Concerns route-use evidence does not include equestrians

  • CONCERNS have been raised that local authorities may be using sources that cannot record equestrian activity to determine who is using rights of way.

    Carriage-driver Fiona Powell contacted H&H as her local rural county council’s proposed “cycling and walking strategy” document contained only one mention of equestrian use. But the council also referenced the Strava global heat map in its evidence of usage.

    Strava, a popular activity-tracking app, allows runners, walkers and cyclists to track, record and analyse their activity, but there is no option to record equestrian use.

    “This means that those horse riders and carriage drivers who do record their outings must choose a non-equestrian sport such as cycling or running or use other apps, so distorting the publicly available heat map of usage or omitting their activities completely,” Fiona told H&H. “Worryingly, other councils also use the Strava heat map. It is appealing, easy to use and looks convincing; how likely is it that planners and policy-makers know or care that all equestrian usage is excluded?”

    Fiona said she has access to byways and restricted byways on which to drive.

    “You read all the awful things that happen to riders on the road, and I know a bit about the active travel requirements from the Government; local authorities are supposed to be making more routes available for it,” she said. “I imagine many people involved in policymaking don’t know anyone who rides or carriage-drives; in this 44-page council strategy, it only says “and equestrian use” once.

    “The Strava heat map is brilliant and you can see all these routes being used but because you can’t record equestrian activity, people who do use it record as cycling or running. That means councils can say there’s no evidence of equestrian use and we get overlooked.

    “The [British Horse Society] BHS, The Trails Trust and many other groups are doing great work campaigning. If we want to be included in plans for safe off-road multi-user routes for future generations of horse riders and drivers, we need to get together, raise awareness and make ourselves heard now.”

    A BHS spokesman told H&H sourcing data of use by walkers, cyclists and riders should be carried out over “an appropriate amount of time, during periods where the users are likely to use it, as equestrians often use routes at less busy times”.

    “If this is done in an open and transparent way it can avoid the findings being inaccurate, which can potentially influence their decision-making process,” he said.

    “Although apps such as Strava indicate popular routes used by cyclists and walkers, this will not include all users, and excludes equestrian use as well as individuals who do not record their journeys. This should therefore not be relied upon to gain data on user activity on equestrian routes or places equestrians can access.”

    An East Suffolk Council spokesman told H&H work on the strategy is ongoing and “a positive approach to equestrian activities is being taken”.

    “The draft strategy identifies infrastructure opportunities and should not be read as prescriptive, as detailed designs will be undertaken at a later stage with further consideration given to equestrian activities,” he said.

    “The consultation response to the draft strategy was very high and we are reviewing all comments and amending the strategy accordingly, in collaboration with our steering group. We are also in contact with a national equestrian association.

    “Consideration will be given, and the strategy amended, to take account of comments before a final document is published.”

    Strava was unavailable for comment.

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