OK, so I have to declare an interest here, before I even get started – I would much rather ride in open countryside than in a trail centre. There, I’ve said it, and I know that I’m not alone. Look, I know that in our modern world, with our busy lives, trail centres have their place and I’m not here to pour scorn on their manicured trails or to decry the whole notion that to carry out any activity, outdoor or otherwise, you have to go to a designated area created for that specific purpose.
OK, most of you can see straight through me, actually I am doing that very thing. A bit.
Back to the point, then.
Beyond the trail centre.
The right to roam by bicycle.
The simple pleasure of travelling the countryside, from point A to point B, by bike.
You can do that on foot so you must be able to do the same on your bike, right? Well, no, not exactly. And not everywhere.
For generations most of the land in this fair Isle had been in the possession of the few. Landowners and farmers were strongly averse to public access to their land.
The first right of access legislation in 1925, and the mass ‘trespass’ at Kinder Scout in 1932 changed our rights to access the countryside to what we assume today. As long as you are on foot. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (often called the Right to Roam), brought into legislation in 2000, under which open countryside such as mountains, moors, heaths and downs are designated open access areas where you can roam free, whether there are footpaths or not. This legislation covers some 3 million acres of land, across the UK.
But that’s not the whole story. Most of this land is still not accessible by bicycle unless there is a byway, bridleway or historic precedent. There are still many thousands of miles of farm, forest and moorland vehicle tracks on Countryside and Rights of Way land where bikes remain prohibited. If it’s OK for a 4×4, then what harm can a few bikes do? Cycling UK is working with big property owners such as the Ministry of Defence and the Forestry Commission already to try to correct this inequality.
It’s not even the same across the whole of the UK. We are seeing changes to rights of access in Scotland, but Wales and England are still way behind.
In 2015 the government began a consultation on access to the countryside. The results of this showed that support for open access was easily as strong as that for preserving the status quo, as lobbied for by landowner groups such as the NFU.
Since then the pro-access support has gained some momentum with a campaign for a Scottish level of ‘presumed access’ started by British Cycling, Cycling UK, Welsh Cycling and OpenMTB.
We read in the press and hear anecdotally that there is an increase in interest in cycling generally but that many don’t feel safe on the roads. We also see that even within the road bike realm, gravel bikes are increasingly popular. It is clear that this access issue has wider implications than the mountain bike world alone. It’s been proven that roaming cyclists bring economic well-being to the parts other activities can’t reach too, with off-road and leisure cycling alone boosting the Scottish economy by an estimated £358m a year.
If you want to see fair and equal access, by bike, to land in the whole of the UK just as it is for those on foot, visit CyclingUK.org and read their Beyond the Green Belt article or OpenMTB’s Facebook page.
If you have thoughts on any of the issues raised in this post, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org