- BOATs are a small proportion of the rights of way network – why don’t walkers, cyclists and horse riders just stick to other routes?
- What about eroded footpaths?
- How do you know it’s offroading that is doing the damage?
- Isn’t it just a few irresponsible drivers who are causing the problem?
- Why should the Police spend time on this?
- What about disabled drivers and passengers?
- Is banning vehicles against human rights law?
- If offroaders do their own repairs does this make offroading OK?
- What about voluntary restraint?
- What about seasonal bans?
- Does offroading bring money into the local economy?
- Where else can offroaders go?
- Why should offroaders care?
Q. BOATs are a small proportion of the rights of way network. Can’t walkers, cyclists and horse riders just stick to other routes?
Increasing numbers of lanes are being classified or claimed as Byways open to All Traffic. Nobody knows what the final number will be as the status of unclassified roads and many other byways has not yet been legally sorted out. It is an increasing proportion of green lanes and people everywhere are being driven off them because of noise, danger and nuisance.
It is not just walkers, cyclists and horse riders who are against vehicles on green lanes. Residents, farmers and visitors also want to see an end to it.
Farmers, horse riders, mountain-bikers, people with push chairs, and people in special vehicles for the disabled can’t simply give up using green lanes, leave them to motor vehicles and go elsewhere. There are, for all practical purposes, few other routes open to them.
Farmers, for example, have powerful reasons for wanting to see an end to 4x4s and motorbikes on the green lanes that cross their land. Damage to the surface of lanes by recreational vehicles can make it difficult for them to get to their own pastures and to move stock. Gates and walls are regularly damaged. Sheep tend to associate Land Rovers with the arrival of food, especially in winter, so Land Rovers can draw sheep away from flocks that farmers have laboriously consolidated. Motor-cycles, especially when they go backwards and forwards through wet and challenging troughs on moorland can produce quagmires.
Archaeologists object to vehicles on green lanes because ancient sites get damaged. Some archaeologists believe that many green lanes, some of which are medieval, monastic routes, should be scheduled as ancient monuments in themselves, and given the protection that they need. Sites have already been damaged including Cross Ridge Dyke at Calver Ridge, Longstone Edge.
Residents of small, hitherto tranquil Peak District villages and hamlets which lead off into green lanes, and people who live along green lanes, object to the noise and nuisance caused by convoys of 4x4s and motorbikes. Some of this activity even takes place in the middle of the night.
Naturalists oppose offroading because of the impact on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and wildlife, especially on ground-nesting birds and the flora of upland areas. SSSIs in the Peak District Derbyshire have been damaged at Pindale and Chapel Gate.
Most green lanes have become impassable to horse-riders and pedal-cyclists. Horses are flight animals programmed to flee if frightened. Fast-moving motor traffic, especially motorcycles, always alarms horses and makes life dangerous for them and their riders. Young riders, novice riders, and riders out on young horses are especially at risk. No horse can be ridden safely where there are deep ruts. Horses can fall in ruts, even at walk, let alone if they are frightened and trying to bolt. All this is making green lanes which horses have used in the Peak District for centuries too dangerous for horses riders to use safely today.
In other parts of the country there have been accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders who have had encounters with motor vehicles. Walkers sprain or break ankles. There has been at least one fatality – to a horse rider who was thrown when her horse was spooked by a motorbike.
Disabled people, elderly people, and parents with children need traffic-free green lanes. These groups cannot easily use footpaths: stiles are often too difficult to climb. Green lanes, because they are free of stiles and often have comparatively easy gradients, are attractive to groups with limited mobility. Encounters with motor vehicles are unwelcome, and sometimes dangerous – eg for deaf, blind or learning-disabled users, or young children, or elderly people who cannot quickly get out of the way.
Walkers have their own objections. Many green lanes that are presently legally open to vehicles are the classic, ancient routes that cross from dale to dale. If walkers, along with cyclists and horse-riders, conceded these routes to vehicle users, and went elsewhere for traffic-free recreation, some of the finest, most beautiful walking routes in the Peak would be lost.
