CYCLISTS and equestrians could be given access to 60 miles of additional New Forest bridleways as part of a campaign to recognise historic rights of way.
The work, which is being undertaken by a coalition of groups including Cycling UK, The Ramblers and the British Horse Society, has led to an application for 24 new rights of way to be officially recognised in the eastern part of the district.
The issue was first raised at a meeting of the Verderers Committee in January when it emerged that Hampshire County Council had received the applications from Cycling UK – which champions rights for 68,000 members.
Cycling UK spokesperson Richard Wevill said: “We have a dedicated off-road advisor who put together these applications.
“As an organisation we work with other campaign groups to get historic rights of way officially recognised. These applications are not about creating new rights of way but recognising historic routes that have been lost over time.”
Work to ensure historic rights of way are recognised has intensified in recent years as those not officially adopted by 1st January 2026 will be lost.
Until the introduction of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the public could go through the courts to prove rights of way in their area. But the new act required county councils and unitary authorities to draw up definitive rights of ways maps covering their areas.
However, access groups say many historic rights of way were not recognised, and as these maps have been amended many times following successful applications by various organisations and individuals.
Then in 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was introduced in England which set a cut-off deadline of January 2026 for applications on historical routes to be recorded on the definitive map.
After this date any disused and forgotten routes will legally be lost if they are not formally recorded as footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways.
Mr Wevill added: “Rights of way campaigners are particularly stepping up efforts to get routes adopted at this time – prompting many of these applications.
“But the reality is that adoption of these routes can often take years, as many councils have a backlog of them to go through.
“If the applications submitted in the New Forest are successful, this would add around 60 miles of lost bridleways and restricted byways to the definitive map.”
However, news of the applications has been met with alarm by New Forest groups concerned by the intense recreational pressure the national park is already under.
Discussing the issue at a closed committee meeting in January, the verderers asked Forestry England to step in and ensure no new rights of way can be established. Minutes of the meeting concluded: “The court believes Forestry England may need to make a statutory declaration which will prevent such a use being established.”
The minutes continue: “In any event, cycling is an illegal activity on the Forest except on waymarked cycle routes. It is questioned, therefore, whether it is possible to establish a right of way for what is an illegal activity.”
The current New Forest cycleways were established in the 1990s and consist of five routes which form a network using the 100 miles of gravel tracks across the Forest. The verderers’ consent is required for these routes and this is reviewed every few years.
Dr Tony Hockley, chairman of the Commoners Defence Association, which safeguards the rights of commoners said: “The Forest is already under immense pressure which threatens its biodiversity and commoning heritage. Any increase to that pressure would be very unfortunate.
“It is the New Forest’s roads that really need to be looked at. We need to work on finding a way of making them different from other roads so that they are much safer for all forest users.”
“In the 1990s the verderers worked with Forestry England to designate a network of cycle bridleways and routes across the New Forest. It is illegal to cycle anywhere else, so it is difficult to see how any new rights of way could have been established.”
Hampshire County Council’s cabinet member for the countryside and rural affairs, Cllr Edward Heron, confirmed the authority had received applications from Cycling UK for 24 new rights of way for cyclists across the eastern half of the New Forest.
He said: “The county council has a statutory duty to investigate any such application, within a legislative framework, to determine whether to record the route on the definitive map.”
Members of the public can apply to have routes recorded as a public right of way at www.hants.gov.uk/rightsofway.
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