Act now to Make Trails for Wales!
Currently in Wales, the Rights of Way system is based upon recorded historic use of routes instead of suitability. As a result, cyclists have rights to use just 21% of the network, with permission to ride along narrow rocky sheep tracks on steep ground but denied access to thousands of miles of public footpaths lying on metalled farm and forest roads.
In Scotland, following the Land Reform Act 2003, it is very different. Scotland enjoys ‘presumed access’. This means there is a presumption of “responsible access”, subject to exemptions laid out in the Outdoor Access Code (e.g. forestry operations). Consequently, Scottish off-road and leisure cycle tourism are booming and contribute between £236.2m and £358m a year.
On Friday 10 July, the Welsh Government launched its consultation “Improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation”, seeking the views of stakeholders on how best to maximise the “health, environment, social and economic benefits” of outdoor recreation.
CTC, together with Open MTB (the new English and Welsh national trail organisation), have put together their joint response to the consultation, and are principally calling for the adoption of similar rights of responsible access as enshrined in Scotland’s Land Reform Act, under the banner of “Trails for Wales”.
The current legislative framework predates the beginning of mountain biking, and with the consultation there is a possibility of a refresh which will represent the needs and requirements of today's outdoor enthusiast. Importantly, a successful outcome for off-road cycling in Wales will help frame the debate on future access issues across the border in England as well.
Recent research indicates that outdoor activity in Wales contributes to nearly 10% of the Welsh tourist economy. The group argues that changes to countryside access within Wales could dramatically increase this figure, thereby offering more social, transport, recreational and health benefits for both residents and visitors to the country.
The benefits of bringing a similar Scottish system to Wales also go beyond the leisure cycling scene. Cycle travel for utility purposes, as seen in Scotland would also benefit, and would help deliver on Welsh aims for a healthier and more sustainable society as enshrined in the Active Travel Wales Act.
Gwenda Owen, CTC council member for Wales, sees the consultation as an opportunity not to be missed by the Welsh Government, saying: “Following on from the Active Travel Wales Act, this green paper provides another opportunity to realise the ambition of the First Minister Carwyn Jones to make Wales a cycling nation."
Following on from the Active Travel Wales Act, this green paper provides another opportunity to realise the ambition of the First Minister Carwyn Jones to make Wales a cycling nation."
“A refresh of our access laws could make Wales the cycling centre for the UK, and would provide a healthy boost to the economy. I recommend everyone with a passion for the outdoors to show their support for our joint campaign, Trails for Wales."
Equally supportive of the possibilities presented by the consultation, Tom Hutton, Snowdonia-based mountain bike journalist and guide, speaking on behalf of Open MTB said: “I don’t think we can exaggerate what an amazing opportunity for mountain biking this is. A change in access laws in Wales could potentially open 1,000s of kilometres of currently out-of-bounds trails.
“It would put Wales back up there with Scotland as one of the best off-road destinations in the world, and at the same time, would increase take-up of the sport and local participation. It would also potentially pave the way for future changes in England.
“We urge all off road enthusiasts, in England as well as Wales, to add their voice to our joint Trail for Wales campaign.”
CTC and Open MTB, with support from British Cycling and Welsh Cycling, are now calling on outdoor enthusiasts from across the UK to get in touch with the Welsh Government and show their support for a policy that advocates presumed access. Whether you live in Wales or not, your views are important and will help shape the future of rural access throughout the British Isles.
To help facilitate this process, CTC has set up a simple to use online action, which will send a pre-prepared supportive response to the Welsh Government. The response is fully editable, and both CTC and Open MTB would encourage action-takers to use this opportunity to outline what improving off-road access could mean to them.
The online action will run from 2 September until the consultation deadline on 2 October, so make sure you submit your views before it is too late!
Visit www.ctc.org.uk/campaign/trails-wales for further information.