Access All Areas: A Policeman’s View

April 14, 2011

After Chris Porter’s piece on the partisan nature of access arguments between different users groups drew quite a lot of ire, PC Harry Carpenter, mountain biker and Singletrack regular, got in touch to clarify the law that relates to you riding your bike on a footpath and how it’s very different to the laws that govern motorised off-road access.

“My name is PC Harry Carpenter, I work at Settle Police Station in the Yorkshire Dales. I work closely with the Yorkshire Dales National Park and have been quite proactive with regards to illegal off-road driving.

I’m also a keen mountainbiker and Singletrack regular so I’ve been reading with interest the recent “Access All Areas” articles. I think there’s a lot of positive stuff being discussed and I’d like to point out what we, the Police (well, at least in North Yorkshire) are doing about off-road use (and what we’re not going to do).

A matter of civilty

Firstly, cycling on a Public Footpath is not illegal, it is purely a Civil matter, trespass. The police won’t and cannot do you for it, only the land-owner can. Don’t confuse this with riding on the pavement (next to a road, you know, the safe bit) which you can be issued a fixed penalty ticket for.

There are specific laws covering trespass which have had to be brought in as there is no general law of “trespass” i.e. Aggravated Trespass, Hunt Saboteurs, Raves, Going for Game etc. but you’re not breaking those laws whilst Just Riding Along.

A park warden or land-owner could object and they can call the Police but there’s nothing the Police can do, they’d have to identify you and try and take you to court or get an injunction out on you, the practicalities of that aren’t worth thinking about.

In Scotland, anything done by a member of the public in exercising their access rights under the Land Reform Scotland Act 2003 does not amount to trespass.

Off-Road driving is a completely different beast, it’s covered mainly by Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act. NERC (Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006)allowed us to clarify the status of trails, in years gone by we couldn’t prosecute for driving on a number of our local Bridleways due to their inconclusive status, now we can.

Despite what a previous article suggested we don’t have a dedicated off-road team round here, nor a helicopter. We do carry out the odd joint patrol with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) Rangers but mainly we rely on members of public coming forward to complain about illegal vehicular use.

Police and Park Rangers have begun to clamp down on motorised vehicular access where it has caused damage

We have adopted quite a positive stance against illegal off-road use and we do seek to prosecute whenever we can. The Park is a naturally sensitive area but it does need protecting and unfortunately irresponsible vehicular use has caused a lot of damage in the past (Gorbeck prior to the repair work is a good example).

If someone does make a complaint to us we take a witness statement from them, identify the driver, interview them and report them for summons, they’ll then most likely end up at Skipton Magistrates Court.

Most off-road driving organisations can offer advice on routes, is a useful mapping tool and a lot of local Councils now have their Definitive Map online, also the YDNPA lists the TROs in the park.

Any further laws restricting cycling would be very difficult to enforce, bikes aren’t registered to a user, you don’t need a licence or insurance – tracing the user of a vehicle can prove difficult at times, a cycle? I’m certainly not worried about it.

Cheeky trails ahoy!”

So, there we are. Just for your own enjoyment, here’s a link to the Countryside Rights of Way Act (2000), which makes for interesting reading.

If you work in the legal world and have a good grasp of the law then we’re quite keen to have a chat – get in touch at

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