RIGHTS OF WAY WATCH
Forestry Commission gets tough on riders
Riders in Alice Holt Forest, which lies between Farnham in West Surrey and Alton in North East Hampshire, are being stopped by the Police and told they shouldn't be there without a permit.
Says one rider, who has been stopped, "A police car was sitting waiting to catch horse riders without permits! They took names and addresses and said next time they would be taken to court. When asked what the charge would be, they said 'Breaking a byelaw'."
Ginny Baker, another rider stopped by the police explains what happened.
“ I had been challenged by a ranger whilst riding in Alice Holt but I decided to ride through there a few days later. I was with a friend who was on my other horse. As we left the forest at the Church at Rowledge a female police officer was parked and asked if she could speak to us.
<< Ginny Baker riding one of her horses, India
“My initial thought was, "Oh no! We really have been reported to the police" but was relieved when she said she was investigating reports of people galloping through the forest. I told her I had never seen anyone galloping in Alice Holt and that as we were only allowed on the stony tracks where you could only walk and that the grassy paths were out of bounds and virtually impassable to horses I presumed it must be kids on ponies.
“As we turned to leave she asked if we had been galloping. I laughed as my horse that I was riding is now 18 years old and a bit arthritic and my new horse ridden by my friend is an ex- international show jumper that is unlikely ever to have been galloped in his life! The thought of us two 50+ "happy hackers" galloping through the woods amused me immensely but the police officer was obviously not horsy and seemed to think that was how we rode!!!!!
“The police officer then told us she had been called by the rangers and had been sitting in the car park waiting to intercept riders without permits. I admitted that I was most probably the rider she was waiting for, which she confirmed when I gave her my name and address. She advised me that I was breaking a byelaw by riding in the forest without a permit and that I risked prosecution if I was caught there again.
“I accepted the caution and have not ridden in Alice Holt forest since ( except on late summer evenings and very, very early mornings when I feel sure the rangers are tucked up in their beds!!!!!)
Ginny's two horses, Anderson and India >>
“I certainly do not wish to end up being prosecuted nor do I intend to buy a permit to gain access to a local area that is free to everyone else
“I am aware that non locals pay to park cars and hire bikes but hundreds of locals (including myself) access the forest regularly to walk dogs, on bikes, with push chairs and wheel chairs and with children. There are specially constructed paths and fantastic play areas which can be used completely free of charge but the minute you get on a horse you are denied the right even to walk around on hard stony tracks.”
Phil Kedge, (pictured left) East Hampshire District Commander of Hampshire Police, has admitted that Pc Louisa Whatmore from Alton Police, "attended the Alice Holt Forest following a complaint from the manager that two riders were continually breaching local byelaws by not having a permit to ride their horses. The manager states that his staff had brought this to their attention on previous occasions but had received very 'uncivil' responses from them.”
Ginny disputes that they have ever been “uncivil”.
“I don t think they could say they have had an uncivil response from me,” she says. “For many years Adrienne and I regularly chatted to a previous manager who was always nice to us and said he did not understand why we were supposed to pay. When challenged by the new warden we were never uncivil though I do remember a ranger trying to grab hold of Adrienne’s horse a few years ago and our manners may have slipped a little then!!!!”
The District Commander continued,”I am also aware that the riders have been previously spoken to over the phone by Pc John Hockley, the Rural Communities Officer from Surrey Police.
"Pc Louisa Whatmore (pictured right) stated that there was a positive dialogue with the riders and she warned them regarding the breach of the bye law. If they wish to ride their horses on the land then I understand that there is a requirement to purchase a permit.
"I find no reason as to why the persons concerned should be exempt from the law and the purchasing of a permit.
"If there is a further breach of the byelaw with the non payment of a permit, then I am happy for Pc Louisa Whatmore to supply a statement to the Forestry Commission supporting a prosecution if they wish to pursue such action."
The District Commander does, however, also admit,
" We would be unlikely to prosecute as an enforcement agency ourselves, but would provide an officer witness statement if the FC wishes to enforce the byelaw."
Says a local rider, "For the time being we are not using the forest as being threatened by the police is a bit scarey and spoils our ride in there."
Alice Holt has been more-or-less continuously wooded since trees first colonised Southern England after the last Ice Age (around 7000 years ago).
The Romans used the local clay for large scale production of pottery
in kilns fired by the abundant wood.
During the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods the area was preserved for hunting, eventually passing to the King and becoming a Royal Forest protected by the strict "Forest Law".
The woods have been managed by man for centuries and in the 18th & 19th Centuries provided oak for the Navy.
Many famous historical figures had associations with the Forest, from a 10th century Bishop of Winchester, (from who's name 'Aelfsige' the placename 'Alice Holt' derives), through to Gilbert White, the 18th Century naturalist of Selborne and William Cobbett the 19th Century firebrand political commentator.
What do you think ?
Do you think the Forestry Commission is right to call upon the Police to help them charge riders to ride in the forest ?
Do you think riders should be threatened by the Police if they do not have a Forestry Commission permit ?
Have you ever been stopped by the Police and asked if you have a permit
to ride on Forestry Commission land ?
Please send us the details
The more we know, the more we can help each other.
Forestry Commission replies to our story
Says the Forestry Commission
- Riders have suggested they help us by managing the permit system themselves
- Rangers are working to be fair to those riders who have bought a permit
- We understand people’s desire to ride their horse in Alice Holt and the demand needs to be managed
Do you agree with what the Forestry says ?
Forestry Commission Statement
"Alice Holt is a very popular woodland and the Forestry Commission works hard to balance the different interests of over 300,000 visitors a year. The woodland does not have the best conditions for horse riding because it is on heavy clay soils that readily become waterlogged and can take a long time to dry out. It is also divided in to relatively small areas by very busy roads and some of these areas do not have an extensive network of rides and forest roads. Unfortunately Alice Holt forest is not well connected to the wider countryside by bridleways. Having annual permits for horse riding means we can balance the needs of riders without damaging the woodland.
"We have recently engaged with a group of riders that see the need for investment in creating facilities and repairing the ground damage that inevitably happens when horses travel on heavy clay soils. These riders have suggested they help us by managing the permit system themselves and help the Forestry Commission decide where to invest. As a result we have already worked in partnership with the local rights of way team to make some improvements along a public right of way within the forest.
"We also have a positive relationship with local Police Officers who understand the need for the permits and work with us to make sure that all visitors to Alice Holt have a safe and enjoyable visit while making sure that the woodland is not damaged.
"There have inevitably been incidents where riders that do not have a permit are challenged by our Rangers. They are working to be fair to those riders who have bought a permit and are ultimately trying to protect the woodland from damaging over-use.
"We understand people’s desire to ride their horse in Alice Holt and the demand needs to be managed, just as every other activity within Alice Holt is managed. So why not engage constructively with the Forestry Commission to further your chosen pursuit?"