Mountain bike advocates in Surrey are calling on their fellow riders to ensure a huge trail network on Crown land is left open for all to enjoy.
The area in question is officially known as the Aldershot and District Military Lands, and covers 15,000 acres of woodland and heathland within easy reach of Aldershot, Farnborough, Camberley and Fleet, containing hundreds of miles of trails. As the name suggests, some of these areas are also used for military training. Access is regulated by a set of byelaws which are now undergoing a review, and local cyclists, horse riders and walkers are concerned that this will be used to restrict access and fence off areas that have been used for recreation for decades.
The Trail Action Group is a local mountain biking organisation which formed to protect access and work with Ministry of Defence offshoot the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which manages the land. They’re now asking mountain bikers to contact their elected representatives and request that access to the land to be preserved when the byelaws are reviewed.
Whilst many of the trails aren’t public rights of way, official policy has always been that when the Military Lands aren’t being used for training exercises, members of the public are free to use them for recreation. The Trail Action Group has worked with DIO to publicise opening times for training areas, which allows troops to train undisturbed while also letting people enjoy the trails. They’ve also drawn up a code of conduct to let mountain bikers know how to respond if they encounter a training exercise, and suggested ways to manage unauthorised trailbuilding on the land. But they’re concerned that access is still being limited unreasonably, with DIO fencing off large areas of the land for good. To add to the urgency, fencing has even continued to be installed during the COVID-19 lockdown.
These concerns have led the Trail Action Group to join forces with other user groups and set up a campaign, Byelaws Review, calling for the right to use the land to be protected and an end to DIO’s track record of fencing off areas, removing car parks and trying to deter the public. An online petition linked to the site has already received over 10,000 signatures, prompting the MOD to postpone the byelaws review until later this month.
Simon Brown from Trail Action Group says:
“The byelaws review has yet to happen or formally start, but we know all the local MPs are meeting with MoD in late June to discuss the new laws. We are now calling for some big changes; not least of which is the removal of powers from DIO to be able to fence lands or restrict recreational access.
“It will be a waste of time to preserve recreation only to see access taken away.”
How you can get involved:
- Visit the Byelaws Review website and click the “Take Action” link.
- Trail Action Group have prepared a detailed position paper which sets out the background, and highlights the inconsistencies between the MOD’s official recreation policy and what’s happening on the ground there.
- You can also take a virtual tour and see some of the areas that are under threat.