VILLAGERS in the New Forest have won the right to use an ancient track that had been blocked by gates.

Hampshire County Council's regulatory committee has ruled that the 150-yard track at Hyde, near Fordingbridge, is a "byway open to all traffic".

Evidence given by local residents showed that walkers, cyclists and horse riders had used the path since 1930.

The route also appeared on archive maps drawn up almost 100 years earlier.

However, it was blocked in 1996 when the owners of a cottage and paddock either side of the track put up locked metal gates at both ends.

Former Hyde villager Jane Langford lodged a protest with the county council's rights of way officer.

Checks revealed that the track was not marked on the definitive rights of way map.

Although the gates were later unlocked, Mrs Langford urged the county council to list the track as a byway to safeguard future public access.

In her evidence to her committee, Mrs Langford said she used the path almost daily when she lived nearby.

"It was in continuous public use until entry was prevented," she said.

Her application was supported by rights of way organisations as well as residents - including the present owner of the property bisected by the path.

Mrs Langford, now living in Ringwood, said: "It's wonderful."