Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Green Laning, a riders perspective...

I've just filled out a review that the Lake District National Park Authority sent to us along with the permit for Gatescarth Pass & it got me thinking about what's going on in the world of trail riding & driving...

From my point of view there are a lot of facets to the UK that I love, I've grown up here, worked here etc & as such have watched the country grow & change... in a lot of ways it's been positive, but in some areas, such as the access rights & using the outdoors it's becoming too complicated, too unwieldy & it's totally biased

I'm both a trained accountant & a mountain professional, I spend my life looking after the security & safety of clients, scientists & local communities in remote environments, then balancing the costs of running whichever scheme I've been involved in. I've seen many of those environments go from being waste land or a wild land to a human controlled environment, this has been good in general for the local populations but bad for said environments.

Depot building for science equipment & fuel in Antarctica

We as humans are a wasteful, lazy & generally selfish species, especially where our planet & green spaces are concerned, an attitude that is more evident in the higher developed countries.

In the UK we've gone beyond any form of real protection for our outdoor environment, yes we've created National Parks & the like, we've instigated millions of rules & regulations to 'protect' such areas as are deemed 'special' enough, we've generated work roles to manage them etc, etc.. but in reality we then build tarmac roads through them, we surround them with wind turbines, solar parks, power stations, factories & cities. We generate huge levels of waste, much of which is buried out to sea or underground adjacent to our green spaces. Then we actually turn a blind eye to all of this as it makes our lives easier... we can drive to the supermarket to get our food, we turn on the lights & the central heating, we play with computers & phones at every turn... where did all of the resources come from to build this lot??

Is that the Lakes spoiling the view of those beautiful turbines?

In our small sphere of interest we find that walkers don't like cyclists or trail drivers/riders. Horse riders don't like cyclists, motorbike or 4x4 users as they scare the horses, farmers don't like anybody on their land because too much gets damaged &/or stolen. the green road community don't like the walkers, the farmers with their gates etc, the list is endless... these are generalities I know but from what I've seen & heard its accurate. Yet we all share one thing in common, we all love the outdoors & just experience it in a different manner to satisfy our personal needs.

The argument that pretty much all of the County Councils trot out at a moments notice about the costs of maintaining the byways is an interesting one, they have a annual budget & like any 'business' where money is involved they have to plan how to spend that money & prioritise where it's spent. This is a big money game, make no mistake about that, but is it spent well??  That depends upon the individual or group who are in control of those funds, what are their priorities? Do they even know how to look at a budget let alone control it?

Successive governments generally cut annual budgets every year, ironically the MP's & Councillors still retain their nice £200 per day expenses, (No receipt needed by the way, thanks..) yet there is less & less money for the upkeep the roads. Is this more to do with the fact that there is a huge lack of knowledge & understanding about how to manage the business of running these departments or is it a more basic personal need than that?

There are huge arguments about the 'damage' created by 4x4's & bikes, yet the footpath that goes up Skiddaw, (Which is visible from Helvellyn 10 miles away) is acceptable & so is the £160 per metre costs which it has been estimated the National Park will need to collect in donations to get the Scafell footpath upgraded, (£300,000 apparently).

Skiddaw footpath

Tarmac roads are acceptable & even welcomed, the facilities to support all of this, street lights, the sub-stations, the reservoirs, the sewerage systems, the list goes on & on. We accept that forestry looks cool on the hillsides & helps the planet, we accept that the machines that manage this wreck the hillsides for years, look at the recently cleared forest land near Llandovery that cannot be traversed by walkers, cyclists or off roaders as the hillside has been torn up.

We have to apply for a permit to traverse Gatescarth Pass on selected days each month, but do we have to get a permit to ride it on a mountain bike or walk it? Is there any date restrictions to use it for these activities? The answer to both questions is no, I've done it a few times... (Whilst I was there I had a guy who stood in the centre of the path with his arms out whilst waving his trekking poles about because in his words 'You shouldn't be allowed on the fells'. mmmm).

We live in a beautiful green land, we have too many people & too many opinions, which ones are correct? If we were to really protect our green spaces, we wouldn't allow anybody into them, simple as that, nature would do it's thing & the planet would manage without our interference. Then & only then would we see a truly 'protected' environment.

That's never going to happen here, so we do the next best thing, we limit access where ever it costs a lot or public opinion is strong enough to get something done about it.

