Horse riders are being urged to take action to ensure riding in public forests stays free.
A consultation by the Forestry Commission is seeking views from all forest users on the future long-term sustainable role of public forest estate in England.
The British Horse Society (BHS) is encouraging all equestrians to comment on the consultation before it closes 28 September.
The BHS is worried that a growing number of riders are being charged to ride in public forests — where walkers and cyclists are not.
And the organisation wants riders to object to this discriminatory behaviour.
“There has been an increase in the number of forests where riders have to buy a permit to access them,” said Mark Weston, BHS director of access, safety and welfare said. “These are public forests where access for walkers and cyclists is free of charge, and access for equestrians should be free as well.”
BHS regional access and bridleways officer (RABO) for the southern region, Janice Bridger, said: “The Forestry Commission’s discriminatory policy towards equestrians is frequently brought to my attention for a variety of reasons. Those on low incomes cannot pay to access safe off-road riding; some riders refuse to pay on principle to ride on what is public land; riders are expected to raise funds to surface tracks that other user groups can then use; and the difficulties of being able to make a day visit.”
The BHS also says the Forestry Commission’s policy is at odds with government initiatives to increase access to the countryside for all as well as being incompatible with Rights of Way improvement plans which do not rely on paying for public access.
Reponses must be received by 28 September.
Forest users will be asked how they are involved with the forest and their opinions on what benefits should be provided, the priorities of the forest management and the size, location and type of land that should make up the public forest estate.
A copy of the consultation document can be downloaded at www.forestry.gov.uk/england-estatestudy