Letter to Editor: Why has Harlow Council put so many fences in front of Harlow horse riders?

Politics / Wed 12th Jul 2023 at 01:39pm

Dear Editor,

I would like challenge parts of Harlow Council’s statement aired on BBC Essex on July 10th which stated:

The council leader and cabinet member for environment recently met with the riders to listen to their concerns and to try and find a way forward. Communication between the council and the riders has continued.

Since our meeting of the 5th June in which we were given 30 minutes and no more, we have received just a single communication from Councillor Purse (the cabinet member for environment) sent 23rd June. This communication contained factual inaccuracies to which we sought further clarification. 

These inaccuracies are then repeated in their on-air statement of: 

Therefore, based on advice from the West Anglia Area Delivery Team at Natural England we cannot allow access to the woods for the purpose of horse riding.

Four requests for clarification have been made, two e-mails, one recorded delivery letter and one chance meeting with Councillor Swords on July 1st (who happened to be out canvassing).

We asked to see this evidence based on the following communications received from Natural England including:

Sonja Kaupe, Protected Sites Lead Adviser, West Anglia Area Team Dated 27th June.

If Harlow District Council did wish to consider incorporating horse riding access to Harlow Woods SSSI in the future, then Natural England would be available to provide advice and consider any proposals submitted by the landowner.

Rebecca Coward, Lead Adviser, West Anglia Area Delivery Team, Natural England (Responsible Officer for Harlow Woods SSSI) Dated 4th July:

If the owner of the woodland wishes to permit horse riding on their land then they will need to consult with Natural England and gain consent. Natural England will welcome discussions with the landowner to advise . . .”.

AND (same communication)

I understand you are trying to find safe routes for your young horse riders and we would encourage you to continue the dialog with the landowner. Until the landowner gives permission and seeks Natural England’s consent through the appropriate channels

IF Harlow Council has received advice from the “West Anglia Area Delivery Team at Natural England” how come the very same team state – both during and AFTER the councils investigation – that they are more than willing to welcome discussions on hacking, encourage us to engage with the council and only need Harlow Council to start the discussion? 

According to the council that discussion has not only started but actually been concluded – perhaps the council may wish to let the Natural England know, they don’t seem to be aware!

For a moment let’s give the councillors the benefit of doubt and say that they were provided this information by the Biodiversity Team at Harlow Council – which is the team responsible for this mess in the first place (as opposed to actually attempting to read the source materials themselves). 

The Environment Client Team Manager has had his say when answering a complaint, I had previously lodged. In a letter dated May 25th he states:

My colleague has provided me with a Scientific Research paper commissioned by Natural England on the effects of access on bicycle and horseback on nature conservation. The document makes for extremely enlightening reading on how horse riding in natural areas impacts habitats and vegetation . . .”.

Having now read all 194 pages of this document (I would suggest the Councillors and Council officers do the same again) I would like to ask him (which I have – and again this has not been answered) which parts he found most interesting. Was it:

There is relatively little information on the impacts of horse riding and cycling.


There are very few studies that directly compare horse riders or cyclists to other types of user, and little can be concluded from the limited results.

OR maybe even 

There is no new information relevant to statutory exclusion or restrictions under the CRoW Act (2000) and the recommendations in the original guidance (chapter 9.6.2; that exclusions are unlikely to be necessary anywhere but that there may be situations where restrictions are warranted) are still relevant

Perhaps he latched onto the part that says:

The impacts of horse riding or cycling will be dependent upon a range of factors (see Figure 1), many of which will be specific to a site or location. To understand the total impact it is necessary to draw on social research of visitor behaviour and choice of site, visitor surveys describing the routes taken and direction travelled by different users, their group size and frequency of visit, as well as ecological research on the different impacts to species and habitats.

Well guess what? we’ve asked to see this survey and the council have chosen to ignore the request. This will be the survey(s) that are meant to happen first to demonstrate a need for exclusion – which may I remind readers is also noted in the same text as “unlikely to be necessary anywhere”

In a recent “Letter to the Editor” published on yourharlow.com Mike B makes every effort to guide the reader to the conclusion that the damage caused to these barricades was indeed horse riders. What they fail to mention when using their circumstantial evidence is the fresh tyre marks leading to the damaged posts? Why omit this detail? – because it doesn’t fit the desired narrative of the article.

In our one and only meeting with the councillors on the 5th June we pointed out then that posts were already being removed and categorically stated then it was not us – we were first to bring this to the council attention – again why wait till now to bring this up?

