Equestrians are most concerned at the implications for the future of the safe off road riding in our forests in England, if the Government proceeds with its proposals to sell off the public forest estate in England without taking steps to secure equestrian access in them before any sale takes place.
In England the length of the public right of way network currently amounts to 188,700km, consisting of 146,600km of footpaths, 32,400km of bridleways, 3,700km of byways and 6,000km of restricted byways. Horse riders therefore, currently only have access to 22 percent of public rights of way and horse-drawn vehicle drivers only five percent.
Many rights of way are now disconnected from each other because the roads that should connect them are no longer safe for equestrians to use because of the speed and volume of motorised traffic on them, leaving many equestrians without a safe local route to use.
Access for walkers is protected by section 16 Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROWA), such protection is not currently afforded to equestrians and cyclists
There is no good reason why the Forestry Commission could not secure access for equestrians across the freehold forestry estate under section 16 CROWA. The argument that it might devalue the value of the landholding does not hold water as such a dedication has already been made in respect of providing access for walkers across the freehold forestry estate in England.
Past evidence shows that even where land is sold to other bodies equestrians are often denied access that they have enjoyed for years. Examples are:-
Tudeley Woods in Kent, when the RSPB took these over their first action was to put up "no horses" signs.
When the National Trust took over commons with statutory rights for horse riders, they argued that their own legislation overruled the previous statutory rights and enabled them to restrict horse riding.
When the City of London Corporation bought land near the Surrey border, it stopped access by horse riders, saying it was incompatible with its conservation objectives.
Blean Woods Kent - the Kent Wildlife Trust has withdrawn
a toll ride for horse riders in a large part of its woods at
Blean. Pressed by Kent County Council to agree to dedicate
a public bridleway or a licensed permissive bridleway to take
a national cycle route across its Blean woods, the Trust refused,
citing conservation reasons (though the track in question is
a wide road with a firm surface) and the access it already
provides on foot.