A project by Reaseheath College equine students to identify safe off road routes for horse riders has been recognised with a British Horse Society (BHS) national award.

The students, who are studying for their Level 3 Advanced Technical Extended Diploma or Technical Baccalaureate in Equine Management at the Cheshire college, plotted over 300 bridleways or footpaths with bridleway rights in Staffordshire which could be lost if not officially re-recorded on new maps by 2026.

The students’ research, on foot and on-line over three months, was a collaboration with the national BHS Project 2026 and earned them a BHS 2020 Access Achievement Award in recognition of their significant contribution to equestrian access. It will also count as part of their community engagement qualification, which is in addition to their college qualification.

Project 2026 aims to safeguard and where possible reinstate bridleways and footpaths to provide safe routes for equestrian and rural communities who otherwise must risk using potentially dangerous roads. Many routes are ancient highways and their loss could add to the rising number of serious road riding accidents as well as denying the public the mental health benefits of countryside access.

After researching the bridleways the students have been logging their data onto the BHS Project 2026 Mapping and Research website. This vital information enables researchers to quickly locate the routes and find supportive evidence for Definitive Map Modification Order Applications which are passed to Staffordshire County Council.

Following the success of the college project in Staffordshire, Reaseheath’s Equine Programme leader James Rayner, who is also a member of the BHS Regional Cheshire Committee and spearheaded this novel community project, emphasised he is keen to continue by focussing on a different county each year until 2026.

He said: “Reaseheath’s equine students and staff are very keen to support the BHS by providing the essential research for this very worthy project. Preserving equestrian routes is incredibly important as riders face increased pressure to ride on roads carrying fast traffic due to a lack of safe or accessible off road riding.

“We also saw the importance of preserving access to the countryside during the COVID-19 national lockdown in enhancing our mental and physical health and felt we needed to join the BHS in safeguarding as many safe riding routes as possible for the nation.

“As well as earning the satisfaction of helping our equestrian community, the students also found researching ancient routes on historical maps really interesting. Often the routes were completely overgrown and the students were delighted that their discovery could lead to a new network of off road riding.”

BHS 2026 Project Manager Will Steel and Wendy Bannerman, BHS East and West Midlands Access Field Officer, introduced the project and its data collection system during a seminar at Reaseheath’s Equestrian Centre.

To learn how you can be involved visit: www.bhs.org.uk/our-work/access/campaigns/2026/2026-toolkit