I also note the attempts by the volunteer team to reinstate restrictions. All I can say is to any member of the public using the woods – make sure you take a first aid kit, and your tetanus is up to date. The hastily restored barriers have rusty nails sticking out in one-inch gaps along the length of the poles (this is not the odd nail this is a series of nails left protruding)

As mentioned on the radio the other morning – it is stated we may be in breach of “Operations requiring Natural England’s consent” (the governing rules) point 27 “Recreational or other activities likely to damage features of interest.” 

But after 50 years of Hacking (acknowledge and accepted by all parties) which predates the SSSI (awarded in 1986) AND with Rebecca Coward, Lead Adviser, West Anglia Area Delivery Team, Natural England (The Responsible Officer for Harlow Woods SSSI) saying their only current concern on the 4th July was: 

Poaching of the ground and compaction by horses has been observed by myself and a second colleague at Natural England and this does pose problems for ground flora, soil health, and in turn the structure of the woodland. The level of damage from poaching is currently considered minor”.

How can it be argued that we are in fact “likely to damage features of interest.”? Compounded by the fact the SSSI was awarded in spite of hacking already taking place? And 50 years of poaching has led to only a minor concern?

All that was needed to resolve this situation correctly was for Harlow Council to have read the documentation properly and approach Natural England as required. Natural England would then have surveyed the site and come to a considered conclusion. If that conclusion was to exempt horses so be it – at least we would have been treated fairly – however due process has not been followed and the actions of one man has lead to a considerable waste of time and resources for both parties. It has lost us many months of hacking when the weather is best to support this activity. 

It’s incredulous that we have been demonised in press releases and online by the likes of “Mike B” and the numerous other “anonymously authored” negative posts that seem to come very think and fast the very moment any article is published from our side of the argument. 

If we were to put the actions of the council under the spotlight, we would see breaches of several of the “operations requiring Natural England’s consent”

11: “The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including tree, shrub, herb, hedge, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus, leaf-mould or turf.” – Just a cursory look will show the mass of clearing being done around the areas where the barriers have been installed – not to mention the healthy trees outside of any coppicing areas that have been cut down across paths

21: “Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground” –

22: “Storage of materials.” – The industrial fence panels stored at the bottom of the access roads in the woods (I note they have been moved to the side recently in an attempt to clear up perhaps? But they remain stored in the SSSI.

Of course, Harlow Council may have gained consent in advance as per the title – but we have asked for evidence and again we have been ignored – yet we are the ones breaking the rules…..

The underhand – and I do not use this term lightly – tactics of all council representatives involved is abhorrent and all should hold their heads in shame. These actions fly in the face of other Council initiatives. I leave you with the following statements from the “Harlow health and wellbeing strategy 2023 to 2028”.

Page 2

  • “As a community leader, the council believes it has an important role to work to reduce the trends holding back better health and wellbeing outcomes in the town.”
  • “Some of the 2028 outcomes include: addressing barriers to health provision, promoting physical activity, encouraging an active lifestyle in later life.”

Page 4

  • In October 2021, Harlow Council issued a positioning statement outlining the council’s approach to health and wellbeing, which indicated the intention to work in partnership with the wider community.
  • In addition, in October 2022, a survey of Harlow residents was undertaken. The results reinforced the evidence-base by demonstrating that Harlow residents do not get enough physical activity, suffer from a lack of sleep and don’t feel safe.

Page 10 

  • A place where people feel heard, empowered, included and supported to identify and manage their own health and wellbeing and have equal access to the right services and support, at the right time and in the right place.

Page 12

  • We will ensure that we talk to and consult with the community to help gain a deeper understanding of the issues that they face and to help consider appropriate solutions. The partnership will work together to address any identified barriers to health provision and to challenge and tackle health inequalities in Harlow.
  • It is acknowledged that reducing inequalities requires sustained effort over long periods of time, which will continue to be challenging.

Page 13

  • Harlow has high levels of obesity in children and adults, and experiences high levels of physical inactivity.
  • Active Harlow and partners across the voluntary and community sector support the delivery and promotion of a range of activities aimed at supporting physical activity.” 
  • Across Harlow there are numerous green spaces, including the various parks and connected green wedges that include the Town Park and Jean McAlpine Park, woodlands, ponds such as Oakwood and Netteswell, as well as the River Stort and its surrounding area. All of these green and blue assets, including the extensive cycle track network, enable opportunities for physical activity and active travel.
  • Harlow has the highest percentage of children overweight or obese in Year 6 in Essex.
  • Harlow has the second highest in Essex percentage of children who are overweight or obese at reception age.
  • Harlow has the third lowest proportion of children and young people who are physically active in Essex.
  • Harlow has the second lowest proportion of adults who are physically active in Essex.
  • Enabled children, young people and their families to be more physically active (especially through fun active play) and that they understand the importance of an active lifestyle, healthier diets and healthy weight.
  • Improved levels of physical activity amongst adults by helping them find ways to integrate physical activity into their daily lives.
  • Supported weight loss in communities through the development of healthier, designed places by addressing environments that support or promote obesity.

