Access All Areas: A Policeman’s View

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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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Comments (46)

    Nice to hear from the people who actually know.

    Don’t forget Section 30 of the Countryside Act 1968!

    So am I right in thinking, the only person who can justifiably complain is the land-owner, and if they complain to the police, nothing will happen?
    I guess the only thing that could happen is the land-owner identifies you (follows you home unless you’re daft enough to tell them who you are) and then takes you to court for trespass.

    ir_bandito: If they complain, then the police may turn up – but only to act as witness to any criminal acts you may commit. It’s still a civil matter unless you do something stupid (threats, criminal damage etc).

    It’s not tested but it’d be interesting to know how the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 might come into use if there was a large group of you or if you were asked to leave by a senior Police officer.

    “14A Prohibiting trespassory assemblies.

    (1)If at any time the chief officer of police reasonably believes that an assembly is intended to be held in any district at a place on land to which the public has no right of access or only a limited right of access and that the assembly—

    (a)is likely to be held without the permission of the occupier of the land or to conduct itself in such a way as to exceed the limits of any permission of his or the limits of the public’s right of access, and

    (b)may result—

    (i)in serious disruption to the life of the community, or

    (ii)where the land, or a building or monument on it, is of historical, architectural, archaeological or scientific importance, in significant damage to the land, building or monument,

    he may apply to the council of the district for an order prohibiting for a specified period the holding of all trespassory assemblies in the district or a part of it, as specified.”

    That’s unlikely to ever be applied to cyclists though (unless it’s a SFB group ride 😉 – more meant for the ravers and hunt sabs I imagine…

    That’s why we need a lawyer 😉

    This article didn’t touch on byelaws at all (specific rules made by a local authority that can make it a criminal offence to ride a bike on a footpath). I’m guessing however that if there’s a byelaw in place which provides for, say a £250 fine, the police aren’t gonna be too fussed about enforcing it.

    How does this apply to countryside rangers.

    I came across a real arsey one in Edale, who only lightened up when we showed him our intended route and it was all bridleway.

    Could we have just told him to get bent?

    scottchegg – rangers are agents for the landowner, so its up to them to then get your details, pres charges etc.
    You could tell them to get bent, but probably not adviseable. Always err on the side of friendliness.

    I met a gamekeeper in Geltsdale last year who wasn’t impressed that we’d ridden up the lanrover track rather than the overgrown bridleway, and wasn’t impressed we were planning on riding over to the next valley on a very recetnyl opened bridleway. But after talking, it turned out his main concern wasn’t trespassing as such, more that we would trounce over the moors and disturb nesting grouse and their chicks (reducing his revenue from charging people to shoot them out of the sky)

    Good body language goes a long way too. take off sunglasses, and helmets. don’t use your bike as a “shield”. Be nice!

    Then ride off into the sunset 🙂

    The landowner could sue you for damages to his property. Sueing someone is a last resort that takes place after you have refused to pay for the damage that you have caused. What this means is that the course of events should run thus..

    You ride over the footpath.

    You are stopped by the landowner or his appointed agent, who asks you to leave.

    You may or may not comply with this request.

    The landowner subsequently traces you and issues you a demand for repairs to the damage you have caused to his land. This could be simply, ‘You broke a gate with your bike. That gate cost me £100 to fix. I have proof of the costs/quote. You did this so you owe me this money’.

    You pay or don’t pay him. You can only be asked to pay for real and provable costs. He can’t make up big numbers that don’t represent reality. Any claim would need to be backed up with receipts, invoices, quotes etc.

    Be aware that a claim for damages could be something like… ‘I hosted a shoot on that land you rode across and you scared all the birds away with your squeally brakes. I had a dozen paying customers who were really annoyed about that and they cancelled their next shoot on my land – this has lost me £10,000 in business and my reputation is in tatters – all will be fine if you pay me £20,000 though. Here’s my bank details – Signed.. Landowner’.

    If you don’t pay him for the damages and you don’t agree an amicable solution then he can come after you through small claims court if the amount being claimed is less then a set amount – £5k IIRC.

    In court (or out of court as you can represent yourself in writing) you can argue why the demands for damages are unreasonable.