Q. What about eroded footpaths? Why don’t you campaign about them instead of concentrating on 4x4s and motor bikes?
People complain about eroded footpaths and bridleways all the time. Vehicle users are welcome to do the same. They can take the matter up with the National Park Authority, or with the relevant highway authority.
Q. How do you know it is offroading that is doing the damage? Damage to green lanes is the fault of the highway authority for not maintaining them properly, of farmers and their heavy machinery, of forestry operations, the weather…
Up until a few years ago, green lanes were maintained to meet the needs of farmers who need to get to their pastures, pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders. A light maintenance regime or no management at all, was adequate. The upsurge in 4×4 and motorbike use has raises the question of whether these routes should now be maintained to modern motor vehicle standards at public expense. It is clear that they cannot stand up to the motor traffic that they now have to bear. The cost of bringing the many miles of green lanes up to vehicle-bearing standards would be prohibitive. The laying of vehicle-bearing surfaces would also constitute such a change in the character of the routes that the authorities are not willing to do it. Heavy agricultural vehicles have never been a common feature of upland pastures. There is no arable land, and thus little need for heavy machinery. If anything, damage to green lanes by farmers is decreasing. Farmers now tend to use quad bikes rather than the more damaging tractors and 4x4s when they go out to feed and gather their stock. They also forfeit their EC Single Payments if their land is muddy or rutted. There is virtually no forestry along the green lanes of Peak Park. The weather hasn’t changed significantly over the past ten years. Why then is the fabric of the green lanes deteriorating so swiftly? There is only one plausible explanation, namely, the increasing volume of recreational off-road vehicles. The evidence of the damage caused by motorbikes and 4x4s is plain.
The evidence produced by the traffic regulation orders imposed in the Yorkshire Dales by the Dales Park Authority is incontrovertible. The orders show what happens when offroading is banned from a set of green lanes, leaving all other use of the lanes (eg agricultural vehicle use) exactly the same. The result is that the simple exclusion of recreational motors leads to the spontaneous regeneration of the fabric of the lanes. All the lanes subject to TROs in Yorkshire are now in much better shape, even without additional maintenance. Lanes that were turned into a sea of mud and ruts now have a cover of grass, just as they used to have before offroading became popular. We urge the Peak District National Park authority to take the same approach.
Q. Isn’t it just a few irresponsible offroaders who are causing all the problems? Responsible users follow code of practice developed by 4×4 and motor bike clubs.
The distinction between responsible and irresponsible vehicle use is hard to see and largely irrelevant. If, for example, a group of half a dozen 4x4s, followed, an hour later, by a dozen motorbikes, make their way along a once grassy lane, how is the observer to know if the drivers and riders are responsible or irresponsible? They are all taking heavy and noisy motor vehicles onto a grassy track that came into existence to serve pedestrians, sheep and cattle, riders and a few horses and carts. It’s pretty obvious that grass cannot bear the passage of motor traffic. If the definition of ‘responsibility’ includes some sort of recognition of the historic and scenic character of the Peak District green lanes, as well as their fabric, it’s hard to see how the taking of a modern motor vehicle, for the purposes of recreation, on to the lanes can ever be responsible.
It is worth taking a look at the magazines catering for vehicle users and at web postings of their exploits. (Try Googling ‘Youtube The Roych’, ‘Youtube Chapel Gate’, ‘Youtube Bamford Clough’, ‘Youtube Stanage Edge’ or ‘Youtube Pindale.) They show images of 4x4s and motorbikes, on public rights of way, doing massive damage as they negotiate deep mud, steep gradients, watercourse-crossings and rocky surfaces, all evidently to the pleasure and satisfaction of the drivers and riders. Plainly, vehicle users do not want green lanes to be surfaced to a standard capable of being driven along in a Morris Minor. On the contrary, the challenge of piloting motors across demanding terrain seems to be at the heart of the pastime.
If recreational motor vehicle users recognise that one of the chief special characteristics of the Peak Park is its peace and tranquility, they are hardly acting responsibly if they insist on taking motor vehicles, with the attendant noise, smell, emissions and visual intrusiveness, along green lanes into remote countryside.
Q. Why should the Police spend time on this? Even if recreational vehicles are banned on a route, the police won’t enforce the ban. The police just don’t have the resources, and the offences involved are very minor and do not justify use of police time.
