Access All Areas: The Campaign Starts Here

by singletrackjon 48

A statement of intent.

The current access situation is stupid. The current system of bridleways and footpaths is outdated – which is hardly surprising as it was developed and chosen in the post war period by parish councillors with vested interests.

Here at Singletrack we think that there should be no distinction between any non motorised form of transport, be it horse, walker or cyclist. We want to see Scottish style access across the rest of Britain. This doesn’t mean we want expensive changes to be made to enable easier access to what would previously have been called footpaths – we simply want access to these to be legal. There are miles of ‘footpath’ across moors where there are no stiles to impede riders or horses. Where stiles exist then riders can simply lift their bikes over. We don’t want costly changes to be made to ‘facilitate’ access. We can manage just fine at the moment, as most riders who have ever been tempted onto cheeky trails will attest.

Cheeky trails?

Enlightened countries such as Sweden and Scotland simply have access to land – we have a piecemeal system where outdated decisions on land use still limit us to where we can ride. We must decide what future we want for ourselves and fight to achieve it.

There are many people that share the opinion that the Rights of Way network should be opened up and that the default status for every path should be access for all with local exceptions made for trails unsuitable due to ground conditions, rare habitats/species or volume of traffic. We understand we’re preaching to the converted but we’re also fully aware also that the outcome we want is unlikely to happen in the short term.

In a country struggling out of a recession and hampered by cutbacks to infrastructure and the bureaucracy that oversees it, we don’t expect these changes in legislation to be made – however much we believe in the rightness of them. Laws are too costly to be changed and, as many people we have spoken to have said, there is not enough political will to produce Scottish style access across Britain.

This doesn’t mean we are helpless. The coalition government has started to put an emphasis on it’s ‘Big Society’ approach. The cynical might say this is a way of stepping back from their responsibilities, cutting money and support to quasi-governmental organisations that were previously fighting for access and in their place leaving a void they hope will be filled by private individuals. Regardless of how people may feel about that, the fact that Coalition government is inviting greater participation from the general public could be a great opportunity for mountain bikers to resolve access issues on a local level. This might be the best opportunity we’ve got to get things moving.

Natural England is the body that, amongst other things, has a responsibility to “promote access, recreation and public well-being for the benefit of today’s and future generations”. It’s their duty to look after rights of way and access issues. Sadly, the government cuts have meant they’ve had to take a 5% drop in funding this year alone which translates into a 30% drop in staff. Back in July a Department for Rural Affairs spokesman told the BBC that:

“It will be up to each individual organisation to revise their plans to reflect this reduced funding, but we expect them to protect front-line services as much as they can by first looking for efficiency savings or reducing back office costs.”

So how do they plan to make ‘efficiency savings’? Well, along with the ominous sounding ‘reducing back office costs’, we’ve seen a document that outlines their plans to transfer some of their access related work to the civil organisations and local communities. While they still have to fulfil their statutory duties under current legislation they are starting to explore ways in which interested parties in the community can help.

This means that anyone interested will be able to heavily influence their local access issues. The worst case scenario is that an access land grab will follow – and better organised groups of users will be able to exert their influence more effectively and get the outcomes they desire. Of all the outdoors users, mountain bikers are without doubt the worst organised and if this continues we are bound to come out this situation poorly.

So now is our opportunity to get involved, it’s time to represent mountain biking via local access forums and start to campaign for what we want.

So how do we move forward on this?

The CTC has real political lobbying clout and is the organisation that is in a position to take the lead and push this issue forwards. They have experience in campaigning and they have seasoned campaigners just waiting to support local groups who want to get involved. We’ll be hearing from them soon and we’ll be following up this with interviews with local campaigners, access groups and anyone else that wants their say.

We want to hear your suggestions and ideas, what problems you’ve run into and the positive solutions you’ve found to make things happen on a local level. Get in touch with us at access@singletrackworld.com. We need you to get involved.

