The future of cycle access in our countryside

Cycling UK's Trails for Wales Campaign aims to gain greater off-road cycling opportunities for all
This week, Cycling UK supported British Cycling and a number of other partners in writing to English and Welsh ministers calling for a review of rights of way and access provision. With pilot projects to test the feasibility of different models of improved access for cyclists proposed as a way forward, our off-road cycling advisor, Kieran Foster, sets out the case for greater responsible access.

Last year, the Welsh government launched a consultation on improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation. Cycling UK, along with Welsh Cycling, British Cycling and OpenMTB partnered together to issue an extensive joint response to this consultation. It was the first time that all these groups had worked together in the interests of the off-road cycling community -sending out a clear message on what we collectively believe is needed for the future of a healthy nation enriched by greater access to the outdoors for leisure and exercise. We feel that it is vitally important that this spirit of partnership continues, as it is only through working together that we all stand a hope of making positive progress.

In our response, we looked at some of the potential solutions that could exist to enhance access for off-road cycling. From a Scottish model of an open right of responsible access to the entire countryside, through to interim steps such as an extensions of cycle and horse access to Access Land (land which has been designated as an area where you have a 'right to roam' care of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) and even a single class of non-motorised public paths. What we have acknowledged throughout is our absolute belief that sustainability, reasonable use and responsibility should be key considerations in any future agreement.

It seems on the face of it inconceivable that a well surfaced landrover track on open access land should remain open to walkers but off limits to cyclists."

In the UK, we already have over three million acres of CROW access land, where people have an established 'right to roam’ on foot, this access land includes many thousands of miles of farm, forest and moorland vehicle tracks where cycles remain prohibited. It seems on the face of it inconceivable that a well surfaced land rover track on open access land should remain open to walkers but off limits to cyclists and horse riders for no justifiable reason. Simple revisions which extended access to these paths to horses and cycles could see the opening of large areas to a right of reasonable and responsible access with minimal impact on the existing environment.

For years, increased access for walkers was opposed on the basis that it would lead to devastation in the countryside. Sadly the same arguments are still being trotted out to oppose improved access for a much smaller number of cyclists, despite the fact that the Scottish experience has proven beyond all doubt that equal access for bikes can work, even in the busy urban fringes around Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Over recent months, Cycling UK has been working behind the scenes to identify several pilot locations for trials to explore the options and research properly the likely effects of enhanced off-road cycle access in England and Wales. These are areas where there is already an established right for access, and we feel that by extending this right to a wider variety of users, we can begin to improve the situation for all. 

At the same time, Cycling UK has worked on a number of other projects where the development of off-road cycle provision has been in need of improvement for some time. We often hear from local authorities and other public bodies how challenging it can be for them to engage with the off-road cycling and mountain biking communities, so their views tend to get overlooked or are undervalued.

Many clubs don’t see campaigning or advocacy as part of their remit. However, nobody advocates the joys of off-road cycling better than committed riders who are out on the trails and exploring the countryside by bike week in and week out. Maybe those who are willing to engage with their local politicians and landowners and work with them to make things better will give more power to the elbows of Cycling UK and the national coalition of lobbying groups who are just as keen to help and support these efforts for more spaces to get out and enjoy the world by bike. As the access campaign progresses, we hope to see more riders come on board and work as local campaigners.

We warmly welcome this intervention by British Cycling this week and fully support the approach to the minister. We strongly believe that this is an unmissable opportunity to shape the future of countryside access and recreation provision, with all the benefits that carries for health, wellbeing and the rural economy.