HUNDREDS of horse lovers are battling to protect a historic bridleway from major restoration works.

Riders in the Meon Valley say the old Meon railway line is being wrecked by resurfacing and tree felling, creating a “dangerous race track” and threatening wildlife.

The popular 10-mile path from West Meon to Wickham is undergoing a £400,000 makeover by South Downs National Park Authority and Hampshire County Council.

Workers are clearing mud, felling trees and improving drainage, adding wider access points, viewing spots and benches.

But equestrians warn new stone scalping will keep horses to a walk and allow cars to drive down the historic path.

More than 2,000 people joined an online Save Our Bridleway campaign last week in a bid to halt work and reopen consultation.

In a letter to councillors posted to its Facebook page, Julia Arnold, from Swanmore, said: “This is destroying the woodland, wildlife habitat, urbanising the railway and opening up access for motorised vehicles, bikes [and] horse drawn carts whether allowed or not.

“It will also become a health and safety issue as a dangerous race track that only a few can use and add to the statistics of injuries.”

Hampshire Chronicle:

County council transport chief Cllr Seán Woodward, a keen horse rider, has written to South Downs bosses urging them to postpone the works, which he said pose a “potentially lethal hazard”.

He said: “There seem to be a number of open holes and workings that were to do with the railway that have been exposed and not covered.

“The larger accesses allow cars onto the trail and it is arguably now possible to drive the entire length. This is unacceptable as well as unsafe.”

Many trees have been cleared since scheme started in September, but campaigners hope the bridleway can be saved before work finishes in June.

Hampshire Chronicle:

Kathryn Montague, Save Our Bridleway’s leader, said: “It’s not that we’re being a snooty horse group that think we’ve got this complete right to the bridleway – it’s that it was fine for every user before.”

Council officers have been invited to discuss the issue at a public meeting on April 16 in Wickham Community Centre, Mill Lane, Wickham.

South Downs National Park Authority did not respond to requests for comment over the bank holiday weekend.