For those wishing to sign and the petition to get the Council to behave in the manner expected please sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/saveharlowhacking

Yours sincerely

Edmund Wilson 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

23 Comments for Letter to Editor: Why has Harlow Council put so many fences in front of Harlow horse riders?:

2023-07-12 14:10:04

I'll wait for the abridged version. Blimey.

Kay Cartwright
2023-07-12 16:06:22

A fantastic letter! The Council have both ignored and lied to the riders group. This is obvious. Although it is a long letter it has had to cover a mass of errors and contradictions from the council. As a mother myself who has kept horses for over 60 years, I have obviously followed this with great interest.I know the dangers of riding on our busy & overcrowded, fast roads, my eldest daughter was herself hit by a lorry whilst out riding even though she begged him to stop! The horse was not able to be ridden again due to a hip injury caused by the driver of the lorry who just drove off! The police were involved and investigated but even though his taco-graph proved he did it there were no witnesses . My daughter suffered a lot after that near brush with death! My middle daughter & little granddaughter of 6 years old are both avid riders with their own horse & pony. It is their passion. My daughter works long & hard to allow her daughter this wonderful opportunity to ride, care and have the responsibility of owning a pony. To think that this council want to put riders on a 60 mph road is enormous folly! There will be blood shed ! If these councillors understood horses they would know that they are flight animals, a piece of paper blowing towards them, a person with a pram or umbrella can send them sideways across the road in fear! If it’s windy it’s worse! Maybe they need to look at the article only the day before yesterday where a lady of 50 years old was killed when a motorcycle hit her horse. She was possibly a Mother, Wife, Grandmother and friend. Is that what this council want for these people? It’s a tragedy waiting to happen. Please listen to them & give them the safety they need and deserve to enjoy the very healthy and lifelong passion of being out safely on your horse.

Will Jones
2023-07-12 16:11:16

I understand that the responsible officer for the Council, a Mr Bailey, has said openly and forcefully that the safety of children is no concern of his in regard to this issue. A highly reprehensible and irresponsible approach that dies no credit to him or to the Council. Appalling.

Alderman Durcan
2023-07-12 17:04:29

Let’s be clear council officers work under the direction of a cabinet member. Any concerns about council decisions should be directed to that cabinet member only. It’s not reasonable to criticise officers who can’t reply. The council has a robust complaints procedure for these matters. I’m not defending the decision but defending the correct process. Let’s concentrate of the evidence not the individual.

Seren Bray
2023-07-12 17:09:25

I am a 16 year old girl who is very lucky to have my own horse. I have to ride on fast roads to get to my nearest bridle path. Every time i am terrified! The horse feels this in me and so is frightened too. I have had many near misses with the traffic that go past me so fast it scares me. I am scared for me and for my horse but Im also scared he will land on a car and be killed, I’llbe killed or the people in the car will be badly hurt or worse killed! I’m not exaggerating here, its a very real fear, I've seen the crashes between horses and cars on the internet and many of my horse riding friends have had minor accidents and injuries involving traffic. We riders need to be helped to stay off of busy roads not made to go on them! I hope they win the right to ride safely. Having a horse has helped me mentally and with my fitness, its very hard work every day even in bad weather but i love it. Keep safe Riders and good luck with this!

Edmund Wilson
2023-07-12 18:20:45

Alderman Durcan, apologise for the criticism of the officers. This is by no means persoal. The silence from the Councillors involved is defening. Their public statements about continued engagement with us is so far removed from the reality of the situation - that all I am left with is the evidence provided. The compliant procedure has been followed at both level one and level two. The similarities in both responses are in places verbatim. With official routes all but exhausted, we are only left with the evidence trail from the council that follows this path between the individuals mentioned - in that reverse chronological order. The reading of the reference documents is clear and concise and each stage of our complaints / discussion, the various council members referee backwards to reading provided. For example ". . . has provided me with a Scientific Research paper. . . " Yet I still do not believe anyone has read the paper or actually spoken to Natural England. So once again apologies for this direction but this direction is forced by the lack of open discussion with the councillors concerned who until now have been the only figures we have mentioned in public forum. We have tried to be honest level and fair, sadly it feels like one way traffic. I will be mindful in future communications.

