CTC Cymru, Open MTB, Welsh Cycling and British Cycling have applauded the Welsh Government’s proposal to adopt similar rules on access to the countryside as those enjoyed in Scotland.
Currently in Wales the Rights of Way system is based upon recorded historic use of routes instead of suitability. As a result, cyclists have rights to use just 21% of the network, with permission to ride along narrow rocky sheep tracks on steep ground but denied access to thousands of miles of public footpaths lying on metalled farm and forest roads. As a walker I can see how frustrating this is, some tracks are so wide two cars can pass each other on them! It seems rather silly to deny cyclists access.
In Scotland, following the Land Reform Act 2003, it is very different. Scotland enjoys ‘presumed access’. This means there is a presumption of “responsible access”, subject to exemptions laid out in the Outdoor Access Code (eg forestry operations). Consequently, Scottish off-road and leisure cycle tourism are booming and contribute between £236.2m and £358m a year.
Recent research indicates that outdoor activity in Wales contributes to nearly 10% of the Welsh tourist economy. The group argues that changes to countryside access within Wales could dramatically increase this figure, thereby offering more social, transport, recreational and health benefits for both residents and visitors to the country.
Tom Hutton, Snowdonia based mountain bike journalist and guide, speaking on behalf of Open MTB said:
“I don’t think we can exaggerate what an amazing opportunity for mountain biking this is. A change in access laws in Wales could potentially open 1000s of kilometres of currently out of bounds trails.
“It would put Wales back up there with Scotland as one of the best off road destinations in the world, and at the same time, would increase take up of the sport and local participation. It would also potentially pave the way for future changes in England.
I realise some walkers would be nervous as there are always some inconsiderate cyclists out and about, but I can't help but think they probably don't obey the rules anyway and this would enable responsible bikers much better access.
Consultaion on this has now finished, but keep up to date at www.ctc.org.uk/campaign/