Until recently, this has been true. But the police in rural areas are now receiving so many complaints from the public that they are beginning to take action. 4×4 drivers and trail bikers have been successfully prosecuted for taking their vehicles along lanes that are closed to them. The police certainly do not turn a blind eye to illegal use by vehicle. They recognise that is becoming a public nuisance. And even where the route is a legal, vehicle route, the way in which many 4×4 and motorbike users drive and ride is a danger to other people, and constitutes a more serious breach of highway law. In certain circumstances, the police have powers to confiscate vehicles, and even to send them to the crusher.
Q. What about disabled drivers and passengers? Legal use by vehicles guarantees access for people who are disabled to remoter parts of the Peak District.
If disabled drivers only, displaying official disabled badges, were allowed to use green lanes, this argument would have some force. The numbers of vehicles would dramatically decrease, and motor-bikes would vanish altogether. This would certainly be a big improvement. But this is not how the proposition about disabled people is usually put. More commonly, the alleged needs of the disabled are used by able-bodied vehicle users as a cover for their own activities. Nor is it clear that access to remoter countryside for disabled people is automatically improved by allowing 4x4s driven by, or carrying disabled passengers, to use green lanes. Because green lanes do not have stiles, often have fairly easy gradients, and have (or used to have) moderately smooth surfaces, they are of great value to blind people, learning-disabled people (who find stiles intimidating), people using rugged scooters designed for the disabled, and the elderly and infirm – as well as adults with small children, often with push-chairs.
To the many, diverse members of this large group of green lane users, it is not at all clear that the passage of a 4×4 driven by, or carrying a disabled passenger, is in their interest. The mud and ruts which develop also make it difficult to impossible for specially designed vehicles for the disabled to use damaged lanes. Developments in the technology of small, rugged versions of electric scooters that disabled people use around towns are promising. With such ‘Tramper’-type scooters, people who cannot walk at all can make journeys of many miles along green lanes, quietly, accompanied by friends walking alongside, and make a far smaller impact than is made by a 4×4 – or rather, they could make such journeys if the surface of the lanes had not been so badly damaged by 4x4s and motorbikes as to make it impassable for them.
Q. Is banning vehicles against human rights law?
Any decisions about vehicle use of green lanes are taken by democratically or legally accountable authorities – the National Parks, the highway authorities or Parliament. The human rights plea is a non-starter, as the Trail Riders Fellowship (TRF) (the motorcyclists’ association) itself recognises. Recreational vehicle users would have as much chance of bringing an action under human rights legislation as they would if they complained about not being allowed to drive their vehicles into a pedestrianised city centre. It is not the right to go onto green lanes that is in question: it is only the right to take vehicles that will be withdrawn. Authorities throughout Britain and Europe are routinely, legally, imposing traffic bans in all sorts of places – both urban and rural (prohibitions in national parks are common). Human rights are not in question.
Q. If offroaders do their own repairs does this make offroading OK?
Vehicle users carry out repairs to green lanes because they want to be able to ride and drive along them. It is a wholly self-interested enterprise. If they were concerned about the amenity of farmers, cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians, the best thing to do would simply be not to take vehicles on to the green lanes in the first place. And in areas where vehicle users have made repairs, the results are not nearly as impressive as the repairers claim them to be. If a section of a green lane that is impassable to vehicles is made passable, vehicles will be attracted to it and the pressure will come on further along the track. This has happened in the much-publicised case of the volunteers’ repairs to Deadman’s Hill in Nidderdale in Yorkshire, where even the stretches repaired by the volunteers are swiftly deteriorating. And in any case, it is plain that many vehicle users prefer to leave the repaired sections in search of a more challenging route.
Q. What about voluntary restraint?
There is no evidence that voluntary restraint makes much difference to the use of any particular lane. It is true that some – though not all – members of 4×4 and motorbike organisations will observe recommendations endorsed by their organisations, but there are plenty of drivers and riders who simply ignore voluntary codes. Secondly, vehicle users’ notions of ‘sustainable’ do not correspond with common sense. Routes that they say are capable of sustaining motor traffic turn out often to be tracks that, in our view, cannot sustain such use. Furthermore, we value peace and tranquility highly. The presence of any and every offroad vehicle degrades it. The PDNPA appears to be increasingly interested in voluntary restraint (eg one way systems and temporary voluntary closures). Experience to date elsewhere is that they do not work.
