The British Horse Society (BHS) is the UK’s largest and most influential equestrian charity. It has more than 71,000 direct members with a further 34,000 in affiliated riding clubs. Altogether, the BHS works on behalf of more than 2.1 million riders and carriage drivers.
The charity is a statutory consultee on access and rights of way, supporting one of its key roles: to defend, extend and promote safe off-road routes. According to the BHS Access and Rights of Way Department, of the 188,700 kilometres of public rights of way in England, only 22% carry rights for horse riders and only five percent for carriage drivers.
“Most of these routes do not link to form a safe off-road circuit,” says Heather Clatworthy, Senior Executive for Access and Rights of Way at the BHS. “This means that many equestrians and other vulnerable fellow users such as cyclists and walkers are forced to use roads, with increasing volume and speed of traffic, to reach safe off-road routes. Indeed for many, busy roads are their only means of exercise.”
Increasing public and government awareness of safe off-road access is a vital strand of BHS work and something that geographic information (GI) is well suited to support.
The need for geographic information
The BHS wanted to create an online tool for equestrians to be able to find and explore routes to ride or carriage drive, both close to home and on holiday. At the same time, as Heather explains, it was important to record and preserve routes that could be lost in future.
“In 2026 many historic routes that have not been recorded on the definitive map will be extinguished under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. There are estimated to be thousands of km of routes which could be lost forever. We wanted a way to compare views of the country pre and post-2026 should the legislation take effect. The aim is to gauge the level of damage the change might have on the network and lobby those in power for action to defend it.”
A further element was to enable the public to log the details and locations of accidents involving horses so as to provide hard evidence and statistics for preserving safe riding routes.
In 2010 the BHS launched ‘Mapping Britain on Horseback’, an all-encompassing project to digitise the National Bridleroute Network. The network consists of linear and circular routes, some long distance, some short, and all forming part of a national series of accessible routes which equestrians, and many walkers and cyclists, can use.
In support of the digitisation, the BHS used the MapInfo GIS software it holds at its headquarters in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. For the mapping itself, a choice was made to prioritise Ordnance Survey 1:25 000 scale digital raster data for England, Scotland and Wales. 1:25 000 is the preferred base layer for rights of way work as it shows detail such as field boundaries, minor paths and open access areas.
Working with this GI combination, the Access and Rights of Way Department have achieved three things.
For their in-house needs, they have been able to view, interrogate and analyse the national public rights of way network along with their equestrian data.
Secondly, they launched the public facing website EMAGIN, standing for Equine Mapping and Geographical Information Network. It is still the only web-based equine mapping resource of its kind in the world.
Thirdly, they have enabled the public to log accidents on the Society’s dedicated incident reporting website.
Benefits of hosted mapping
To underpin these activities and support their various GI-related needs, the BHS turned to emapsite for a comprehensive, hosted mapping solution.
Emapsite consultants first analysed the Society’s varied use of maps to ascertain that all data was correctly licensed. The analysis covered paper map copying and several publication licences held for non-profit work.
In addition, the BHS wished to extend their work internally to give multiple users access to the GIS so they could collate data on the Ordnance Survey overlays. Users record an extremely wide range of data on the GIS. As well as rights of way and bridleroutes, examples include the locations of BHS-approved establishments, registered instructors, the addresses of volunteers and the latest extent of the toxic weed ragwort on riding routes.
“Emapsite assessed all our licensing requirements and supplied a solution through their website portal,” says Heather. “It enables us to license several internal users to use mapping data which is really helpful and cost-effective.”
The Access and Rights of Way team have almost 1,000 volunteers nationwide helping them identify and safeguard routes. Giving each volunteer access to the GIS would help to enrich content quickly but would be prohibitively expensive.
Emapsite came up with an answer. The idea was to enable a small group of research volunteers to log onto the web portal and view, draw on and print specific sections of mapping with off-road routes. This would help when preparing submissions for local planning offices to consider DMMOs (Definitive Map Modification Orders).
“This has been very useful,” says Heather. “It is a great example of how emapsite will always to try to find a solution for a customer as part of their rounded service. What they have done for us has enabled BHS GIS data to be viewed by the public which is incredibly valuable to the equestrian industry. Emapsite are constantly on the ball and at the forefront of change, ready to take on a challenge. Their solution is reliable, fast and high quality. I know a member of their team will always help us with any problems we have and they are not shy at meeting face to face which is very welcome in this era of email trails and automated telephone systems.”
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