    The magistrate then decides on the case and you may then have to pay something that may or may not be what the landowner asked you for. If you lose you will likely end up with a CCJ (County Court Judgement) on your ‘file’ which could cause issues with getting credit in the future.

    You will NOT go to jail, go directly to jail or not pass go at any stage. It’s a civil matter that simply boils down to an agreement to pay for some damage you may or may not have caused to some land.

    A little bit of knowledge can be rather dangerous, because of this article published by Singletrack will there be riders tell landowners to **** off! Because there’s virtually **** all they can do about it. Why not ask a Public Rights of Way Officer from a Local Highway Authority to comment on this.

    Why not get one of the above aggrieved landowners to give their viewpoint?
    Be good if Mark, Chipps etc could get all the “legal” types and some landowners together for a magazine feature.
    Maybe PC Harry and his mates could do it?

    It certainly gives me more confidence to ride wherever I like. I’ll ride footpaths if they are quiet and not full of walkers who need their past time respected.

    Chris Porter’s article was a mostly a rant. This is far more useful.

    Personally the main problem I find is walkers shouting at me and deliberately getting in my way on footpaths or even unmarked areas they assume to be footpaths.

    If I broke gate/fence whilst ‘trespassing’ and was caught, I’d quite happily pay. Makes no difference though, I’ll carry on riding trails – footpaths/BWs/unmarked whatever.

    You ain’t see me, right?

    Section 30 doesn’t add anything more
    “The right of access on a public footpath only extends to walking, so there is no right to cycle or ride a horse on a public footpath. However, it is not a criminal offence to do so, unless there is a traffic order or bylaw in place specifically – instead it is a civil wrong to ride a bicycle or a horse on a public footpath, and action could be taken by the landowner for trespass or nuisance by the user.”

    hodge, if you do that you will get into trouble, as ir bandito says just be civil and polite.

    To cause damage whilst trespassing is an criminal act.

    If Criminal Damage could be proven then yes, you’d be in trouble. But that applies to any trail, legal or otherwise.

    No chance of introducing the Scottish access system in the rest of Blighty then?

    If the ‘damage’ is a track left by your tyres then this is not criminal damage. Criminal damage requires intent to cause damage. Your tracks are a byproduct of your presence. Your mere presence is not illegal.

    Read the whole section, my point is that there are legal conditions set for cyclists on bridleways. The right to cycle on bridleways came about in 1968 following a campaign by the CTC. If the land owner gives permission you may ride on a public footpath, but if this causes surface damage to the highway. The Highway Authority can ask the land owner to carry out repairs or pay costs.

    Skidding, could be argued as criminal damage I imagine, but we are now moving away from pragmatic discussion and into the realms of fantasy legal actions based on theoretical situations that probably will never arise.

    i have to say that taking this article as meaning i could ride anywhere is the last thing i have done.

    just because we ‘can’ doesn’t mean we ‘should’, and i, personally, will continue to apply my entirely arbitrary system of riding where and when sensible with respect to the condition and sensitivity of the trails. but that is purely my view, before anyone gets overexcited.

    very interesting article tho, and i like the idea of getting a landowners view next. i went to an Ilkley Moor users forum a couple of years ago, and got into a chat with some guys in tweed jackets who ran the Bingley shooting estate up there… nice guys, had their concerns put over very reasonably, and were far from anti-bike as you could get.

    Must go I’ve got a living to earn!

    “but if this causes surface damage to the highway. The Highway Authority can ask the land owner to carry out repairs or pay costs.”

    And then it follows that the landowner could seek to recoup those costs from the person who caused the damage ie the cyclist who had no right of access in the first place. If the cyclist refuses to pay up then it’s off to civil court to sort it out.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world – lets just continue to ride our bikes on nice bits of the country. Dont damage it, be polite and you will be fine.

    Make too much fuss and you will spoil it.

    Let sleeping dogs lie.

    Does anybody know what the situation is with bylaws then? For instance can a Park Ranger / FC Warden insist on taking your details to impose a fine? Or would they have to call the police to detain you?

    Is breaking a bylaw a civil or criminal matter?

    and how does this apply to footpaths where a ‘no cycling’ sign of some description has been erected..?

    My ‘orrible ranger did say that he could seize my bike as punishment.

    “You could try” was the response.

