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.

Cader Idris
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.

Tom Hutton
Tom Hutton loves a good selfie, such as this one taken above Llanberis, where he lives.

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.

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13 thoughts on “Trails for Wales: It’s Time to Act

  1. As a regular visitor to Wales I’d love to see more trails opened up to mountain biking. The sport is growing at such a rapid rate more bikers in the mountains will benefit both the bikers and communities close to the trails.

  2. As an MTBer and walker in the hills of wales England and Scotland I can only see a good outcome from opening access as long as all users are responsible enough on the trails.

  3. Responsible use of increased access for MTB and gravel cyclists across Wales will be a fantastic outcome. Wales is endowed with some amazing scenery and natural resources, but all to often either it fails to capitalise on this or allows outsiders to do so. A connected and concentrated effort between small, locally owned and run enterprises and councils / Tourism Wales, could greatly boost income for tourism related cycling, running and walking activities right across Wales -let’s do it!

  4. I’m a rider both on road and off, as well as a walker, and surfer. North Wales wants to continue to challenge the Lakes as THE place to come for outdoor adventure. Increasing access will continue to strengthen it’s claims. It will increase tourism, businesses will benefit, and communities will be better for it. I hope further access is granted for all users.

  5. I’m an MTBer, climber and walker. This is a fantastic opportunity to give access to the whole of Wales. The benefits will be huge and the disadvantages minimal. However, the MTB community will need to take a responsible attitude to encourage its members to understand its impact on the countryside, the interface with other users and how to bike sustainably in areas of environmental sensitivity. If this is done well, next stop England!

  6. I live in North Wales and regularly ride the local trails, I would love to see more access for cyclist’s. I believe this will encourage more people to get outdoors cycling and allow the existing mountain biking community to create new exciting routes. Free the land.

  7. If the range of users of the countryside is expanded, bikers in this case, there will be growth in the appreciation of that environment – more support for its use and preservation. If the range isn’t expanded, that knowledge and appreciation will simply, slowly, continue to fade into the past, one hiker at a time.

  8. I would love to see paths opened up all through the uk so fully support this in Wales. I am mainly a cyclist but we need to remember other users be polite and show empathy for other users. Big groups of cyclists coming towards you can be off putting to say the least

  9. I love walking,climbing and all outdoor activities cycling is a definite passion.
    I think opening all footpaths as bridalways is a really good idea it will spread the various different users over a far wider network of tracks,reducing the impact horses and to a lesser extent bikes have on the limited number of tracks they use.
    As bikes are able to travel deeper in to the mountains than walkers in a day, I believe that some of the remote hardly used track s could be used more and wouldn’t really have much of an impact on walkers .
    Other than the first few tracks from a car park which is a minor hindrance.
    When ever I’ve been out waking mountain bikers always seem to be really understanding and polite.
    I think it’s because they have always been the “new” mode of transportation in the hills and really appreciate that they have to share the same paths.
    It’s a really promising idea and think it will really put Wales to the top of the list regarding out door activity s .
    Most outdoor people do like multiple activity holiday s and this would really make wales hugely attractive.

  10. I spend much of the year on holiday in Wales and close enough to go for the day Mountain biking-I also enjoy fishing and walking and support the access to more areas with respect for all users

  11. There is a vast community of mountain bikers in wales there is definitely a need for more trails to be opened up for us im wholeheartedly in support of this.

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