British Cycling, a host of outdoor recreation organisations and celebrity cyclists have today written open letters to environment secretary Liz Truss and Welsh environment secretary Lesley Griffiths calling for people on bikes to have responsible access to more public paths in the England and Wales countryside.
Due to archaic public access and rights of way laws, it is currently illegal for people on bikes to access the majority of the countryside in England and Wales.
At present, if you choose to ride a bike you only have access to less than a third of the 140,000 miles of public paths. There is also little access to the three million acres of Open Access Land or the 2,800 miles of newly created coastal access. Meanwhile, if you are on foot you have free and open access to all of this land.
A British Cycling commissioned poll by YouGov has today revealed that almost two-thirds of people do not know that they are not allowed to cycle on the majority of public paths in the countryside. The majority of people also believe they should be allowed to cycle on them.
Younger people are the least likely to know where they can cycle and also the most likely to support greater public access. There is also massive demand for more countryside cycling – despite only 6% of people cycling regularly in the countryside, half of the survey’s respondents would like to cycle there more.
British Cycling’s chief executive, Ian Drake, said: “England and Wales is packed with outstanding countryside on millions of people’s doorsteps but, due to outdated and confusing rights of way legislation, much of it is only open to you if you choose to walk.
“We know that many people will simply not consider cycling unless they can do it on a traffic-free route. While national and local government work on putting cycle lanes in place across our towns and cities, countryside paths are fantastic, free alternatives that could be enjoyed responsibly by mountain bikers and families alike.
“At a time when obesity levels and air pollution in our cities is at an all-time high, we call on the government to act to make sure that the massive opportunity to get active in the countryside is not wasted.”
In Scotland, the Scottish Land Reform Act, brought in in 2003, has proven that responsible access by people on bikes is sustainable, manageable and highly beneficial to tourism, health and the economy. Research has shown that mountain biking grew by up to 10% from 2011 to 2014 and is worth £49.5 million per year to the Scottish economy.
The groups that have signed today’s letter believe that a version of this responsible access model should be explored for England and Wales. Piloting the responsible access model in suitable areas of the countryside will prove the viability and benefits of adopting the Scottish access model in England and Wales.
Rio 2016 Olympian Grant Ferguson said: “I grew up in Scotland being able to ride on any public path or trail. Cycling gave me a feeling of freedom in the outdoors. When I moved to Manchester, I couldn’t believe how restricted I was in where I could go.
“It took me the first winter to find the legal bridleways in the Peak District and I often then stuck to the same trails, which felt congested. When away training in other parts of the world like France or Italy, they have the same law as Scotland and it’s no wonder that they have a much more outdoors lifestyle than in England and Wales.”
Keen mountain biker and Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman has also signed the letter alongside a host of outdoor recreation organisations including Scottish Cycling, Welsh Cycling, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Welsh Sports Association, the British Mountaineering Council, the British Horse Society, Cycling UK and the Bicycle Association.
Chris Boardman commented: “I love riding trails and in Scotland it is so much easier to get to really remote areas and enjoy riding in some beautiful landscapes. The Land Reform Act in Scotland has proved that this can work and it is about time that England and Wales realise the massive opportunity this presents.”
Research commissioned by British Cycling has shown that almost two million people ride mountain bikes in England.
For more information about how to get into cycling visit www.britishcycling.org.uk/getinvolved.