    I am always friendly to all I see on the trails. Funny how others (walkers, motocrossers, horsists, country rangers) are all miserable gits.

    So how are bylaws enforced and by whom?

    “and how does this apply to footpaths where a ‘no cycling’ sign of some description has been erected..?”

    As I understand it, if a trail is ridden for long enough it can become a right of way if no effort is made by the land owner to prevent access, such as sticking up a sign.

    Makes no difference to the discussion above though.

    Bye-Laws are specific to local areas, what you’ll usually find is IF there is a bye-law in effect for a wood or moor etc at the access point there’ll be a notice-board with a copy of the bye-law on it. IF cycling is mentioned then yes you can get in trouble, it could be a criminal matter (but there’s certainly nothing like that in my local area, that I know of….).
    If a footpath says “no cycling” all it means is the landowner is bike-intolerant.
    I’d suggest that so long as you don’t kick the arse out of it no-one is going to go the extent of a (probably quite expensive) civil court case.

    What hasn’t been mentioned is that if you offer to pay a reasonable sum in respect of damages re civil trespass, were this rejected and the case wnet to court, this would count strongly in your favour. Resonable could be a matter of a few pence to a few quid unless you do something stupid like break a gate etc.

    As with all things, a smile and a cheery hello goes a long way. No point in getting angry or confrontational. I’d be interested to know whether the fear of being stopped is worse than the reality and what experiences folk have had, good and bad. My suspicion is that conflict is very much the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, almost everyone I meet will say hello and not have a problem when riding footpaths.

    What about riding off the beaten track, in places like the New Forest? Can you just tell the rangers to shove it?

    Public Rights of Way Law and management is very complicated, I know I work in that field.

    Well done Harry a well balanced article that answers most of the common questions.

    Also as with all trails, cheeky trails should always be ridden so that you can stop safely and not get yourself into real trouble by injuring a third party (or native plants, animals etc ;-))

    How refreshing to see a properly thought out considered view on this. Well done Harry. I would point out though that although riding a pedal-cycle on a footpath is not an offence and 99 times out of 100 there is no-one there to upset, if we made a nuisance of ourselves eventually there would be pressure on government to legislate (to make it an offence). Much better to engage with government through MPs and ministers, via national organisations and be given an express right to ride on footpaths and the like.

    For me, I would like to see a campaign that ends up giving a right to pedal on any CROW access land (commonly know as right-to roam). That would be a right but with no right to have special gates etc so that although we use them, if there is a stile, we need to carry it over the stile. This differs from bridleways where the landowner has an obligation to put in a gate that is commodious for cyclists (and horse riders).

    On a separate note the Police and Yorkshire Dales National Park have made great strides in sorting out the problems with trail bikes and 4x4s so that now the Dales is a much better place to ride a bike. Well done to both of them.


    xiphon – Regardless of where you’re riding you don’t have any right or ground tell anyone to shove it – you’re then stepping into the world of aggravated trespass, never mind perpetuating the stereotype of mountain bikers as arrogant and gobby idiots.

    The point of this article is to clarify the law as it stands – yes, riding a footpath is a civil offence rather than a criminal offence which means you can’t be arrested for that specific act – legally you still aren’t allowed to be there.

    If you take this article to mean than you can ride wherever you like and do whatever you like without regard for anyone else, then you’ve got it badly wrong.

    As outdoor users we still need to collectively exercise our responsibilities as well as our rights otherwise we’ll end up being vilified – which if we behave like idiots will be entirely fair.

    Anyway, what’s next then? Speak to landowners. Speak to lawyers. Speak to people on local access forums.

    Is there a way that cyclists can come to an agreement that we’re not the same as a motorbike or a horse in terms of the damage that we can do?

    Is there a way to change the system so that bikes can be allowed on tracks without those having to be ‘upgraded’ to the same specification as a bridleway?

    There are loads of issues here and hopefully we’ll work through a few of them.

    I wish we could get rid of the motor bikes on the greenways here on the Isle of Man. They cause a huge amount of damage. They are also mainly from the UK as this riding is not allowed there.

    I have found the New Forest Rangers (the ones on bikes) more aggressive than not in the past, just wondering if the status of a National Park (or in the case of the New Forest – crown land?), compared to Farmer Johns field in Wiltshire?

