Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Judith Smart (AB31)

Dear Sirs,

Summary: I would like to give reasons why financial assistance to landowners should be given to improve public access and that this should be in the Agriculture Bill (Part 1, section (1) (b). This is an opportunity to greatly improve the rights of way network, for all users particularly horse riders, and where appropriate carriage drivers, along with walkers and cyclists.

Introduction

My name is Judith Smart. I am 65 years old and have ridden since the age of 7 and I have some carriage driving experience. I am also a farmer and there are rights of way over our land.

Older people and women are encouraged to get out and about in the countryside and being on a horse is a good way to do this, including carriage driving for the older person and the disabled. However, in recent years traffic has increased greatly and riding on the roads, even on country lanes, has become very unpleasant/dangerous in many places and bridlepaths and off-road riding routes are fragmented.

I have found that as traffic has increased greatly it has meant that there are fewer areas that I can ride, compared to when I was younger. Horses need exercise to keep healthy and there are too many riders who are frightened to ride on the roads and find it hard to give their horses the necessary exercise.

I fully support the lengthy and detailed submission made by the British Horse Society.

Bridlepaths are good value as they are multi-user routes, being available for walkers, cyclists and riders.

Evidence

1. Off the 4604 km of rights of way in Worcestershire, only 692km are bridlepaths and less than 12 km are byeways that carriage drivers can use.

2. The bridlepath system is very fragmented, i.e. do not join up. In many cases bridlepaths are unusable as they are between, say 2 main roads, where no one would wish to ride a horse. Sometimes a bridlepath will come to a sudden stop at a parish or county border and become a footpath. There are some parishes in west Worcestershire where bridlepaths can be between 30-40% of the rights of way, whereas in other parishes there are hardly any. This discrepancy probably stems from the late 1940s when the first Definitive Map was drafted.

3. There is only bridlepath in my parish. One end comes out through a gate onto the main A442 Kidderminster to Droitwich road, where there is a bend, the road is narrow and there is no verge, so effectively it would not be used by a rider as being far too hazardous. Fortunately, the landowner allows riders to use his drive which is opposite a quiet country lane – this would be an ideal place to "reward" the landowner for this alteration in the route of the bridlepath.

4. Accidents involving ridden horses and carriage drivers are sadly increasing and riders prefer to ride and drive along roads that do not carry heavy traffic or off the road entirely.

5. Horse riders and owners contribute greatly to the local economy, with an estimated annual average cost of keeping a horse of £3,600+. This goes to livery yard owners, feed merchants, farrriers, vets, instructors who teach riding and numerous other businesses. Riders and horse events also raise very large sums for charity with horse shows, organised rides, etc.

6. Countryside Stewardship Higher Level Permissive Bridlepaths. These were created for 10 years and many of these agreements are ending and the paths closing. The Chair of the Local Access Forum wrote to all landowners in Worcestershire who had a Permitted Bridlepath and asked if they would be continue to allow public access and none replied.

Although there were flaws with this system (lack of consultation with riders leading to some farmers receiving payment for routes that were seldom if ever used) where they were appropriate they were much appreciated. I used one which cut off a very narrow and busy lane "rat run" to an industrial estate and allowed me to ride away from all traffic and linked to lanes that carried only local traffic. This closed in 2016 and I now have to ride along the busy lane again.

Recommendation That farmers and landowners are paid from public money for the creation of new routes for horses with consultation with local riders, possibly through the county British Horse Society committee and local riding clubs and bridleway associations by

a. upgrading footpaths to bridlepaths where appropriate;

b. Creating "behind the hedge" safety routes linking either an existing bridlepath or quiet lanes to avoid roads with heavy traffic or difficult crossing places.

c. Farmers should received money for maintaining the existing rights of way, particularly by mowing vegetation and keeping hedges well cut back in season.

The problem could be solved if there was an easy way of creating new links between existing bridlepaths, or creating a "behind the hedge" route so a horse would not have to use a dangerous road and could access a quiet lane or another bridlepath.

Upgrading of footpaths to bridlepaths has already been done in some areas, notably in the Mendip area where the Trails Trust has created over 80 new bridlepaths by this method so there is a well tried method of doing this.

October 2018

 

Prepared 30th October 2018