Surrey Mountain Bikers Asked To Help #saveyourwoods

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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.

mountain biking surrey
Caesar’s Camp is one of the areas which could be closed off. Photo: Hampshire School of Photography

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.

mountain biking surrey
Mountain bikers are concerned that fences will be used to restrict access permanently. Photo: Simon Brown

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.


Comments (7)

    Signed, good luck one and all

    about to sign, but realized my MP is D Raab …….might move house and then sign!

    Signed. This has been rumbling for years. The relatively new chap @ the army who is in command of all these areas, seems (allegedly) to have a disdain for cyclists, horses and walkers. The safety officers that patrol the areas now when training is on are really nice guys and polite etc and every one I know vacates once they realise training is on… but there are a few that have given us MTB’ers a bad name… normally youngsters or louts. Fingers crossed they dont get their way and close these areas for all. Over the last few years they have closed car parks or put in gate systems which can be locked if needed…. so I think this has been in the planning for 5+ years now.

    It also effects people living in Hampshire! Army lands near Liphook, Liss, Greatham, Bordon and Whitehill (Longmoor Camp, Woolmer Forest (ranges perimeter track), Kingsley Common and Bramshott Common) are also subject to these byelaws.

    Please write to your MP, ask them to support the TAG position paper.

    “my MP is D Raab”

    Explain to him that he more realistic the training, the more effective it is. In the future the armed forces are likely to be deployed in situations where they will be required to work alongside the local civilian population. Therefore, training in locations where they have civilians walking and cycling makes the training more realistic and hence more effective. If they train in ‘sterile’ fenced off areas with no civilian access, it might be easier for DIO to maintain, but that will not prepare the military for real situations where civilians will be present.

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