A LONG distance pleasure ride in Thetford Forest turned into a protest on Saturday as riders spoke out against forest sell offs.
The ride had been on the Camino Riders’ group’s calendar for some time, but the 50 horse riders taking part were angry about the Government’s plans to off-load 40,000 hectares of Forestry Commission (FC) land. Some added protest messages to their high-visibility vests.
Janet Harber, who is co-ordinating an anti-sell-off campaign by Camino Riders, Anglian Distance Riders and the Endurance GB Iceni Group, said: “We’ve been told by the Government that all access rights will be protected, but at the moment the rights of people on foot are protected by law but horse riders only have a concessionary access. If forests are privatised they will be under no obligation to give us access.
“We need somewhere safe to ride because we’re in danger every time we go on the road because roads are now so busy.”
FC land is the only place riders get access like walkers’ Right to Roam, but not as a legal right. Horses are not allowed on footpaths so the British Horse Society says riders have access to only 22 per cent of England’s rights of way. Even then bridleways are fragmented, often becoming other rights of way as they cross council boundaries.
Endurance (long distance) riders are particularly worried because their sport needs large areas for training and competition. Mrs Harber said half of endurance events in East Anglia this year are on FC land.
One of those is an international event in March where the British team for endurance’s European Championship will be chosen.
Dianne Luke, vice chairman of Anglian Distance Riders, said Endurance GB had asked them to make their March event international for the first time because of that. “They’ve never had a two star race that early but EGB sanctioned it because they know the going will be good on the sandy tracks,” she said. “The ride is 120km (75ml) in the forest. Where else can you do that in loops where you don’t have to recover your tracks?”
If they are unable to hold events there, she says it will hit the local economy. “It’s the number of people who come and rent stables or book B and Bs,” she said. “It’s not just the riders, it’s their families and support crews.”
A Save Our Forests online petition at www.38degrees.org.uk had more than 465,000 signatures by Monday morning.