In the news this week is Scottish Land & Estates, who have spoken out against DIY trailbuilding (they even made it onto the BBC, complete with an inflammatory headline). Mountain bikers have shown a range of reactions ranging from “fight the power” to “go legit”.
Scottish Land & Estates are of course talking about landowner liability, in which they’re theoretically on the hook if someone builds a canyon gap on their property then someone gets hurt trying to send it. After (so to speak) digging around for a while, the dividing line seems to be built features such as drops and jumps raising a duty of care for landowners, rather than all trails creating landowner liability, though the original article is far from clear on this. In fairness, they do point to a positive example of a landowner recognising the demand of mountain bikers using their land:
“Golspie, which had experienced footpaths being more heavily used by mountain bikers. In response to the demand, new signage was erected to focus access takers onto certain routes on the estate.
“Proposals were also brought forward for a purpose-built mountain biking facility, which was developed through a community company, Highland Wildcat. Since Highland Wildcat was established in 2005, over 18km of trail has been constructed at a cost of £600,000.”
This isn’t a bad example, but it is over a decade old, and they also omit that the £600,000 Highland Wildcat spent on it came entirely from grants, the community and local businesses.
In this round of the discussion, most people seem to be averting their eyes from the Tweed Valley, where many unsanctioned trails have later become official trails, been used to host EWS (Enduro World Series) races, and turned the valley into an international destination for mountain bikers. Of course, some advocacy organisations probably have to ignore unsanctioned trail building out of necessity and respectability.
Scotland is packed with interesting cases when it comes to land use and ownership. Everyone has heard of the right to roam, but there have been other changes to the law in the past twenty years with the aim of opening up access to more people, making things more equitable and creating greater business opportunities too. One such change is the Community Asset Transfer (C.A.T.), whereby a group who can demonstrate a public interest can apply for purchase or compulsory purchase of land – one such C.A.T. is currently in progress for the trail centre planned for the Durris Forest near Aberdeen.
Some other factoids we learned recently: 60% of Scotland is owned by 0.002% of the population, and apparently some of that ownership is through shell companies, which means it can be difficult or even impossible to find out who the landowner is. Perhaps this is why some riders feel justified in building unsanctioned trails, which echoes Chris Porter’s recent opinion that it’s just democracy in action. Other mountain bikers on social media are saying all of this brings our sport into disrepute though. Where do you stand?