Campaign after forest riding route blocked

Local horse riders have joined together to re-open a popular forestry route.

The track through Craig yr Allt Forest, near the Goose and Cuckoo pub in Upper Llanover, has been used by riders for decades.

But in March, land owners Natural Resources Wales (NRW) installed kissing gates at either end, preventing access for horses. 

The organisation told riders it was to stop illegal scrambling on the track after complaints.

But riders are determined to show they have been using the track, which adjoins common land on the mountain, since the early 1970s.

David Davies MP and County Councillor Bryan Jones are supporting community efforts to force a rethink.  

Mamhilad resident Janet Villars is leading the campaign.

She has held meetings with NRW to try to find a way to allow horse riders to use the mile-long track while still preventing access by illegal scramblers.

But the organisation is refusing to budge so now she and local riders are campaigning to have the track officially designated as a bridleway by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA). 

Almost 40 riders have already made signed statements to prove continuous use of the track by horse riders and are appealing to NRW to find a middle way to avoid this costly and long legal process.

Janet said: “By installing the kissing gates, NRW goes directly against Welsh Government, local government and BBNPA strategy, policy and guidance to increase and improve safe off-road riding and circular routes for horses.

"I have ridden this route without any issues or problems since 1979 and others since the 1950’s. I have tried to reason with NRW to implement an alternative solution that enables horse access whilst prohibiting motorbikes but they have refused to do this.

"I have therefore submitted a request to re-designate this as a bridleway which will take up officers' time, public money and may take up to two years.”

She joined other riders and campaigners at the blocked track where they put their concerns to MP David Davies and Cty Cllr Jones.

Mr Davies said: “I am surprised and disappointed that NRW has made it impossible to ride horses across the forest.

"It is a beautiful stretch of countryside and NRW should be supporting those who want to make use of it in this way.”

He will be writing to NRW to ask them to come up with a better solution.

Demonstrator Pennie Graton from Llanover said: "The kissing gates make no difference. The motor bikes still go round there and I hear them regularly.

"It's just stopping our pleasure from riding where people have been riding continuously since the early seventies. It’s unfair and unreasonable.”

Dame Claire Clancy, former chief executive of the Welsh Assembly, said: "This was a trip down memory lane for me as I used to live nearby and ride here all the time.

"It was lovely to see the area looking great, but very sad to think that today's horse riders can't enjoy the natural environment in the way I was able to for many years.

"We should be enabling access for future generations, not excluding them. There must be a better way to ensure that the countryside can be used with respect and care by all.”

Former High Sheriff of Gwent, Sir Robert Hayman- Joyce, and his wife Lady Hayman-Joyce added: “We have been riding here for 30 years and we can’t understand why horses are being denied access.

"We sympathise with the need to control motorbikes but the solution is stopping horses and not motorbikes.”

Local mum and rider Emma Cassidy brought her two-year-old daughter Abigale to the meeting. She said: “It's important that we have safe places for our young ones to ride.

"The roads aren't a safe place and with access routes like this one being closed its worrying about the future of horse riding.”

Robert and Margaret Berridge from Mamhilad also came to show their support. They said: “We regularly rode our horses on this track between 1964 and 2010 and can’t believe access has been now denied.

"We feel very sad for future generations because the opportunities we had to ride in the forest are being taken away to punish a few irresponsible users when alternative solutions could have been implemented.”

Vicki Fisher from Goytre said: “It’s important to allow access for all to the countryside whether it be walkers, horse-riders or motorbikes.

"The Welsh Government has pledged to increase more off-road riding but in reality this is not happening, like here with NRW closing yet another route frequently used by horses for many years without any issues.

"With the lack of off-road riding, this is forcing horse-riders to use roads that are increasingly busy and dangerous for horses. It is just a matter of time before a serious accident occurs.”

Katie Rogers from Cwmbran, who keeps her horses in Mamhilad, said: “There is very limited off-road riding as it is and the roads are so busy we need more not less opportunities to get off the roads with our horses.”

Wendy Lillygreen from Goytre added: “I have ridden along this track since 1989. Unless you intend going to the expense of building a Trump-style wall then bikes will still get through.

"This is one of very few paths in the entire area where we can ride away from traffic.”

Campaigners are also asking for any other riders who have used the track to get in touch to add their voices to the campaign.