Article by Mary Balch re EBA's 40th Anniversary
Essex Bridleways Association (EBA) is an independent charity, formed in 1979 by our President Deirdre Graham with the aim of protecting and extending the network of bridleways and byways in the county. This year we are celebrating our 40th anniversary, and this has prompted some nostalgic thoughts about where we came from, and where we are headed.
Back in the 1950’s, those of us whom were lucky enough to be riders were able to enjoy our ponies to the full, riding across many open spaces, quiet roads (yes, even the A127 was quiet enough to ride and lead horses along!). The Definitive Map, which identifies public rights of way, was reviewed in the 1950’s and unfortunately, horses were considered to be ‘a thing of the past’ by some ill-considered surveyors, and thus some bridleways and byways were defined as footpaths at that time. It took some years before the full implications of this were to be realised, as those halcyon days were overtaken by housing development and ever-increasing road traffic.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 required the Highway Authority (County Council) to fully review rights of way. EBA has therefore been working to claim any lost, unrecorded or closed routes since that time. We have had major successes, along with great disappointment but we have soldiered on. There is a cut-off date for applications to modify the Definitive Map, of 2026, beyond which any non-recorded routes will be lost forever.
As EBA grew in numbers, we set up groups of supporters all over Essex, to review their own area for lost or undefined routes, as well as blocked or impassable paths. Our Area Representatives have co-ordinated bridleway claims and clearance parties in their own areas and in liaison with Essex County Council. In recent years, this has become more significant as the county council have far smaller resources to offer in terms of funding public rights of way. This includes funding for both creation and maintenance of routes so any help we can offer, either financial or physical, has now become imperative.
Our highly efficient executive team, Chaired by Julia Wilson, now work together to co-ordinate our efforts, including fundraising. Our amazing ride co-ordinators plan many rides across the year, not only creating the essential funding for our work, but providing many riders with great new hacking experiences in a safe environment over marked routes with Marshals along the way. Aside from our campaigning work, EBA are keen to help riders in the area enjoy the whole hacking experience, which we are convinced can be so enjoyable for both riders and their trusty steeds. Members can also enjoy guided rides and safe parking for their boxes/trailers at difference venues around the county, as part of our ‘ride and share’ scheme.
On the serious side of things, EBA have become a recognised force in our county, with representatives on Local Access Forums, in addition to input both locally and nationally on Consultations ranging from road and housing development planning, road safety for equines, and other topics such as open spaces and forestry. We are also able to have an input at the early stages of development plans to lobby for bridleway or multi-use access to be included.
Over a number of years our work seems to have expanded to such an extent that it was deemed timely some years ago to utilise some of our funds to employ a Historic Research Officer, a Bridleways Development Officer, and now a new post of Projects and Funding Officer, to work alongside our trusty team of volunteers. These postings have proved hugely beneficial, enabling us to have a much higher profile not only around our county, but also nationally. Our BDO Sue also represents the British Horse Society, and works closely with them on many crucial issues. We are confident that the work underway will bring future improvements in both access opportunities and safety for riders in and around our county.
During 2005 EBA established its web site, www.essexbridleways.co.uk, which proved most successful in generating interest in the association. This site has gone from strength to strength as technology has improved, enabling us to include masses of interesting articles, useful hints and contacts, and of course our rides information, so please do browse our site and check out what we have in store to celebrate our Ruby Anniversary!