Nicholas Taylor
2023-07-12 19:41:49

Alderman Durkin, I am very surprised to read your comment, having been a Councillor for so many years. On a day to day basis council officers do not work under the direction of a Portfolio holder. Councillors are elected to create policy amongst other things. The three key issues here are: that residents have gone through the proper channels when making a formal complaint secondly, they have received no response from the Ward Councillors they elect and thirdly has this issue been discussed by Councillors at any Cabinet or Full Council meeting in order to change policy in respect of riding of horses on this land? What I think we can agree on is that the Council's Community Engagement Strategy has failed yet again?

Kay Cartwright
2023-07-12 19:52:53

Edmund Wilson don’t apologise to him! The council are well know for hiding behind red tape and passing the buck! That’s obviously what is going on here! Councillors are public servants who need to start doing their job, children’s lives are at stake and it’s obviously not a game of who can dodge the issue the most. They are sickening in their total disregard for human & animal life and worry about a plant or mud, obviously Natural England are not concerned! I have to say that you’d expect more from a Tory council but why would I not expect lies after Boris & Sunak ? Tory’s are all the same, rotten to the core!

2023-07-12 20:32:22

Can we trust anything our councillors say? I say probably not

2023-07-13 07:12:58

Looking at the wider picture the Council and government are quite prepared to plough up hundreds of acres of green fields, woods and devastate the ecology of rivers, streams and lakes to allow the poliferation of the most polluting, voracious beast that daily damages our health and the environment- the car. How many new bridleways have been created the ensure that no horse rider ever has to cross or ride on roads? It's the same issue with cycling and the failure of the Council and government to encourage and build to increase outdoor pursuits impacts on our quality of life and creates a fundamentally unfit society with the result of ever increasing strains on the nhs. The issues wrt horses: why aren't both parties looking at studies that show the ecology and environmental benefits of horses and horse riding in the environment and countryside. The Council after being complicit in the planned devastation of the ecology and natural nature reserve the Stort River Valley and the neat and tidy policy to reduce all green spaces to a biodiversity equivalent of a desert has shown it simply doesn't have the level of understanding to cope.

Kim Oconnor
2023-07-13 09:08:57

Last I heard 24 ridding school s SHUT DOWN IN ESSEX..... If you don't provide bridleway s , we will loose even more.... THIS SOUNDS VERY MUCH LIKE PASSING OF THE BUCK AGAIN FROM ALL CHANNEL S.. AND IF THEY PASS IT LONG ENOUGH PEOPLE WILL FORGET IT..... you councils can not let young horse rider's go on the roads..... horses do not ruin the country side , humans do that.... You talk of green spaces,, let's talk green spaces,,, you talk of the river stort valley,,, which will have thousands upon thousands of houses built around this peaceful beautiful place, with a 4 lane road going straight a cross it,,, another, safe peaceful place lost,, by you councilor s... yes all of you councilor s who voted for this.... so don't talk to us about mental health, please don't,, when you lot are destroying all our boundaries..... mental health is last on your list, when it comes to making a profit.... your all a big joke.... In this situation you are all passing the the buck.... you have to allow bridal ways.... or it's another thing we have lost in this town. ... what are you all thinking, have you all gone mad.. Edmund, please don't make no apologies to them.... They should be making the apologies...

Kim Oconnor
2023-07-13 09:15:02

Yes I'm angry about this. Forcing riders in the road...what are you all thinking..

2023-07-13 09:27:33

I believe the nearest riding stable to Hospital and Risdens Wood is actually in Epping District. Have the horse riding Community thought of approaching landowners in Epping District where there are plenty of open fields, perhaps more suitable for hacking?

Edmund Wilson
2023-07-13 09:38:55

Sally - I don't understand your point? Are you saying shops in Harlow town are only for Harlow residents? I am a Harlow resident the boundary line is the dividing line between the two (stables and woods)? Perhaps we should stop cars coming in from Epping Road to Parsloe Rd as they are crossing boundaries? I hope if you are a local resident you never make the same mistake of using public areas in other districts - heaven forbid! And what better place than the fields and woods we are using are there for horses? Are the fields and woods in Epping any different to the Harlow ones? Not really given that Epping Forest is also a SSSI (and has engage with horse riding activities) This comment is ill advised. Your proposal would mean loading the horses up in trailers to go use other district amenities - extra traffic and emissions and we already have the highest in Essex according to Harlow Council's own statistics (again in their Health and Wellbeing publication)

Kim Oconnor
2023-07-13 09:46:26

Spot on,Edmund.

