HORSE rider Rebecca Clifforde is kicking up a stink about the state of bridleways in the area – and has branded one as lethal.
The 60-year-old says both Swindon and Wiltshire Councils, as well as some farmers, are not sufficiently complying with their duties to ensure the historic tracks are maintained and to ensure they are accessible for equestrians.
The Westlea resident, who keeps her animals at Great Chaddinton Stables, between Royal Wootton Bassett and Blooms Garden Centre, says all four of the bridleways leading from there into the countryside are unsuitable – and other riders have reported similar problems in other areas.
Among the problems she reports are potholled and boggy ground, routes choked by overgrown hedges, non horse-friendly gates which require the rider to dismount, padlocked gates, and paths physically blocked, she claims, on purpose by farmers.
Rebecca, a mum-of-two who has been riding for almost 20 years, said: “What few green areas we have left we should all be used to the full, but our enjoyment in the use of these ancient paths is being eroded due to the obstructions landowners are putting in our way as many do not want horses or people on their land.
“This situation should not be allowed to continue. Farmers, whether they own their land or lease it, took it on in the full knowledge that these paths passed through their farm and in the full knowledge of their responsibilities to these paths. “There are regulations which state the condition of the paths, widths in various situations close to hedging, fences and ditches.
“They can be found on the Wiltshire Council bridlepath website for all to see. Farmers have no excuse for not being aware of their responsibilities.
“However it would seem that the council has little influence or desire in ensuring that these ancient pathways are maintained to a safe and usable standard.
“My major concern throughout my conversations with Wiltshire has been that of safety, safety of surface, safety of surroundings and safety of movement along the paths. Sadly neglect is making usage of these paths more and more dangerous not only for those riding along them but also for those choosing to walk along them.”
While riding along one path at the weekend, she said the ground was so impassable on horseback that her daughter, Lisa, 29, actually got her feet stuck when she dismounted. And while exploring on foot further up the route, they found the path was full of potholes, which she branded as lethal to riders and horses.
On another bridleway, she said a farmer had blocked the right of way with spoils from clearing an adjacent ditch and was in the process of constructing a boundary fence, which means riders would not be able to enter the field to bypass the blockage.
A Wiltshire Council spokesman said: “It is the responsibility of landowners to ensure bridleways are clear of obstruction, and in most cases this is carried out.
“If it isn’t, we will make contact to remind them of their responsibilities. These issues are normally resolved quickly, however further action can be taken if the landowners do not cooperate.”
Swindon Council’s appropriate officers were unavailable for comment yesterday.