Bridleways in Essex
Horse ownership in Essex is expanding. Unless the public 'right of way' network is increased significantly, the problems will multiply. Bridleways and byways are legal rights of way for public use on foot, horse and bicycle. Horse-drawn vehicles are entitled to use byways.
Essex is divided into administrative districts, for which the County Council is legally required to hold a correct Definitive Map of public rights of way (which can be seen at council offices). It has a duty to protect those rights.
If local authorities are to make a proper job of the County Council's policy to create bridleways, they will need to review the existing Definitive Map.
When this was first devised in 1953, the Ramblers' Association promoted the rights of walkers and the National Farmers' Union protected the interest of their members.
No such organisation existed to represent horse riders. In the event, Parish Councils, largely made up of landowners, did most of the groundwork for the map and it is fair to say that a great many routes, which had been ridden for decades, were either left off entirely or put on as footpaths. This is not particularly surprising since those were the days of little road traffic and comparatively few horses (equine pursuits had not been a priority in a nation fighting a recent war). It was not appreciated how important bridleways were to become.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 has legislated to improve access to the countryside and specifically provides for the correction of wrongly defined routes.
If it can be proven that a bridleway has existed at any one time it will be reinstated if historic research can prove this through the Essex Records Office, Parish Council minutes, signed statements from older people etc. However, if these bridleways are not claimed by the year 2026 they will be lost forever.
This research costs time and money. EBA is a charity staffed by volunteers. Every new member really helps keep our bridleways secure to pass on to the future generations of horse riders.