2023-07-13 18:30:07

Edmund Wilson, I think you have chosen to misunderstand me.

2023-07-13 18:31:14

I think you have chosen to misunderstand me.

Wayne Fogg
2023-07-13 18:57:35

It is unbelievable that the lives of children and horses are basically being put on a lottery wheel being forced to use national speed limit roads. It is inevitable that at some point an accident will happen, I just hope it is not fatal and that I am not the driver as I use these roads all the time and I would be devastated if I hit a horse and rider. From the Highway Code (the legislation that us as drivers are supposed to obey) “ Always pass wide and slowly. When you see a horse on a road, you should slow down to a maximum of 10 mph. Be patient, do not sound your horn or rev your engine. When safe to do so, pass wide and slow, allowing at least 2 metres of space” Well the roads these poor horse riders are being forced onto is a windy B Road and as such it will be difficult to allow the 2m space recommended! Surely the easiest and safest thing is to remove the danger in the first place by allowing the horses to use 300m of woodland so they can then get to their intended destination!

2023-07-18 16:30:11

Oh. I see what you mean now. Is it that Hispital and Risdens Wood is the only public owned land within reach of the stables and you therefore feel that horse riding should be allowed, even though it is a site specifically protected for wildlife and historical woodland?

Edmund Wilson
2023-07-19 11:02:21

Sally - precisely (I'm still not sure if you are in favour or against if you could state your position that would be appreciated as it is hard to determine). This would be based on the following points: Epping Forest, Hatfield Forest, Thorndon Park, Hockley Woods, Thetford Forest, etc... (the list goes on) ALL are SSSI sites and ALL encourage hacking. Page 62 of Scientific research into the effects of access on nature conservation: Part 2: access on bicycle and horseback (published by Natural England and used by the Council as their reference documentation) states: "8.25. There is no new information relevant to statutory exclusion or restrictions under the CRoW Act (2000) and the recommendations in the original guidance (chapter 9.6.2; that exclusions are unlikely to be necessary anywhere but that there may be situations where restrictions are warranted) are still relevant." Each SSSI has a list of "features of interest" that it's status as a SSSI is designed to protect - do you happen to know the SSSI listing for Harlow Woods? and able to show how we are damaging them? I'm guessing right now you are unable to do either. In fact no one has. Natural England have been and visited and they have not listed any damage - despite this being reported to them as damage in the woods from riders. All they could come up with was a minor concern about the depth of hoofprints (poaching) in one area - and that's after 50+ years of wood access. It's a bit like saying you can't live in a grade 2 listed house because its protected - yes its protected but protected from activities designed to change or damage it, you still live, cook, sleep in it. - we are not the danger. Most of the public comment on this subject (and to be frank - from the council) is based around baseless and unresearched speculation. I make all my arguments based on the reference material provided to me from the council. The council have now acknowledge discrepancies in what has been said and are arranging a meet between all parties to confirm exactly where we all stand.

Edward Thompson
2023-07-19 15:26:06

All around potter st and church Langley all the bridalways are being block for horse riders to use by outrageous kissing gates and snake gates , they are designated bridalways Kingston Lane past Mill pond all the way up to the common top of potters field it's all on the register and show clearly where they are it all very well saying there is 1 through from harlow common to Newhall but that is not just a bridalway it's a cut through for cars and the Hts dog bin collectors to drive from the common to kiln Lane, as there are no gates on common side since the gate and tree trunk was taken away. So you can get a bus through there , and the gate a malkin drive is ludicrous, all to slow down the drug dealers on bike lmfao. They are not all on bike ,there walking round the common every evening ,all the dodgy handshakes, complete major cop by the local councillors that chat complete rubbish, Check the law a horse rider is within there rights to take a sledgehammer to the bridalway that are shown on the bridalways land registry without being accused of criminal damage, Those councillors in the potter street , c/Langley!/Newhall think they know it all and do what they want !! They know nothing !! Calling all horse riders in the area complain to essex bridleways you are fully within your rights to insist access , Dont loose your bridleways

2023-07-21 09:40:55

Well, I must admit I am not a horse rider, although my daughter enjoyed horse riding when she was a teenager. I enjoy walking in all Harlow's green spaces and have worked as a volunteer in Harlow for a number of different groups. I suppose I am on the side of resolving issues. The main point of many of the very long and detailed posts is that horse riders do not accept that significant damage is being done to the woodland by horse riding. Is that correct? I would prefer a one word answer if possible.

Edmund Wilson
2023-07-21 16:59:00

Sally - Yes (As confirmed by Natural England on June 5th)

Leave a Comment Below:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *