Campaign to open up to 60 miles of bridleways to walkers and cyclists

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Lost routes could be reopened after cycling group’s application (Photo: stock image)

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.

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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.

What do you think? Write to the Advertiser and Times letters page via letters@adt.press.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. What a shame that these archaic institutions such as the commoners and verderers are given any credence in the 21st century.
    The Forest is publicly owned amenity land. There should be equal access and use rights for horse-riders, cyclists and walkers. None should be allowed to use it for commercial gain (including riding stables). But, most of all, as some cyclists do use their transport for commuting, new routes are needed to actually encourage an increase in the use of bikes.
    Most of us cyclists are reasonable people. I believe that as a body we would agree to the creation of defined cycling routes, along side defined horse riding routes and walking routes. Democracy demands a more liberal approach, not the “closed meeting” defensive, and repeated, attacks on cycling that these cliquey vested interests make.

  2. Many visitors and many locals seem unaware that cycling is only allowed on defined cycle routes. And even if they do know, some continue to cycle wherever they please. More needs to be done by the National Park, Forestry Commission and New Forest District Council to inform cyclists of the rules and ensure they are adhered to. More notices would be a good start.
    I think there is scope for some new cycle routes, but always along gravelled tracks, not on sensitive grass and earth tracks. And as stated by Dr Hockley, the Forest road network does need to be made safer for cyclists.
    Another crucial point is that the commoners are probably the most important people in the Forest, the landscape we know and love depends on the grazing of their animals. Imagine the Forest without Forest ponies. Mr Brewster, you do the cycling fraternity no favours in belittling the commoners and the Verderers. Fortunately most cyclists do repect the Forest, and its sensitive habitats, and understand the need for conservation, it is those that do not care or do not know the Forest cycling rules that need to be educated.

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