Saving Hertfordshire’s byways for posterity
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Around 20,000 off-road routes that should legally be open to horse riders and other users in England are under threat. The British Horse Society is urging action now
Owing to the cut-off date in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the byway status of routes used by horse riders, cyclists, walkers and others will be extinguished on January 1, 2026 if not included in the official register. After this date, evidence such as historic maps will no longer be taken into account to prove a public right-of-way existed on the so-called Definitive Map. There are an estimated 20,000 routes that could be lost if not recorded in the next decade.
One such route, a half-kilometre stretch in Wheathampstead that had been barred to the public, has reverted to byway thanks to British Horse Society volunteers and funding from Sport England, which gave £10,000 in 2013 to identify byways that could be lost because of wrong classification.
Horse riders and cyclists can now travel the route along an old tree-lined road near Mackeyre End, which had been incorrectly recorded as a footpath on the Definitive Map instead of its correct restricted byway status.
Phil Wadey, BHS volunteer and co-author of Rights of Way: Restoring the Record, who completed the Wheathampstead application, said he was delighted, but more needed to be done across the county and beyond.
‘With just nine years left until the 2026 deadline, we must collaborate with others and act now to safeguard historic routes for others to use in the future, before they are extinguished simply for not being on a particular piece of paper,’ he said.
The BHS works with the Open Spaces Society and Ramblers Association to provide training on researching and recording routes.Mark Weston, BHS director of access and rights of way, said, ‘We’re delighted this funding is now securing more equestrian routes for riders now and for future generations. The BHS is urging everyone to do their bit and research the routes they walk, cycle, ride and carriage drive, to make sure they’re recorded on the Definitive Map before 2026.’
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