Sometime last year, I compiled a quite lengthy blog which was critical of mountain bikers and, as a consequence, received an e-mail from a lady who had some sort of commercial interest in the 'sport' (have a look at the Price List, by the way). So, in a conscious effort to present a 'balanced' argument, I published her e-mail in full. Unfortunately, however, I failed to conceal her personal details and, quite rightly, she complained and I decided to delete everything. In the meantime, apart from an occasional reference to 'bikers', I haven't revisted the subject at all.
This, by the way, is the e-mail I received........
As you do not appear to be aware, the area that you enjoy walking in is owned and managed by The Hurtwood Trust for the benefit of all recreational users be they walkers, dog owners, horse riders or mountain bikers.
After some years of conflict, local mountain biking groups are now regarded on equal terms with other Hurtwood users and, through The Friends of The Hurtwood, everyone now works together to ensure that the needs of all groups are addressed. The needs of the environment are also at the core of the work of The Friends of the Hurtwood.
Unfortunately it is not always possible to use The Hurtwood without some damage to the environment. This is goes for walking, horse riding and mountain bike usage. Efforts have been made to limit erosion in problem areas such as in the initial pictures on your blog. In the case of mountain biking drainage is the key and the handful of purpose built trails are built with just this in mind.
You also address the issue of mountain bikers using bridleways and footpaths. You seem to be unaware that cyclists of all kinds are entitled by law to access bridleways. This is therefore not an issue in The Hurtwood. Designated footpaths are another issue and should not be used by cyclists under any circumstances. However, the majority of the pictures on your blog show trails which are not designated footpaths and therefore are not solely for the use of any particular group. Indeed you yourself hint that the trails are naturally occurring animal tracks.
Erosion by any activity is mostly related to the numbers of the people taking part in that activity. Mountain Biking is a growing sport and therefore is causing more issues than, for example, walking at the moment. Having said that, if hundreds of walkers suddenly descended on The Hurtwood, the footpaths would be suffering just as much from their footfalls. This has been the case for many years in The Lakes, Snowdonia, The Peak District and many other popular ramblers honeypots. To blame walkers for causing footpath erosion on Kinder Scout would obviously be irrational. Instead the landowner, The National trust I believe, has improved the footpaths across the moor thus removing the issue. This is exactly what The Friends of The Hurtwood are trying to do locally with mountain biking.
You also seem to blame mountain bikers for following trails that seem impassible for walkers. This surely is an oxymoron? The trails you picture are clogged with Rhododendron bushes, a non-indiginous invader, which the landowner has made several attempts to curtail. The presence of the bushes and their root systems holds moisture in the ground for longer periods than in the plantations and on the Greensand and leads to the formation of puddles in the hummocky terrain. Hardly the fault of mountain bikers, more the fault of Victorian arborists. Just because mountain bike tracks go through the puddles does not mean that the puddles are caused by mountain bikers or any other user group.
It should be noted that The Hurtwood is a working forest. By that I mean is that much of the area is forestry and is therefore subject to regular harvesting and replanting. The damage caused by recreational users pales into insignificance next to the "damage" caused by the day-to-day running of forestry operations; heavy machinery, felling and the associated erosion.
Finally, as you are a regular Hurtwood user, can I recommend that you contribute to its upkeep by making a regular donation to The Friends of The Hurtwood charity and help safeguard the natural beauty of the Hurtwood for future generations.
Putting aside the somewhat pompous tone of the letter, as someone who spent my formative years living in Snowdonia, raised a family in The Peak District, have access to a timeshare property in The Lake District and actually live on the hill in question - the apparent assumption that I require what amounts to a lecture on rural matters borders on being contemptible. Furthermore, the writer failed to properly address the fundamental issue which I had raised - and that was the reluctance of some mountain bikers to keep to the designated paths and bridleways (the banked track shown below, for example) which, along with several others in the area was specifically constructed for mountain bikes. What's more, many of the bridlepaths were constructed with cambers and foundations which encourage drainage to occur.
Anyway, returning to the present. For some reason or another, I don't seem to have been out and about as much this year as last. Maybe that's the reason I've not been reminded of the circumstances which prompted me to write the aforementioned blog in the first place. During today's walk, however, in addition to witnessing mountain bikers wantonly discarding plastic bottles and sandwich containers as they rode along, I was reminded of what had annoyed me previously - and these photos (below) illustrate the damage mountain bikes can to to unprepared tracks.
The one on the left was originally an animal track which was also used by hikers. Mountain bikes have transformed parts of it into a quagmire. Apart from the fact that it's unlikely that anyone would choose to 'paddle' through the puddles, to imply that walkers could have caused as much much damage as cyclists (see letter) is ludicrous.
Many of these tracks, by the way, are clearly designated as footpaths (below - left). Sadly, however, some of the signs seem to have mysteriously 'disappeared' (below - right) and, despite the fact that it would have involved dismounting and lifting bikes over the barrier, tyre tracks clearly reveal the fact that cyclists have ridden along them.
Obviously, as I had conceded in my original blog, the vast majority of mountain bikers are responsible citizens. Many (if not most) come from respectable backgrounds and wouldn't dream of violating the countryside. That said, however, I doubt if many understand the contempt in which they are held by some of the indigenous population - and that is solely as a result of the behaviour of a small minority. To imagine these miscreants don't exist is futile. To try to defend them is naive.