Inevitably, any discussions or arguments lead us to the dreaded subject of Brexit, so it is not surprising that it has reared its ugly head in our own area of interest; access to the countryside. Michael Gove has reportedly expressed his desire that farmers should be rewarded if they open up their land for public use. Obviously this is a direction we would be very interested in following and I am pleased to say that once again our Bridleways Development Officer Sue is definitely on the case! Essex Local Access Forum consists of various interested parties, including people from ‘both sides of the fence’, so includes farmers and landowners, as well as various user groups. This can be helpful in ironing out differences and problem areas at an early stage, thus enabling a united front in any decisions and recommendations. A joint proposal between the BHS, Ramblers, Open Spaces Society and the Byways and Bridleways Trust, relating to a new proposal for further access to be built into any new agricultural policy agreed when the UK leaves the EU, has now been agreed by the members of ELAF. In addition, it was agreed that a letter be written to Michael Gove and Essex MPs to ask for their support for further access within any new post-Brexit deal. Sue also works closely with BHS representatives around the country, and a concerted effort will be made to meet MPs, starting with John Whittingdale, followed up by other Essex MPs. Hopefully BHS representatives around the country will make similar efforts on their own patches.
DEFRA has now issued a new consultation document: – Health and Harmony, to establish a future direction for food, farming and the environment in a green Brexit. This will be available until mid May, and it does give us all the opportunity to respond at a crucial stage of planning, and perhaps achieve a serious policy for access to farmland for walkers, riders and cyclists, which is becoming more and more imperative as time passes.
Many of you will be aware of the huge amount of development planned for Essex, especially in the south of the county which is already more heavily populated. This is one of the reasons why it is vital for us to be involved when Local Plans are devised, to ensure our riders are still able to get out on their horses and access safe, off road routes. With the arrival of every New Year, we are conscious that it is another year less remaining for us to record any lost or forgotten routes which are not on the definitive map. In 2026, these will be erased from records and lost for good. Thus, we have to press hard for both proof of existence of lost or unrecorded ways as well as the development and improvement of the current Public Rights of Way network.
I wonder how many of you saw the Julia Bradbury TV summary of Britain’s Best Walks. For those of us who love walking, it was a must see, but it did serve as a reminder that horse riders are only able to access half of these routes, and of those permissible for horse riders, very few allow them to ride the whole route. It is a sad fact that riders only have access to 22% of the rights of way network, and in Essex this is only 14%, despite our large numbers of riders, and rather high urbanisation.
Despite the fact that we may feel it is still mid-Winter, and we never know if we are going to wake up to yet another snowfall, the year is creeping onwards, and yes, we will be starting all those rides and activities aimed at summertime! Our Middlewick Farm ride is a mere three weeks away, as I write, and May heralds the BHS Ride Out Month, when there will be lots of events and rides organised all round the country to raise money for the Paths for Communities Fund. BHS initiated this fund with £25,000 to help fund multi user routes, and hope to increase and expand the fund to help create many more bridleway projects over time. We, at EBA were able to benefit from a contribution from this fund when we organised remedial work on our bridleway route at Weald Park last year. This year, the Ride Out Month is sponsored by Throwgood, who have generously offered to donate five saddles to lucky winners, so hopefully we will see even more activities and fundraising this year.
A final thought to those of you who have had enough of this dreadful spring weather, I was entertained by the blog from a member of the Knackered Riders Club, ladies of a certain age, who have been determined to carry on riding against all odds. It seemed a little close to home when I read how bad backs, aching knees, stiff hips and ankles had to be eased before they took courage to dismount! Horsy girls never age – much!