Comments (48)

  1. Myself and a lot of people i know sent letters to our MPs, the responce showed, more than anything, an utter lack of understanding from the government department involved. Anyone writing to their MP may want to look at their responces so they can counter the existing arguments, such as they are.

    http://thisispanda.co.uk/~johnny/letters/

    One friend got a reply from his MP who said he’d look into, but, he could forsee a cyclist might run into a problem when they reached a style, Which just shows how little those in charge understand about mountain biking, bikes (they come off the ground with an upwards lifting force), and rural access. But on the flip side if that was the only problem he had with it…

    I think as well as supporting groups like the ST effort, the CTC individuals need to prove there is a need for reform.

    The letters on the link above also give the details of the Minister we need to nobble… I would suggest more letters/emails…

  2. We’ve been trying to get Access laws changed for canoeists for years

    Good Luck!

  3. Kudos to the magazine for banging the drum on this. Well done.

  4. For the time being, just get out and ride the ‘cheeky trails’.
    In my experience as long as you slow down and are polite when you meet other people there it’s usually smiles all round. Don’t get wound up or try to argue when you do meet a grumpy, just ignore them.

  5. Excellent idea. Good luck. I wonder if using the term ‘cyclists’ rather than ‘mountain bikers’ is less threatening to the ramblers. And stiles are good – they help keep the motorised bikes out

  6. What is really needed is to get the “opposition” on side. What does the ramblers association think about the issue?

    If you could get them to fight the cause, then I would think there is a fair chance of swift success. Thought swift in these things is still usually measured in decades.

    Without them (or some other similar body) I can’t see it happening. It would just be an us vs them, and effectively we’d cancel eachother out.

    IMHO.

  7. good point ‘hiker – there are benefits to ‘ramblers’/everyone from increasing/changing cycling access laws.

    cyclists would be less concentrated on just a few trails, and there’d be fewer conflicts as a result.

    etc.

    yes, for this to work we need to convince the ramblers of the benefits it offers them.

  8. Having thought about it a bit more, Sustrans may well be worth talking too. They’re likely to be pro this and are hellish good at campaigning.

  9. Good on you.

    Given your aims, it would also be helpful to approach the British Horse Society. They campaign to improve access to bridleways for horses. It would have to be clear that the responsibilities for maintaining access for bridleways are kept but footpaths don’t suddenly need horse-navigable gates. They could be a good ally particularly if all 3 user groups (foot, bike, horse) could agree on a positions of increasing access.

  10. I’m all for this. A properly done campaign could work out for all of us.
    I do like the rambler angle as UrbanHiker suggests.

    In fact, I think I want to get involved in this. I’m going to talk to some of my council contacts, see if I can get my foot in the door.

  11. I’m not sure why The Ramblers would support The Cyclists in gaining access to the routes they alone enjoy. But I support this initiative. Is there a standard form of words? Who should I mail-bomb it to?

  12. Do you want more cheeky pix ? I got millions 😉

  13. this is all very nice, and I know as the publishers of a national magazine you have to be “responsible”, but it’s all a bit slow isn’t it? I mean this will take generations to resolve. I thought cyclists were a militant bunch – what’s wrong with a bit of direct action?
    There is enough ambiguity in the right of way on rural footpaths where cycling is not specifically prohibited, and mass trespass is a proven method for establishing precedent and forcing a change in the interpretation of the law. What about a few hundred mountain bikers turn up at a pre-arranged time and ride along a rural footpath and challenge the authorities to do something about it (or accept it for what it is)?

  14. Well a few hundred mountain bikers all on the same trail at once should cause enough damage to make somebody’s case!

  15. Before I die I’d like to ride the Ashdown Forest legally so let’s get moving folks.

    Brilliant by the way…..brilliant….love it

  16. I am sure you have responsible intentions but your article smacks too much of ‘me, me, me’ and does not even attempt to appreciate why the current system may be good enough. The population density of Scotland and Sweden is hardly comparable to England. Re-classification of certain FPs to BWs may make more sense than a blanket change. Enough MTBers still tear down BWs scattering walkers to suggest that walkers need some safe havens from bikes. Lots of FPs are relatively unspoit (singletrack!) and they would be trashed by the extra traffic from bikes and horses. The environment must come ahead of any one group’s selfish interests.

