New access legislation could turn Wales into a true mountain bike utopia
“We should have open access like they do in Scotland”
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that. And now, in Wales at least, we have a chance.
The Welsh government recently announced a total review of access to the countryside. The aim is to provide better opportunities for the public to explore the beauty of the country they live in. To do this, they propose to alter our current access laws to make them more inclusive, less complicated and less bureaucratic.
And one of the proposed simplifications would mean Scottish style access for mountain bikers. In other words, on most ground, if there’s a path, it would be legal for bikes to use it.
The mountain bike map of Wales would be turned upside down.
It comes with conditions of course. The biggest being responsibility. In Scotland the law guarantees “a statutory right of responsible access to land and inland waters for recreation”. An Outdoor Access Code states quite clearly that countryside users should
- take responsibility for your own actions
- respect the interests of other people
- care for the environment
No doubt a similar code would be in place in Wales. Also in Scotland, some paths are specifically excluded. I would expect the same in Wales.
Great news. And for those who live in England but ride in Wales too…
But there’s a problem.
The proposal is meeting a huge amount of opposition from the hunting/fishing/landowning fraternity. They are powerful and well-organised and it will need an equally powerful and well-organised movement to keep this on track.
Fortunately, the Welsh Government are in consultation with the various interest groups including the British Mountaineering Council, the Ramblers, the British Horse Society, the British Canoe Union etc. But sadly, at this time, mountain biking has no single representative body.
So what can we do?
The obvious answer here is to get in bed with the BMC*. They are putting considerable resource into this on behalf of climbers and hillwalkers and whilst they don’t represent mountain bikers, they would be the first to admit that many of their members are also mountain bikers (including the writer of this article).
In the first instance, perhaps read the Open Wales page on their website https://www.thebmc.co.uk/show-your-support-for-our-open-wales-campaign and click the button on the bottom to show support (this is important). And then follow the BMC via Facebook, Twitter etc to get further updates.
At some stage, after the official government Green Paper is published, there will be a chance to sign petitions or even write to the Government to show your support for their proposed bill.
The one thing that mountain bikers can’t afford to do is nothing. We will probably never get another chance. And if it’s successful in Wales, who knows, maybe England will follow.
Vive la bicyclette – Vive la révolution!
* The British Horse Society http://www.bhs.org.uk have also been campaigning for improved bridleways and have many common aims too.
* Note: the author is also the Chair of the BMC wales/Cymru Area Group – a volunteer post