Louise Braham: an Appreciation

Louise Braham, who died recently, was the inspiration for the Byways and Bridleways Trust, an original trustee, first editor of Byway and Bridleway, and founder of the Rights of Way Law Review. A barrister by profession, a farmer by choice, and an equestrian by passion, Louise and the other founders, already working for rights of way, came together in the late 1970s, when the legislation was outdated and crude, councils and the voluntary bodies ill-equipped to deal with higher status rights, and a great many ancient highways unrecorded or neglected.

The Trusts ‘unique selling point’ was its focus on the routes themselves, and not on the interests of the users ‑ and particularly not of any class of user. This stance brought disapprobation from the ranks of the countryside intelligentsia, but Louise stuck to her guns: identify and properly record the routes themselves, and then manage their use appropriately and fairly.

In the beginning there was darkness. The original definitive map process, brought about by the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, had done a remarkable job in recording scores of thousands of miles of rights of way, but that Act and its 1968 successor could not deliver on adding the thousands more that had been missed; we needed something better. It came in the form of Part 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and Louise and others spent a huge amount of time helping to draft and lobby for the rights of way provisions in the Bill, and during its passage through Parliament. The result was a piece of legislation that has stood the test of time. Yes, it needs some updating (which the Deregulation Act, if it ever gets commenced, will provide in part), but overall, if a knowledgeable practitioner and a parliamentary draughtsman sat down with a blank piece of paper, they’d be pressed to come up with a better process.

The 1981 Act apart, Louise’s greatest legacy lies in information and training. The Byways and Bridleways Trust training courses, which later evolved into those hosted by the Rights of Way Law Review, did more to improve the knowledge and performance of everyone in the system than anything else, for many years: the public, local and national government, the Planning Inspectorate. Her dedication, hard work and insistence on a professional approach even from amateurs raised the game all round.

Louise edited Byway and Bridleway until 1997, and then concentrated on the Rights of Way Law Review until that became a casualty of the economic downturn in 2013 ‑ symptomatic of the malaise that now bites ever-harder.

All issues of Byway and Bridleway are here on the Byways and Bridleways Trust website. If you weren’t there, read the early ones to appreciate how very different it was then ‑ what a low base we started from.

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