Peak District mountain biker John Horscroft has a bone to pick with Derbyshire County Council, following extensive trail work on Wigley Lane. He reckons this has ruined the track for all users - not just bikers. But there is another way, says John.
Mountain bikers are beginning to dread the phrase ‘rights of way improvement’ as it almost invariably means that another trail has been sanitised. The latest travesty is to be found on Longstone Edge in the Peak District where Wigley Lane has been transformed from a decent technical challenge into a three metre wide ribbon of road planings. This follows hard on the heels of a similarly insensitive piece of maintenance carried out on Stanage Causeway, and once again Derbyshire County Council (DCC) are the perpetrators.
Ironically, local mountain bikers would agree that Wigley Lane needed work and are fully aware that this is a multi-use trail that had become dangerous, particularly for horses. But DCC’s solution exacerbates the problem rather than solving it. Local biker Cy Turner, owner of Cotic Bikes and Ride Sheffield volunteer, was left both sad and angry:
'It was obvious the track needed some work but this is vandalism' he says. 'DCC have managed to destroy the existing challenge and create a trail that is actually more dangerous for all users. The surface is breaking up and the unwary or inexperienced may find themselves travelling too fast and unable to stop on three inches of loose gravel. Surely it is in DCC’s interests to consult with user groups to prevent this kind of ill-conceived maintenance?'
Therein lies the problem. Soon after the work on Stanage Causeway was completed (see UKH/UKC news here), local mountain bike campaign group Ride Sheffield approached DCC and asked why there had been little if any consultation with user groups only to be told that consultation merely prolongs the process and achieves little. Ride Sheffield also questioned the logic of carrying out maintenance on a byway that may shortly be the subject of a Traffic Regulation Order banning all motorised traffic, a frankly shocking waste of public money in austere times. It’s easy to see why the actions of public servants can sometimes be open to ridicule. Should the Causeway cease to be a byway, several thousand pounds has been spent bringing it up to a standard that is completely unnecessary.
DCC would argue that these repairs will stand the test of time, but Ride Sheffield would counter that with a bit of imagination, some volunteer labour and commensurately reduced expenditure, Stanage Causeway could now be a shining example of co-operation between users and a local authority and suitable for all user groups. Simply ignoring the views of mountain bikers hasn’t been an unqualified success in this case so perhaps DCC need to reconsider their somewhat high-handed attitude.
By contrast, Ride Sheffield has forged useful alliances with a number of other land managers and local authorities ensuring in the process that the Peak District’s rights of way are suitable for all users. Sheffield City Council Rights of Way team now give Ride Sheffield prior warning of future projects, ensuring that mountain bikers can have their say and the opportunity to offer alternative solutions. This isn’t a case of giving bikers carte blanche to veto every scheme that comes off the drawing board however. Mountain bikers realise that the rights of way network belongs to all users and are prepared to compromise.
Co-operation is a two way street and a good example is the National Trust/RSPB funded Eastern Moors Partnership who have both engaged with mountain bikers and reaped the benefit. Volunteer labour, much of it provided by mountain bikers, has transformed Wimble Holme Hill bridleway on the Eastern Moors and ensured that it’s suitable for all users, not just the technically proficient. Interestingly, this wasn’t universally popular amongst the mountain biking community, but that is the price you pay for compromise.
Denying the second largest user group a voice as DCC have done is both illogical, unjust and, ultimately, counter productive. Flattening every bridleway in the Peak District will simply encourage some riders to seek challenge on illicit trails. The economic benefit of a vibrant mountain bike scene in the Peak shouldn’t be underestimated either. Thousands of bikers come to the area every year to test themselves against some of the toughest trails in the country to the benefit of pubs, shops, B&B’s and campsites. Simply playing the faceless bureaucrat hamstrung by rules and regulations isn’t good enough any more. Those who purport to administer and protect our countryside have to be prepared to engage with those who enjoy its beauty.