HORSE lovers are taking Hampshire County Council to task over a new bridge they say will not let ponies cross a stream and is made of imported wood.

The New Forest Equestrian Association, which represents horse riders in the New Forest, is questioning the legal status of a new footbridge leading to Ibsley Common near Linwood.

This area is within the New Forest, and is owned by the National Trust, but the county council is responsible for the footpath, which crosses the Dockens Water Stream to the common.

The association told the Journal: “Unlike all bridges on the Forestry Commission’s parts of the open forest it has not been built to a standard that would be safe for New Forest ponies, and is constructed from imported timber.”

Its chairman Dr Tony Hockley has written to the council, saying: “Having taken advice concerning the replacement bridge at Newlands Crossing the NFEA believes that the relocated bridge requires permission from the Planning Inspectorate because it impedes access to common land.

“Placing the new footbridge directly on top of the ford has made it extremely difficult for those who have accessed Ibsley Common on horseback via this well-established and documented track to continue to do so through the ford.

“What remains of the ford is dangerously narrow and the bed of the stream has become unsafe due to the effects of the new bridge on the flow of water while the stream is in flood.”

Dr Hockley says gates have been installed at either end of the bridge to prevent depastured stock and horse riders using it, and signs have been put up banning horses from the bridge.

He has also raised the matter with the National Trust, the NPA, the New Forest Access Forum, the British Horse Society, the NFA and the New Forest Commoners Defence Association.

Dr Hockley added: “We also intend to raise the issue with the National Trust regarding the inappropriate design of the new bridge, which is out of place on the Open Forest and appears to be constructed of a tropical hardwood.”

A spokesman for the county council said they were looking into the matter and would issue a statement in due course.