Carol Robinson: Put the brakes on Peak park off-roaders

OUR national parks are special places. Few people would disagree with that. Nor would they dispute that any activity which damages their fragile, beautiful environments, or disturbs the tranquillity of their much-loved countryside, should be stopped.

That’s why we at Friends of the Peak District are so concerned about the damage and disturbance being caused by off-roading 4x4s and trail bikes.

For several years now, unsurfaced rights of way in our national parks have been used increasingly by cars and motorbikes. Many routes cross environmentally sensitive areas, or are in particularly tranquil and iconic places.

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It is often legal to use them and they may be defined by law as a Byway Open to All Traffic. But the tracks we’re concerned about aren’t roads as most people think of them. They are unsurfaced tracks, many of which would normally be covered in grass.

They have the legal status – but it’s from a time when the traffic was horse and cart. We think that modern – and often heavy – vehicles should be stopped from using these tracks which were not built for them and cannot stand up to the damage.

Many off-roaders are responsible people enjoying their legal hobby. However, their enjoyment comes at a cost to the National Park’s environment and the enjoyment of others.

Too many off-roaders seem to be unaware of the damage they are causing. This includes erosion, ruts that endanger farm animals and disturbance for local residents and visitors. Routes can become impassable for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists.

Worse than this are the irresponsible off-roaders who drive off the legal tracks and onto open moorland and wildlife habitats.

Much has been done in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to tackle to issue, but in the Peak District National Park, it remains a problem for visitors and local residents alike.

Our Take Back the Tracks campaign, supported by local parish councils, ramblers, horseriders and other user groups, is calling on the authorities, particularly the Peak District National Park Authority, to use the legal powers they have to properly protect the Peak District.

In 2007, the Peak District National Park Authority recognised that action was needed and adopted its current policy on off-roading.

Since then, it has (in co-operation with Derbyshire County Council) published plans for eight priority routes and announced only one temporary Traffic Regulation Order – or route closure – for the historic Chapelgate in Edale.

We support these steps, but we are asking the Peak District National Park Authority to be bolder. The Park Management Plan embeds the principle that all are welcome and that routes can be managed by accommodating legal uses without spoiling the National Park or other people’s enjoyment of it.

We don’t agree. Voluntary codes of behaviour haven’t worked. At the worst affected sites, we need more action.

The Peak District National Park Authority’s current approach favours the rights of the few over the enjoyment of the many – and often goes against the highest principle of all: that of conserving the National Park.    

Derbyshire County Council (the area’s highway authority) and Peak District National Park Authority can remove the legal right to drive on these tracks once and for all by issuing permanent Traffic Regulation Orders. And in the case of the most damaged and vulnerable tracks, that’s what we’re asking them to do.

We believe that the Peak District National Park Authority must use its legal powers to serve Traffic Regulation Orders under the NERC Act (2006) and close routes where damage is continuing.

It has had these powers for four years, and not yet served a single permanent TRO.

We know that solving these problems is not easy, but the Peak District National Park Authority must recognise that in some cases the legal rights of off-roaders are outweighed by its statutory responsibilities to protect National Park purposes.

The damage can be repaired, but to do so is hugely expensive. In today’s economic climate, it doesn’t make sense to spend more money on these routes when Traffic Regulation Orders could resolve the problem at a fraction of the cost. 

Long Causeway, the route that climbs up the front of the iconic Stanage Edge, is only one of many sites in the Peak District that is being eroded and trashed by off-roading.

It is currently legal to drive on Long Causeway, so off-roaders aren’t breaking the law. However – knowingly or not – they are eroding and carving up this precious landscape. The route is now so badly eroded that it’s impassable on horseback, and a challenging walk for many walkers.

Friends of the Peak District wants to see the Peak District National Park Authority make it illegal to drive on Long Causeway and other tracks in sensitive places.

Our Take Back the Tracks campaign is urging the Peak District National Park Authority to change its policy when it meets to review it on July 15.

To make our point, Friends of the Peak District and other user groups are holding a rally at Long Causeway, Stanage Edge, on Saturday, July 9. If you’d like to join us, please check our website for details – www.friendsofthepeak.org.uk

Carol Robinson is chief executive of Friends of the Peak District.