More than 300 requests to protect bridleways on the definitive map have been made this year as the British Horse Society (BHS) focuses on securing better access for riders ahead of the 2026 deadline.
Extra bridleways officers will be recruited in 2020 and the BHS is working on its campaigning angles now a new government has been formed.
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 historical routes for riders and carriage-drivers will be lost if not formally recorded on the definitive map by the cut-off date of 1 January 2026.
“‘Project Jigsaw: connecting the pieces’ aims to enable every rider and carriage-driver to access a safe network of off-road paths; tackling the issue of our limited and fragmented routes, and connecting them to build a full and complete picture,” said a BHS spokesman, adding this is made up of fundraising, promotion, lobbying and mapping.
“The last piece of the four-part jigsaw focuses on protecting and reinstating existing routes. Riders all over England and Wales are using historical routes that may be lost for ever on 1 January 2026 if they are not recorded on the definitive map. BHS volunteer access officers are undertaking crucial work to protect these vital routes for future generations.”
In 2019, the BHS received 343 applications to ensure those routes are not lost.
Other major recent developments include the dedication of a length of former railway track as part of the Tetbury Trail. Mike Tucker was posthumously honoured at the BHS awards in November for dedicating the first length of privately owned track as a bridleway to the trail.
His donation led to a second landowner, the Duchy of Cornwall, being approached successfully, and a third also dedicating land, which completed the link from the track to the road.
In 2019, the BHS’ “Ride out UK” campaign, which encouraged equestrians to take part in guided rides and pleasure rides to raise money for access work, raised £36,000. This is more than double the 2018 total and is spent on working with landowners to create new routes as well as preserving existing ones.
“The money is absolutely vital,” said BHS access director Mark Weston. “[In 2019], we decided to extend our campaign to reach even more riders and give them the opportunity to explore our beautiful British countryside. This proved hugely popular and successful, and we very much look forward to hosting the event again next year.”
The BHS also received 12 applications for funding last year, which went towards schemes in Essex, Somerset, Surrey and Dorset.
Mr Weston told H&H the organisation is expanding its access team next year, with four more field officers covering more of the UK, to join the two current roles in the southeast.
“The 2026 deadline moves ever closer, and these new positions will make a crucial difference to our access efforts,” said Mr Weston.
“The successful applicants will be responsible for fuelling the work to research and record lost rights of way as well as taking opportunities to support the establishment of new routes wherever possible.”
He added they will also co-ordinate meetings, equestrian access activities and recruit more volunteers.
The BHS is also renewing its campaign on lobbying for the 2026 cut-off date to be extended to 2031, and has three further priorities for the new government.
These are to ensure access is recognised in the new Agriculture Bill and that paths provided through active travel schemes should not exclude equestrians.
“[The organisation is also lobbying to ensure] that when the Environment Bill is reintroduced for there to be a commitment to making people’s enjoyment of the natural environment a priority, and to set targets for an increase in the number of public bridleways and restricted byways to provide more safe places for people to ride, carriage-drive and cycle on to reduce the number of equestrians killed and injured on our roads,” added the spokesman.
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