging. In 2022 alone, 68 horses were killed on Britain’s roads and 139 riders injured, therefore the protection of safe off-road routes is critical to make sure equestrians remain safe.”

    A Defra spokesman confirmed to H&H that the Government will retain the cut-off date for registering historic rights of way, which the department said will provide certainty for users, landowners and local authorities. But he added that the secretary of state has decided to use existing powers in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) to extend the deadline to 1 January 2031.

    “We are committed to increasing access to nature and our environmental improvement plan sets out our ambition for every household to be within a 15-minute walk of a green space or water,” said the spokesman.

    “We are now moving forward with plans to reform existing bureaucratic processes and make it easier and faster to update the legal record of rights of way.”

    BHS director of access Mark Weston slammed the decision.

    “Recent years have illustrated just how vital more off-road access is for the safety, health and wellbeing of horse riders, as well as walkers and cyclists,” he said.

    “These bridleways and byways should be protected for future generations to enjoy and treasure. Unfortunately, this U-turn from the Government could cause the opposite effect and will put access to safe riding routes at great risk.

    “Through our Project 2026 campaign, we have worked closely with our volunteers, members and supporters to save 2,800 bridleways and byways. Without their crucial work, these historic rights of way could have been wiped off the definitive map. But there are plenty more routes that are still in danger.”

    He added that the BHS will continue to work “with our brilliant network of over 400 volunteers” to research and record these routes.

    “However, it must be recognised that there is already a backlog of applications waiting to be processed and the necessary steps need to be put in place quickly to make it possible for paths to be researched, applied for, and processed within this tight deadline,” he said.

    “The outcome of this announcement means that many of our favourite off-road routes will be gone for ever.”

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