Friday, 9 January 2009


(This is about existing access to the coast NOT the proposed new coastal path and spreading room for walkers.)

As I write at the beginning of 2009, I am very concerned about the lack of access provisions for horse riders in the Draft Marine Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. Horse riders in Scotland have already been granted a statutory right of responsible access to their beaches and foreshores
[1]. By choosing not to do so in England, Natural England is pursuing a policy of exclusion rather than inclusion, which is far from the impression given by their June 2007 press release ‘Access for All’.[2]

The English Bill does not protect horse rider’s existing ‘de facto’ or common law access to beaches and foreshores at all, while granting statutory protection to people on foot. I believe that without such protection, the freedom they currently enjoy will be extremely vulnerable to challenge and subject to unnecessary restriction.

English beaches are the last remaining open spaces in the country where our access has not been regulated by government. In some of our coastal areas, horse riding is already restricted by local bylaws, usually with good reason. But since there is a presumption in favour of horse riders being there in the first place, they are in a position to contest any bylaws imposed without good reason.

Marine Bill will remove that presumption. In its place the government proposes an over complicated and far from transparent scheme. This will compel horse riders to negotiate with local authorities and landowners in order to secure access to the coastline where they believe they already have common law rights. This access will inevitably be of a temporary, permissive nature; possibly requiring a permit or a toll to be paid. Hardly “access for all” is it?

Over the last 60 years all government legislation and policy making on public access to the countryside has consistently resulted in a reduction of access for horse riders. This legislation is no different. It fails to protect them. The negative impact of this Bill has either not been properly quantified by government, or there is a deliberate intention to reduce our public access.