Louise Braham: An Appreciation

Louise Braham, who has recently passed away, was a founder and trustee of the Byways and Bridleways Trust, 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 started their rights of way work in the 1970s, when the legislation was crude, councils ill-equipped and poorly trained, 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 some 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 late 1970s 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 the rights of way provisions in the Bill. 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 than anything else to improve the knowledge and performance of everyone in the system: the voluntary sector, local and national government, the Planning Inspectorate; even the Department of the Environment.

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 this work ever-harder.

All issues of Byway and Bridleway are 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 all started from. Just last week a judge (and a good judge, too) heard a rights of way case. He said, ‘I confess I had never heard of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.’ Most people haven’t, but a great many enjoy its fruits.