Trails for Wales: It’s Time to Act

In 2015 the Welsh Government consulted with the general public on the possibility of reforming access to the countryside – and a campaign by OpenMTB and Cycling UK saw more than 4,000 cyclists send messages of support for increased access, a stunning result considering there were fewer than 5,800 responses in total.

The Welsh Government clearly took notice of these results, because it came back this year with a remarkably forward-looking set of proposals which would simplify the rights-of-way system in the country, eliminating the distinction between footpaths and bridleways. The new “single-status” system would allow cyclists and horse riders to use the vast majority of current footpaths. Read on to find out how you can help make this happen.

Wales has some amazing mountains, and cyclists should be allowed on more of them.

Consultation is already under way on these proposals, so it‘s now crunch time for outdoors access.OpenMTB has supported Cycling UK’s detailed official response to the consultation – and we need as many people as possible to respond individually to the Welsh Government to encourage it to see the proposals through.

The response form will give you the chance to read and personalise the suggested email. We’d suggest adding your own reasons for access rules being changed – and also mentioning if you enjoy other outdoors pursuits as well as cycling.

OpenMTB committee member Tom Hutton was involved with the initial Trails for Wales campaign – and he has answered a few questions on the subject…

Hi Tom, people might recognise your name from your guidebooks or your route guides in MBR magazine, but would you like to tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you do?

I split my time between writing and photography and running a small mountain bike holiday and guiding business – running trips in Wales, the Lake District, The Peak District and the Scottish Highlands. I guess I have made it a mission to try and show as any MTBers as possible that there is life beyond the trail centres.

So the Welsh Government’s initial consultation on access came in the second half of 2015, pretty much two years ago now. OpenMTB must have been very new then. How did the Trails for Wales campaign come about and what was the thinking behind it?

The WG launched a green paper that really did make increased access for MTBs look a possibility. We realised that we needed to do something and do it quickly if our voices were to be heard. And we really felt that the WG didn’t have a handle on just how big mountain biking in Wales is. We formed a little sub-group within OpenMTB, had a few meetings and got stuck in really. Credit should really go to Kie Foster who did 99 per cent of the hard work, both preparing our very detailed response to the consultation and also aligning ourselves with Cycling UK (CTC at the time), and gaining their support for the campaign, which enabled us to have a professional web presence for the campaign responses. We were pretty made-up to get the support of British Cycling and Welsh Cycling too.

There were more than 4,000 individual responses made by cyclists as a result of the campaign, which was more than two thirds of the overall respondents. Do you think the Welsh Gov was surprised about that? Were you surprised?

I think the WG was flabbergasted – and also very pleased that they had tangible evidence that there really was an appetite for change. I personally wasn’t that surprised – I think we had a good idea of just how many MTBers ride in Wales. But I was extremely pleased that so many responded and stood up to be counted – a definite first for mountain biking in the UK.

So you must ride in Wales a lot for work and for pleasure, what are the main benefits you anticipate from increasing access in the country?

I do ride in Wales a lot, yes, and for me personally, the benefits of increased access would be increased trails to write about and to guide on. But more important will be the benefits to visitors to Wales or Welsh visitors to new areas of Wales. At the moment, local riders usually know where the best trails are, but visitors to an area need to rely on magazine or guidebook routes, or an actual guide, in both cases the current situation restricts what they would read about or be shown. Wales would punch a lot harder as a mountain bike destination if all its best trails were available for everybody to ride. And obviously this will bring people and much-needed revenue to some of the more remote rural areas…

The proposals the WG is consulting on now look very sensible, do you think there’s a general appetite for this kind of change in Wales?

I do, I think they can see how the current system is just no longer fit for purpose, and this is an opportunity to improve things, to make it easier to understand and less burdensome to administer. At the same time, it will help increase tourism, encourage more local people to ride, which should have a positive effect on obesity and mental health, and make it safer and easier for cyclists to get around.

How have you seen attitudes to MTBers change out in the Welsh countryside in recent years? Has there been the same softening I’ve noticed in England?

On the whole, I think attitudes to MTBing in Wales are quite positive – we have a small population and a lot of space. But there are those that still don’t like bikes in the hills, and there are still MTBers who don’t help the situation. Hopefully a successful outcome to the consultation will see everybody working hard to share the trails to the benefit all of us.