Concerns over county’s overgrown pathways

FEARS have been raised that horse riders will have nowhere to exercise their animals as overgrown bridleways throughout the borough go uncut.

Concerned riders have voiced their worries to community leaders as the spell of hot and wet weather has caused many of the walkways to become tangled with overhanging branches and shrubs, as well as brambles, leaving no room to safely walk their horses.

Gavin Church is among the equine community who has spoken up about the bushy bridleways following an incident with his horse in Caister last week.

He could not safely ride down the route that links West Caister with Mautby, so instead went on the beach.

But after a few minutes in the saddle a trio of pet husky dogs began antagonising his horse, which eventually struck out in self defence and injured one of the dogs.

Gavin, 24, from Gorleston, said the dogs’ owners understood what had happened but thought the incident had clearly highlighted the need for bridleways to be kept clear for horse traffic - the reason they are there.

He told the Mercury: “It’s a problem that the places to ride are becoming less and less.

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“A bridle path should be wide enough so two horses can pass but you can’t even pass one horse down there at the moment,” he added.

Gavin warned: “And if the bridleways aren’t used the farmers can claim them back.”

He said that fellow riders believed budget cuts had let to the lack of action on overgrown areas and despite mentioning their concerns to Norfolk County Council, they had not been addressed.

The county council told the Mercury that it had “changed its approach” to public rights of way throughout the county and was now maintaining them to a “reasonable standard” to ensure the service was good value for money, while also meeting its statutory responsibilities.

Matt Worden, from the county council’s maintenance department, said that the authority was now focusing on managing the most heavily used paths and developing a new Norfolk Trails scheme.

“We understand that public rights of way are important for recreation, tourism, the rural economy and the health and well being of local people and visitors, and we will continue to meet our duty to maintain them all to the reasonable standard of safety set out in the legislation,” he added.

“However, we are not solely responsible for keeping the paths clear even though in the past we have cut them. To carry out our duties more effectively, we will be working even more closely with landowners and managers, local councils and voluntary groups.”