    If you refuse to hand over your details, what can they do? (calling the Police is unrealistic – especially if you’re miles from anywhere).

    What constitutes as ‘aggravated trespassing’ ? When does it suddenly become aggravated? Not answering their questions is hardly aggravation.

    If they take a photo of you, can they take that photo to the Police for assistance identification?

    Mark, please read my comments again! PRoW law can be difficult to understand, as most of it has not been tested in court. The Public Rights of Way network is apart of the Highway, which comes under the Highway Act 1980. So therefore a motorised vehicle is required to be insured taxed and MoT (if required) to be used on an unrestricted byway. It’s an criminal offence for a motorised vehicle, if found on a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway without ‘rights’ or permission. In essence apart from reckless riding or under the influence, there is no real legal requirements for cyclists so therefore it just comes down to civil action if found on footpaths without consent in the first action. As most riders don’t know the difference between a footpath and a footway I don’t really expect them to understand or know about PRoW law and the requirements.

    One thing I do know that is Singletrackworld never really finish what they started!

    Anyway I’ve finished work and I’m off out riding if hear a few ‘**** off landowners’ I know they’ve been reading Singletrack news.

    as posted

    Mr Agreeable said: On April 14, 2011
    This article didn’t touch on byelaws at all (specific rules made by a local authority that can make it a criminal offence to ride a bike on a footpath). I’m guessing however that if there’s a byelaw in place which provides for, say a £250 fine, the police aren’t gonna be too fussed about enforcing it

    no comments on this and I have same question – think each National Park has its own byelaws and certainly the Peak Park has a no cycling byelaw with the potential for a fine in the £100’s (though i think no one on here can find anyone that has ever ended in court) – would have thought what this does mean is that if there is persistent riding of a particular route that causes clashes with other users (eg the Green Drive below Burbage – Stanage to Fox House) then the Peak Park Rangers could ask the police to get involved and there is potential for a criminal offence. Wanders off and wonders how it will all pan out when electric off road bikes are 2 for one at JJB sports

    Respect for land and others that use it goes a long way whether it is a footpath or a bridleway ie don’t go teararsing if walkers about, get off and push if on footpath that is in immediate vicinity of public dwelling, be polite if others question you. I got pulled up by a geezer whilst pushing a bike through footpath that went by someones house…he seemed to have more of a problem with council and wanted to overthrow centuries old right of way but why buy a house on a footpath then…durrr…. Jeremy Clarkson had arrogance to believe he could do the same…didn’t get him anywhere! A bit of respect goes a long way….stiles are a bit of a pain in the arse though. Harry does that mean if a certain farmer has allowed us a permit to dig and drive up bridleway through his land we could still get nicked by the rossers…hmmm?

    I was stopped by the police, cuffed, spent 24 hours in the nick, remanded for a week before ebing sentenced to being tagged, reporting to the local police station every 24 hours and 5 hours of community service daily for 10 weeks.

    That’s aggravated burglary.for you, but never had a problem with cycling on a footpath.

    I’ve read the article and comments – I don’t get it. It seems like the gist of it is that you can cycle on footpaths as long as you don’t cause any proper damage. But isn’t that true of Bridleways, i.e. if I set fire to a gate on a bridleway i’d expect to be liable for it’s replacement? I can’t see any difference between footpaths and bridleways – but there must be or they’d all just be called tracks (or something).

    I have to cycle over private land on a regular basis in order to burn the houses of the rich and release mink from their farms..!!Whhooppss…what have I said!

    “It seems like the gist of it is that you can cycle on footpaths as long as you don’t cause any proper damage.”

    My understanding is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. You don’t have a right to be there, the owner of the land can ask you to leave by the quickest route, and the owner of the land is under no obligation to make access easy for bikes. What the owner cannot do is have you arrested.

    The owner could in theory sue you for damages or obtain an injunction preventing you from trespassing – but both these measures are very unlikely to happen.

    I would guess that what happens in most cases where cheeky use becomes a big perceived problem is the local authority makes a byelaw. Then everyone carries on merrily as before (see the “Ride Along Stanage Edge” thread, if it’s still up).

    Spot on. Many thanks to the officer.

    Shred, so wrong and so ignorant on so many levels. Where to start?

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