Key amendments in favour of riders were made to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill in the House of Lords last week.
But Baroness Mallalieu, who represented riders’ interests and acted on behalf of the British Horse Society (BHS) as the bill went through Parliament, says this bill and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 were wasted opportunities to create a national bridleway network.
“The BHS has done its best, but the Ramblers’ Association is very effective at lobbying. The emphasis of these bills has been on walkers. We’ve wasted chances,” said the Baroness.
She fought for rider access as part of the government’s plan for a coastal walking path.
She said: “I feared this bill would close down access for riders, with people saying the new coastal access route was only available for walkers. I believe the government has accepted our argument and the bill will now not adversely affect [existing] access for riders.”
Bridleway campaigner Catriona Cook said: “More and more landowners have padlocked their gates, but put in stiles for walkers. If our access isn’t written down, we lose it.”
Former Conservative MP and president of the National Equine Welfare Council Harry Greenway, agrees: “This bill will see no greater access, no progress on converting paths to bridleways and there will be no restoration should they disappear through erosion.
“Now the horseworld needs to fight to amend the Highways Act. It is something we can press both parties for manifesto pledges on coming into a general election.”
BHS director of access Mark Weston said: “Equestrians must lobby doubly hard so they are not an afterthought when decisions are made for new access opportunities.”
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (11 June, ’09)