Q. What about seasonal bans?
We, along with the general public, are fundamentally opposed to recreational vehicles on the green lanes of the Peak District. Vehicles are no more welcome in July than they are in January. In any case, it is no longer clear that summers are drier than winters. We have seen, during the last couple of summers, rainfall that has saturated the moors. Vehicles remain a risk to other users, cause noise, nuisance and damage and disturb wildlife at all times of the year.
Q. Does offroading bring money into the local economy?
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. No-one knows. No-one knows either how many people are being put off from visiting parts the Peak District because of the noise and disturbance being caused by offroading and how much damage is being done to the reputation of the area as a visitor destination because of the failure to control 4x4s, trail and quad bikes.
What we do know is how much offroading is costing the local tax payers. The drain on the public purse caused by the need to repair green lanes damaged by recreational vehicles, many of them now brought into the Peak District from outside the region and from abroad in vans, cannot be justified. It will more than cancel out any financial input that vehicle users might make to the local economy. £71,000 was recently spent on patching up just three of the worst-affected routes in the Peak Park (Brough Lane at Bradwell, Chapel Gate near Edale and Long Causeway at Stanage Edge). It was estimated that nearer £600,000 was needed to do the job properly. The estimated cost of repairing only eight routes at the top of the PDNPA list of priority routes for repair was £1m at the last count.
If recreational vehicles users who claim to spend money in the Peak really cared about the area, and if they really valued the beautiful lanes that are such a feature of it, then when the law finally changes and they are obliged to leave their vehicles where the tarmac stops, they will continue to visit the Peak, and spend just as much money. If they love the green lanes, they will continue to explore them in less damaging, more sustainable ways. If, on the other hand, they come only to drive and ride their vehicles along the green lanes, and would never go into the Peak if they had to leave their motors where the tarmac stops, then the loss of any income they claim to bring would be more than offset by the environmental and wider tourism gains to the area.
Q. Where else can offroaders go?
This is something for offroaders themselves to think about. But it is important to recognise that traffic regulation orders do not stop anyone from enjoying green lanes: they prohibit only vehicles, not their riders and drivers. Vehicle users who love green lanes for their intrinsic charm and for the access they give to remote, tranquil, unspoiled landscapes will continue to enjoy them. The only difference will be that they will leave their vehicles where the tarmac stops and will continue on foot, on a mountain bike or on horseback. To say that traffic regulation orders stop people from enjoying green lanes is like saying that pedestrianisation of city centres bans people. On the contrary, pedestrianised city centres are now much more agreeable, well-used places than they were when motor traffic was permitted. The removal of motor traffic from green lanes is popular and will lead to an equivalent improvement in general amenity.
Q. Why should offroaders care? They just enjoy their sport and should be allowed to continue it wherever it is legal to do so.
This is a minority view. The passage of the 2006 NERC Act demonstrated both an extraordinary level of cross-party support for the bill, and almost complete lack of support for vehicle use of green lanes. To measure public opinion on the matter, ICM Research Ltd was commissioned, in March 2004, to carry out a ‘Countryside Survey’. One of the propositions with which respondents were invited to agree or disagree was this: ‘The use of recreational motor vehicles on rights of way in national parks, and other areas of outstanding natural beauty, should be banned so that people can go there for quiet recreation, and so that the peace and tranquility of the countryside can be preserved for future generations’. 87% of respondents agreed with the proposition; 8% disagreed; 5% didn’t know.4x4s and motorcycles on green lanes lead to many complaints, from both residents and visitors, in all the national parks. Where Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) have been introduced to stop them, the number of complaints has dropped. When public opinion is given democratic expression through the application of TROs by the highway authorities and by National Park Authorities, and when Parliament, under pressure from citizens, completes the job that it started with the 2006 NERC Act and passes laws that will protect every ancient green lane from recreational motor traffic, it’s hard to see how recreational vehicle use of green lanes will continue.