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Campaigners are working hard to preserve access routes through the countryside for ramblers, dog walkers and horse riders. They invite you to join them. Adele Waters reports

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Just because you currently ride on a route doesn’t mean it’s recorded and protected from being removed

Thousands of miles of countryside paths across England and Wales could be lost forever if they are not formally recorded by 2026.

Following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, all bridle ways and footpaths in England and Wales that are not formally recorded will be lost to the public from 1 January 2026.

The move could affect millions of horse riders, dog walkers and cyclists.

Now equine charity The British Horse Society (BHS) and walking charities like The Ramblers are recruiting volunteers to help save as many public access routes through the countryside as possible.

Under its Project 2026 campaign, BHS is encouraging riders to register unrecorded routes with their local authority now, with the warning: ‘Just because you currently ride on a route doesn’t mean it’s recorded and protected from being removed.’

The aim is to get all current routes on the definitive map (the legal record of public access rights) by the deadline but, with so much work to do, BHS believes the 2026 deadline is too tight. It has called on the government to extend the deadline for recording by five years to 2031.

Speaking at the National Equine Forum earlier this month, BHS chief executive James Hick said: ‘The cut-off date to record historical rights of way is set in law, which means that those routes not recorded on a council definitive map by 2026 will be lost forever, affecting not only the 1.8 million people who ride regularly but also the 20 million people who are regular bike riders and the 9 million people who own dogs.’

Hick said just 22 per cent of the public rights of way network is currently available to horse riders, but much of it is disjointed and accessible only via busy roads. The charity is concerned that increasing numbers of horse riders will be forced on to dangerous roads if more bridle ways are lost.

Up to 3700 road incidents involving horses have been reported to the charity since 2010, resulting in the deaths of 43 people and 315 horses.

‘The volume of traffic and the speed on our roads has dramatically increased over the years,’ said Hick.

There are many bridle routes that are currently being ridden that are likely to be lost if they remain unrecorded, he said.

‘While 2026 sounds a long time off in the future, over 80 per cent of the time has already gone for us to register routes.

‘The BHS, its volunteers and affiliated groups have already made great strides in recording many miles of bridle ways to date but there is much, much more to be done with thousands of miles unrecorded and facing the threat of being lost forever.’

Riders can get advice on how to check whether their route is recorded via the charity’s website at: www.bhs.org.uk/our-work/access/campaigns/2026. If it isn’t, they can download a toolkit to guide them through the registration process. The BHS is appealing for volunteers to help identify as many routes as possible.

The Ramblers is running a similar initiative for its network of walkers called ‘Don’t Lose Your Way’ (https://dontloseyourway.ramblers.org.uk).

The charity fears thousands of miles of paths across England and Wales could be lost forever if they are not added to the definitive map by 2026. ●

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