    Actually I expect you will win the day eventually but it still doesn’t seem quite as great as you describe.

  17. Hh45 is assuming is that every “cyclist” will immediately dive down the nearest footpath abandoning the current byways.
    By opening up the ROW system you will actually dilute the users (person/mile) and actually reduce the opportunities for conflict.

    I accept there are one or two that may suffer slightly however many footpaths that would benefit from some additional traffic in the summer to help keep them clear of foliage.
    I do concede there are probably some paths in the national parks that would need some form of (voluntary??) regulation (Just like Snowdon does currently)
    But then I think lot of cyclists would actively avoid these hiking honey spots during peak hours as, lets face it, who wants to ride the best downhill in the lakes at 2mph behind a procession of day trippers from Birkenhead.

  18. Re The Ramblers. I used to be a member about 15 years ago as I thought they did more for access in the UK than any other organisation. I left when I realised that they wanted access for those on foot even – and sometimes especially – if it was to the detriment of other outdoor users. Good luck getting them on side, perhaps they might see sense these days.

    Re direct action: I am not a lawyer, but the law as I understand it is pretty much as follows, please leap in and correct me if I’m wrong:

    1) If you’re using a bike on a footpath – or indeed anywhere else on someone’s land where you don’t have legal access – you are committing trespass. This is a civil offence, not a criminal one.

    2) It’s a matter between you and the landowner, so if anyone other than the landowner, their representative or perhaps a police officer approaches you about the matter, it’s basically none of their business.

    3) If you are on someone’s land, you can be asked to leave the land by the shortest practical route, and if you don’t, you are then trespassing.

    4) As it’s a civil offence, you may be sued for damages as a result of your trespass, but you will not incur a criminal record unless you fail to pay any damages awarded against you. What material damages could realistically be awarded against you, I am at a loss to anticipate; the effects of erosion perhaps? It is however very possible that if intenational trespass could be proved, then punitive damages and legal costs might be awarded against you, since the landowner has a right in law to keep you out and can claim they were ‘injured’ by your trespass (see e.g. here: http://bit.ly/hGpOTn ). That said, intent would have to be proved, and they’d have to have some way of identifying you in order to bring a case.

    More here: http://bit.ly/i2IVHw

  19. Cheeky trails are great however not all are safe for use (i.e. detrimental to other users). The sad thing is the more technical it is the more mountain bikers want to ride them… walkers should have places to walk where they don’t have to fear for their safety on tight steps etc because of middled-aged men thinking they are 15 again.

    Sorry.

  20. What about if a cyclist is climbing one of those massive ladder like stiles & falls off because he could only hold on with one hand (‘someone i know’ nearly did this on the pennine way near stoodley pike)?
    Where would the liability for things like that lie?
    Not trying to be a naysayer, but i can see something like that being an issue in some parts.

  21. On the other hand I know a lot of bridleways that are not safe for cyling or indeed horse riding; a lot of the hill/mountain bridleway trails in the lake district have been sanitised with rock steps (eg. on Catbells) to prevent erosion from walkers meaning that you ride on them at your absolute peril if you are not confident or expert enough. A lot of the footpaths are far better to ride on…The local riders tend to use these at times when they know that they will not encounter many walkers (ie early mornings and evenings/night) which tends to work fine with no confrontations.

    On my home turn on the South Downs we tend to follow the same view, if its busy then we go for a non-confrontation approach and avoid the walkers, if its quiet (and safe) we will go on the cheeky trails as well and adopt a “tread lightly” and be friendly approach at all times.

  22. ‘enlightened countries like Sweden and Scotland’……….
    good comment, and good campaign, thank you for the effort.
    Seems there are two different things here though…. opening up footpaths to bikes, and aiming for full ‘right to roam’ like the ‘enlightened’ countries.

    Thing is we’d need to do something about idiot bikers too, those that keep at full steam ahead past walkers, kids and other people with a ‘right to roam’… maybe we need a campaign on trailcraft, and courtesy too?

