A spate of trail sabotage on Caerphilly Mountain, South Wales, has taken a bizarre twist, after video footage was given to BBC news which appears to show trails being blocked by Ron Davies, former MP and Secretary of State for Wales. Mr Davies has admitted being in the video, but claims he was clearing a trail instead of blocking it.
The video is the latest development in a long running dispute. The Caerphilly trails initially became a flashpoint after Natural Resources Wales removed jumps and other features on several ‘informal’ trails in the area of the mountain known as the Warren, managed by Caerphilly Woodlands Trust, in response to a handful of undocumented complaints. The NRW acted without notifying any trail users, some of the trails demolished had been in use for around a decade, and feelings ran high. Local rider Nick Ball was among a group who decided to talk to NRW about the closure.
“They were willing to speak to local riders and try to keep everyone happy.” says Nick. “The trails are on the busy side of the mountain. There are lots of dedicated walkers’ paths but they’re well signed and nobody rides them. The mountain bikers tend to use other trails that are unofficial but well-established, and try and keep out of people’s way.”
Natural Resources Wales came to an agreement with riders which states that they could continue using the trails as long as no further building happened, and kept clear of some sensitive areas, including the Warren.
“Since NRW stepped in, nothing has been built in the agreed area” Nick says. “The track that attracted the complaints is totally unrideable in any case. There have been diggers going up and down it, there are logs and rocks across it.”
This doesn’t seem to have been enough for some disgruntled locals, and over the last 18 months trails all over the mountain have been deliberately vandalised with rocks, logs and wire.
In response, local riders, led by Nick and the South Wales Mountain Biking group, organised a mass ride on 11 September this year to clear the obstacles and send out a clear message to the saboteurs. But the obstruction of the trails continued.
“It got to the point where, for the last two or three months, you had to walk up a trail before riding it” says Nick.
“One of the chaps on the trail clearing ride (had previously) hit a log on the trail, come off, and cut his eye. He reported the incident to the police, but so far they haven’t taken any action.”
“An agreement was made at the start of August with NRW. I assumed things would calm down after that, but then the trail blocking started.” – Ian Clarke
Mounting frustration lead a couple of anonymous local riders to club together and buy a wildlife camera, which was set up at a frequently-blocked spot on the trail.
It was this camera that filmed Mr Davies and another man, identified on social media as local resident Tony Lane, apparently moving logs across a section of trail. In another sequence, Mr Davies can be seen moving two large rocks from the ground towards the centre of the trail. The footage was passed to local police, but also to BBC Wales, and has quickly become one of the most viewed stories on the site.
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Davies, who is a member of Caerphilly Woodlands Trust, accepted he was in the video footage, but denied he was blocking trails. “The video was me… You can see quite clearly that I was actually moving an obstacle from a footpath.”
Mr Davies went on to speculate that Natural Resources Wales were responsible for the trail blockages – “I would guess that they were put there by the NRW when they closed the trails”
However he also took the opportunity to air his personal feelings about riders who use the mountain.
“They create metre-wide tracks, they build ramps, they destroy stone walls and they’re a positive menace to people who walk”
Local rider Ian Clarke was one of the trail users contacted by the BBC when the footage of Mr Davies was released. “An agreement was made at the start of August with NRW. I assumed things would calm down after that, but then the trail blocking started.”
Other riders have questioned Mr Davies’ explanation for the blockages. “We are in constant contact with NRW and we’re 100% sure it’s not their actions” says Nick. “And the trails used by cyclists are not within the Caerphilly Woodlands Trust area”.
Since the story broke, Caerphilly Woodlands Trust have issued a statement reaching out to the mountain bike community.
“The Trust is shocked and appalled by the dangerous actions of individuals sabotaging trails used by cyclists within the Trust’s enclosed area of woodland and the surrounding Caerphilly Mountain common land.
“We do not condone or encourage this reckless activity from our membership or the public.
“The Trust welcomes entering into constructive conversation with local cycling groups to resolve these issues amicably.”