Did you know that building bike trails without a landowner’s consent is illegal and those that do may be liable for any harm caused to other forest users?

At a recent meeting of Our Forest, Tom Brockington from Forestry England (FE) made a presentation about the current problems they are experiencing with unauthorised off-road cycle trails that have been established across the Statutory Forest and are causing significant environmental degradation. After the meeting, I went with Tom to visit sites with him in Bixslade and Astonbridgehill enclosure at The Pludds to see for myself the damage caused by unauthorised trails.

Tom says: ‘We often see trails that are built with limited knowledge of how this activity might affect other forest users, the harm it can cause to our sensitive wildlife and the damage it can do to important archaeological sites. We simply can’t and won’t ignore these risks. Any action Forestry England takes on unauthorised trails is led by safety considerations and protecting the environment’.

In answer to the problem, FE's priority is to concentrate on trails that contain built or dug features, especially those on vulnerable areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, badger setts, new plantations, and our built and buried heritage. Timber fencing has been formed by FE across some of the trails and this has helped to prevent access and allow the undergrowth to regenerate.

At this time of year, the Forest is a stunning display of flowering may and chestnut, and alive with the sound of nesting birds, insects, young deer and boar. But it is increasingly alive with the sounds of groups of off-road cyclists, many of whom have come from nearby towns and cities by car. While we encourage and sustain considerable numbers of tourists, they contribute little to the Forest’s economy. Indeed, when they cause environmental damage, they make no contribution whatsoever. We are paying for their pleasure at our own cost. We want all who live here and who visit the area to enjoy and make the best of the recreational opportunities the Forest has to offer. At the same time, we want everyone, visitors and Foresters alike, to respect and help protect our unique environment and its biodiversity.

Forestry England would like to work with the Cycle Centre, volunteers and local cycling groups to spread the message that only designated trails with gravel beds should be used. As Tom Brockington says: ‘If you see any particularly dangerous or damaging activity, please let us know with as much detail as you can so we can act swiftly to keep people safe and protect our diverse wildlife and beautiful Forest'. Contact: [email protected]