All of our National Parks are working environments, the Peak District has it's quarries, farms, factories even cities, the Cairngorms have the forestry, the skiing industry & the funicular railway. Snowdonia has more quarries than the Lakes & let's not forget the train up Snowdon, then there is the farming etc & all of them have tourism to boot... surrounding all of this are the land owners, the Lords & Ladies who own most of our 'Green & Pleasant Land', they need an income just to stand still, hence the sale of Blencathra by the Earl of Lonsdale for a mere £1.75 million to pay a tax bill!

The beautiful Blencathra

Lost in all of this lot are the needs of what 20,000 or at a push 50,000 people who use the byways for pleasure. The income they provide to a local community each visit is unmeasurable really as they are lumped in with the other tourists that visit an area,the fact that the majority are careful, thoughtful people who just want to be left alone to enjoy their free time in a manner that suits them. How much effort is put into looking after the lanes by these people? how much do they put back into the economy with their income spent in taxes on fuels, repairs, purchases etc. Who knows, how would it be measured??

Agencies like the TRF, Glass etc run totally professional operations, fighting to maintain the access rights to these lanes for all users, competing agencies like the PDGLA, GLEAM & the Ramblers etc all appear to argue from an opposite point of view, angrily wanting to ban all from everything except for themselves it appears... unfortunately there is no right & wrong in any of this, just finding a balance so that all users can be reasonably content. Each group has some wins, some losses & the main winners will always be the solicitors who gain financially whilst fighting it all out verbally in a court somewhere.

The real losers though will be the minority group that has a past time, as history is slowly proving that the number of byways is shrinking year on year. Lucy's dad was telling me stories of competing in the first Six Days International Trials Competition, they rode over the top of the Pap of Glencoe... imagine that these days... no chance!!!!

On the whole, I feel a little dejected & sorrowful when I start to think about all of this, it appears that those who shout the loudest, or are more financially able will get their way. The lanes will eventually be converted to bridleways or footpaths. Their history will be lost & we will all be confined to watching the TV or Youtube to experience anything that is remotely exciting, the 'boring' people in life will triumph & we'll all become obese, hell it's happening already in most of the cities in the UK! ;-)

The National Parks, the Government & local councils & the rest of the 'authorities' appear to be following a line of stealth closure where possible. The new Deregulation Bill is solid evidence of this & that's not even that stealthy, it all seems to be more about money though rather than the general public opinion... Is that why there was the question in the feedback questionnaire asking if I'm happy to pay for a permit???

Who will be blamed when they have an epidemic of illegal off road driving & riding, as once authorities have removed all the legal access, people will just search out illegal routes and vote with their actions, bugger the consequences...

No matter what the negatives are, this is a past time that has passion, it has a point & above all it satisfies a need in the people who practice it. Some of that is controlling a powerful machine, sometimes it the mechanical issues that get people into it, for others it's their only access into a 'wild' environment, remove it totally or make the availability so miniscule and people will just create their own, History has proven this time again, so instead of constantly saying 'NO' to it all why not try to find a middle ground & make it work for all parties?

Tolerance & a positive form of management need to be the order of the day across the UK & not just a look at how much will it cost to put a gate up or throw some stones down. Alongside this needs to be a simpler legal classification setup & much more accessible information that is relevant & easy to use for the widest audiences. As one example Cumbria County Council and the TRF have set up the Hierarchy of Trail Routes system with a list of the legal lanes & their current legal status etc, it's not perfect by any means but this at least allows access to a portion of relevant information for all.

Once the information is easy to find, more people will follow the guidelines & rules, this will then reduce the number of illegal users, it won't eliminate it though, that's why we need a police force in every sphere of human society isn't it?

Maybe then we'll see a change of heart from all sides, it's a hopeful thought anyway!!!

Now it's time to go out & get muddy as the trails are calling... :-)

01 December 2014: This just appeared from GLASS, pretty ironic!!

Since the Peak Park’s TRO, the traffic on Long Causeway has apparently increased.Tightening laws only impacts on people who are inclined to obey the law. People who are inclined to obey the law behave considerately towards others and don't cause the problem in the first place. So tightening laws does nothing to solve problems. It just either criminalises or restricts freedom of people who deserve to be left alone.

Criminals do not obey the law. They are completely unaffected!

So we ask, was this public money well spent?


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