    Fully support right to roam, but then I also think no individual should be able to ‘own’ land, it was taken by murder and violence in the first place, and land’owners’ should actually be forced to give it back to the country for the good of all of us, thieves shouldn’t get to keep their loot, but then, i do live in cloud-cookoo land……. 🙂

  23. I disagree Hora, technical footpaths keep speeds down which reduces the perceived threat to walkers. Fast open bridleways are where most walkers complain due to being “buzzed” by fast descending riders.

  24. I should add that we don’t see a mass trespass as being a useful campaigning tool for the reasons already given re: trail damage. We’re trying to promote responsible use remember.

  25. I was born in the Welsh borders, and growing up remember faffing with maps trying to work out if I was allowed to ride somewhere. After living in Scotland for a while now, I realise how pathetic and arbitrary the land access laws are down south.

    I would fully support this campaign, but really, I’m an anarchist, and I just think people should ride wherever they like. Absolute disregard for the law can, in some circumstances, show how ridiculous it is and instigate it’s modification/removal.

  26. MTBers were too much a minority and too weak to assert our interests. Today I find more cyclists in my local hills and woods than walkers. The time is ripe for change.

  27. I think a mass tresspass idea could work if the place/date was carefully chosen. Something like a recreation of the original tresspass, preferably with support of the PDNP, with shed loads of press, mountain bike and otherwise, invited to draw some attention to an issue that, lets face it, 99% of the public have no idea even exists.

  28. dumb spam filter, just lost my post!!

    summary;
    keep it up!! you are in a unique position to reach alot of riders which clubs and associations find difficult.

    but please do it quick – when I move back in a few years, for a few years, I wanna ride!

  29. As I understand it, it’s like DoctorRad put it. Basically you can ride anywhere you like, but you have “no right” to do so. This is not the same thing as being “not allowed” to do so. Having the “right” is protection in law, in this case from the landowners. It’s a matter of whether or not you want to put up with the arguments and confrontation, we are out just to have a bit of fun after all.

  30. I know a guy who has lobbied massively on access issues on behalf of the British Horse Driving Society. He has good links politically and understands the issues from both sides…I will have a chat with him and post any relevant thoughts…

  31. Bravo, you are to be applauded. The campaigning on any cause / issue needs someone to stand up and try to lead / drive it. Well done 😎

    Email of support and offer of help sent.

    I hope it will be non-partisan across all the mags and organisations. It’s a big issue for all riders and so should involve as many as possible, IMO (and realising the irony of that statement regarding the typical apathy 😉 )

    Good luck and happy to help.

    Tim, SingletrAction
    http://www.singletraction.org.uk

  32. 1. Have to agree with hh45, the population density in England (1022 per square mile) is 6 times what it is in Scotland and almost 20 times what it is in Sweden. This is a key point because when there is lots of space no one is that bothered about who is using the land.

    2. Mass trespass? Please grow up. The Kinder mass trespass was by ramblers trying to get year round access for the general public to land that was used by a few privileged individuals once a year. It had general support from the public. We are a minority sport trying to use paths that a good proportion of the public don’t want us to use.

    3. Please do not talk about responsible use of footpaths by bikers. I have seen enough “responsible” use of bridleways by moto-cross riders to be sure that it doesn’t work.

  33. Thrunton, being “grown up” about this takes too long. The excellent CTC document is dated 2006. My local county’s well-intended RoWIP started in 2003, was published in 2006 and aimed to deliver within the first five years. It will be 2011 in a few days and so far, nothing. This has been going on for decades, and will go on for more decades without more decisive action. What do you suggest (apart from complaining about motorbikes)?

  34. Yay, mass trespass – an ideal location would be the site of the 1896 one over Winter Hill.
    Can’t post a link in here but Google it and you’ll see there’s a stone there commemorating 10,000 Boltonians reclaiming the ancient right of way.
    Every time I ride it, I’m begging someone to tell me I can’t, so that I can politely point out the irony.

