New mountain bike route is ‘an accident waiting to happen’ for horse riders

  • Riders are campaigning against a new bike trail that will cross 2 bridleways in the Surrey Hills.

    The British Horse Society (BHS) maintains that the route is being built without “public consultation or lawful consent”.

    Local rider Tessa Gooding noticed excavation work while hacking around Leith Hill Tower in January and discovered that a cycle path is due to open this spring.

    “We have bridleways that will be in the middle of a downhill bike track,” she said.

    “It is being built by cyclists for cyclists, with a complete lack of understanding of how horses behave in confined spaces with unexpected activity happening alongside them.

    “Of most concern is a 100ft blind spot where cyclists won’t know if there is a horse in the sunken bridleway beneath them.”

    The BHS and local riders are in discussions with the National Trust — which owns the land — and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Board (AONB).

    Surrey County Council (SCC) manages the common under access agreement 1949, but has “to date remained silent on the matter”, according to Bob Milton, common land adviser to the BHS.

    SCC added it had “nothing further to add”.

    Penny Tyson-Davies, BHS bridleways officer for Mole Valley, said there has been no equestrian input.

    “If they had consulted the BHS, they would have been told that a fast off-road cycle track alongside and crossing bridleways is out of order. Mountain bikes whizzing in and out of trees, jumping ramps above horses’ heads, around an established sunken horse track, is an accident waiting to happen.

    But Sam Bayley, National Trust head ranger, said that dedicated tracks for mountain bikers will improve safety, because cyclists have been “creating unauthorised trails at Leith Hill following and crossing many bridleways”.

    “We aim to balance the needs of everyone,” he said. “The design will ensure cyclists naturally slow down at crossing points by appropriate turns and signage.”

    Rob Fairbanks, of Surrey Hills AONB said: “It is not feasible to ban biking in one of the most popular areas in England. We want to work with the BHS to educate cyclists about the priority that needs to be given to horse riders, so we can all share the Surrey Hills.”

    This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (27 February 2014)

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