Access All Areas: Divide and Conquer…

March 8, 2011

In our first two pieces on the state of access for mountain bikers, we covered the current access situation and what we think is wrong with it and we’ve started to talk about how we should progress. However, there may be a large white elephant in the room that noone wants to talk about.

Chris Porter begins:

“I’ve been waiting for years to read a well thought out piece on access rights to trails.

After two articles in Singletrack from ‘yer man’, I’ve still been waiting for years to read a well thought out piece on access rights to trails!

Divide and conquer.

It’s not walkers against cyclists against horse riders against horse and cart drivers (a new designation of legal trail!) against motorcycles against 4x4s.

It’s not that.

It’s us against them, ‘us’ being the trail using public, ‘them’ being the landowners who don’t want us to access their land. It’s as simple as that, divide and conquer. Stand back and watch the separate interest groups close down each other’s access. Encourage them to create interest groups. Jeeesus, we’ve got three or four different ones for MTBs alone!

The correct response to ‘we won’t listen to your requests unless you first form a representative group and then elect someone to talk to us’ should be: ‘Well screw you then, I’m happy riding the trails down which I can squeeze my sorry ass/MTB/horse/enduro bike/Land Crusier, etc…’

A 4×4 uses the same access law to access a BOAT ‘Byway Open To All Traffic’ as a cyclist uses to drive on the tarmac road to Afan (or to work) or a ‘Rambler’ (and there’s a veiled insult if ever there was one – rambler!) to drive to the Lakes…

Should you care?

The pernicious CROW Act from 2000 and the subsequent NERC passed in 2006 (some of the parts of the 2000 Act were only to be enacted in 2006, go figure?) between them allowed the government/landowners to deny massive groups of users access to a whole raft of trails. Whilst it’s mostly true that MTBs haven’t lost a lot of access rights due to these changes, some councils (mine included) have somehow used this opportunity to reclassify further still so that some RUPPs and Cart tracks have been downgraded to footpath status.

Incidentally, some of your readers will live along what used to be classified as RUPPs because there were thousands upon thousands of miles of them. Those people relied on that old access right to be able to walk, ride or drive to their homes. Now (look it up…), only the owner or lessee is allowed to access the property via the newly restricted bridleway route.

Technically, driving a car to visit a friend on a farm or in a cottage accessed via a restricted bridleway is breaking the same law as a motorcycle or 4×4 on a newly closed trail. We should be opening more access not applauding when some other user group gets access rights closed down.

The situation in which the reclassification has left us is a joke.

I can understand why no-one likes an illegal motorcyclist on a loud, illegal MX tearing across open ground or worse still tearing down a trail they should not be on causing confrontation. But that’s already illegal. Changing the law to restrict access to motorcycles and 4x4s in a blanket fashion does not make that selfish act any more illegal.

Would the Cannondale MX bike have meant harmony for all things two wheeled?

Because the perpetrator is already breaking 10 or 12 laws why would he think this new one is the one that makes him stop? What it does is to effectively remove law abiding pressure groups campaigning for access (for all!). It will also force loads more off road motorcyclists and 4×4 drivers to break the law, effectively beaching them at the end of a ‘legal trail’ faced with a choice of turn around (not always possible on a narrow trail) or carry on down the newly re-classified section? Want to check what’s legal and what’s not?

Simply pop down your local council office and have a look at the ‘definitive map’, remember an ordnance survey is NOT the definitive map. Most councils haven’t got a definitive map yet, the ones that have ask you to make an appointment to see it and there isn’t a facility to actually see across council boundaries! You’ll have to go and see their map as well! Encouraging law abiding access or discouraging law abiding access? You decide.

By(the)way, ‘mechanically propelled vehicles’ – it won’t be long before we’re trail centre only then? Trail centres = ‘permissive access’… Bollocks, should have teamed up with LARA, TRF, Ramblers, etc…

Divide and conquer.

Access may require the Akrigg of cart drivers.

By(the)way2, I saw a horse and cart on a trail for the first time in 30+ years of using trails, he was on a fire road, er, illegally! As I probably was also (on a MTB), does it matter?

Funny that they don’t have the police manpower to police the Fox-hunting ban (a piece of law which was promised for 3 full parliaments) so they simply ignore it and allow the toffs to carry on running rampant over the countryside NOT following bridleways either! Yet they have found enough manpower to have dedicated ‘off-road’ teams in every sodding police Constabulary. They’ve even had helicopters out after motorbikes in South Wales. How long till we get fines as MTBers do in the States?

The cretin that emailed in saying he doesn’t worry about the law but worries about impact. For f**k’s sake! The M4 to Wales vs a 4×4 on the ridgeway? The A66 vs a sneaky enduro bike on the Pennines. What’s going to revert back to nature sooner? Impact? Western Lifestyle?

I guess that by impact he means erosion, er, erosion is how the currently dry bits of the planet got lumpy? It doesn’t matter. No really, it doesn’t matter… Which bit of this sceptered isle is still untouched by human intervention? Which bit is so sacrosanct that some mining or utility company doesn’t already own the mineral/water rights to it? You know the answer – get a grip…

Impact? Don’t talk to me about impact! Bikes and components from Taiwan? Shipped over in a rattan container on a wooden tea clipper I suppose. I should calm down I’ll get a coronary… It’s OK for me to break the law because I’ve decided I have less impact than the guy on the KTM, ergo, it’s not OK for him to break the law? That’s a bit inquisition isn’t it? Blah, go back to school.

People who talk about the ‘unsuitability’ of 4x4s and motorbikes using trails designed for horse and carts should remember that

a) most of our access rights in law date from after the invention of the internal combustion engine

b) whose land is it anyway? Act of “I’ll fight your for it!”

And c) ‘chaps’ like T E Lawrence (of Arabia) were happily thraping their Brough Superiors along these dirt tracks before tarmac was even widespread!

Long before Cormac Macarthy, this is T E Lawrence and ‘The Road’…

“Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fifty-two horsepower. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

“Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’s straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.”

“…Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed…

“A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocations, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.”

Why is it great that the mass trespass happened to open up footpaths and bad that a mass trespass happens every single weekend because the pressure on our legal trail system is so overwhelming…?

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