    Notwithstanding that, the current reality is that there are more riders than walkers on that path most days and I’ve never once been challenged by a walker there.
    I suspect that most walkers under the age of about 60 would probably have an expectation that we would be able to ride those paths and it wouldn’t even occur to them consider challenging another (courteous) lover of the outdoors.
    Keep riding those footpaths and couteously point out the irony if challenged 🙂

  35. If you are going to mass trespass, it needs to be accessible by London-based journalists. We’d need a really experienced, likeable and articulate spokesperson to handle the press – ideally someone with TV experience or a known TV face. The Express and The Mail will hate it. The Grauniad and Indie will love it. You wont get support from big-business e.g. Halfords, Evans, MBR, MBUK etc, But you will get it from all the independent-businesses.

  36. I’m all for this. I think getting the Ramblers Association on board will be impossible. The suggestion to get the Horse riders along is good, there’s a lot of riders with a lot of money, titles and social clout. Mass trespass could backfire very easily (damage caused and sods law a bunch of ramblers will try and walk in the opposite direction)

  37. To quote:

    1. Have to agree with hh45, the population density in England (1022 per square mile) is 6 times what it is in Scotland and almost 20 times what it is in Sweden. This is a key point because when there is lots of space no one is that bothered about who is using the land.

    I think this is not a great argument. Most of this land that is used in those stats are used by nobody. The land that is actually utilised will tend to be closer large population areas, and so will be closer to English levels of usage density.

    The reason it works is that Scandies (and I guess Scots ;-)) are just a bit more grown up and a bit less grumpy than little Englanders (of which I should point out I’m one) and happy to see people out and about whatever they are doing.

  38. I wouldnt support it as I prefer to leave it as it is. Making a fuss / mass protest may backfire.

    At least now you can ride cheeky and 99.9% of the time your fine. Ive never been stopped riding cheeky.

    There is nothing wrong with that and I would not want to risk making a fuss that could lead to a change where the law made it illegal.

  39. I don’t think it can be made any worse as the laws are unenforceable.

  40. Good point, but I would rather let sleeping dogs lie. I fear this dream fails to deliver and just raises the opposition that currently dosent exist to any real degree.

  41. A couple of comments on “Scottish style access” It is different from the access you have on bridleways at the moment. there is no obligation on anyone to keep paths open and passable except a small number of core paths.

    You do not have an absolute right to cycle where you want. It is qualified by the need to be reasonable which includes not scaring the natives or damaging the tracks.

    I think England needs aq better solution but I don’t believe Scottish style access would work. Too much potential for conflict.

  42. I’m inclined to agree about sleeping dogs. To most of the population this is a non issue or they are completely unaware of it. As a culture we have a liking for making and following rules, I could see this backfiring on us.

  43. I thought the problem with cycles on footpaths is that they are not condidered a reasonable accompanyment in the way that say a pram is, surely getting bikes reclassified would be the easiest option.

  44. I while ago I got in contact with my local Ramblers Group with regards to upgrading a footpath to bridleway status.

    Surprisingly they were not as negative as I expected towards the suggestion. Their main concern was that such an upgrading could be to the detriment of walkers, and they would press the highway authority for guarantees as to the maintenance to ensure the route remained usable to walkers.

    Their main concern was that horses would likely make the path inaccessible by churning up the path. Cyclists in their experience had a minimal impact, especially as their numbers were much smaller.

    So in my experience at least, I found that the Ramblers were not quite the anti-biker group that I expected!

    As for the footpath upgrade I mentioned? That got conveniently lost in the piles of paperwork at the local council offices 🙁

  45. Ever heard of “forbiden pleasures”? The cheeky ride adds to the fun

  46. Dave, I am a member of Durham LAF and have tried recently to let them make a presentation on this issue (anything to liven up the meetings!). If, however, you would like to come and speak to them instead I’m sure you’d make a better job.

    I think the campaign should be limited to getting the footpaths opened up to mtb’s – let horse riders fight their own battles – I think there would be much fiercer opposition to their presence on footpaths from landowners, Ramblers etc. Don’t muddy the waters (or the paths!)

    Quote: walkers should have places to walk where they don’t have to fear for their safety on tight steps etc because of middled-aged men thinking they are 15 again…
    They already do – they have a Right to Roam over thousands of acres of open land where cyclists cannot go. I hardly ever see anybody using this right. They all still stay on the paths.

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