The Eastern Moors is an area of land bordering the western fringe of Sheffield managed by The Eastern Moors Partnership (EMP). The area is one of the most popular recreational areas in the Peak District and home to wildlife habitats of national and international importance. One of the key principles of the partnership is to encourage access for all.
Owing to its past ownership by the landed gentry, a number of existing footpaths in the area bore a strong resemblance to bridleways in both width and construction. Furthermore, several existing tracks used for land management had no formal classification. Lastly the existing public bridleway network was fragmented, with the only liaisons available being busy roads. In spite of many years of campaigning, it took the inception of the EMP before any real progress was made.
At the very inception of the EMP in 2011, Ride Sheffield ensured that they attended and became one of the founder members of the Stakeholder Group that assists in the management of the Eastern Moors to this day. It was through this positive engagement that Ride Sheffield were able to become an influential voice, not only asking for improvements to the bridleway network but offering to provide volunteer labour and encourage riders to act responsibly.
It is crucial that advocacy groups understand that they cannot simply ask for improved rights, they have to be prepared to contribute either practically or through influencing the behaviour of their members.
As a result, Eastern Moors Partnership took the significant step of creating permissive bridleways where it was felt the surface, width and existing user base could withstand additional use. The Stakeholder Group, which includes representatives from all user groups, evaluated the proposed routes and unanimously agreed that the change should happen as soon as practically possible with minimum alteration to the route.
Prior to the inception of the new bridleways, an effective promotional campaign ensured the mountain bike community were fully aware of the implications. Since it was to be a concessionary bridleway, that status could be revoked if riders didn’t conduct themselves responsibly.
The willingness of the land manager to take a reputational risk and recognise that the benefits outweigh the fears was crucial to this initiative.
Substantial numbers of users of different types can mix with very little conflict when the correct environment is nurtured
The perception that there will almost inevitably be conflict between users is almost always misguided
The net effect has been overwhelmingly positive with significant numbers of different user groups engaging and using the paths. The system is policed very effectively through the groups themselves.
Advocacy is a fundamental part of the mountain bike community in the area, to the envy of riders in other locations. In the two plus years since implementation, there has only been one minor incident reported which was witnessed by other riders who both apologised profusely, ensured the walker was well and undertook to remonstrate with the mountain biker in question.
Ride Sheffield continue to take a full part in the Stakeholder Group and regularly provide volunteer labour for path maintenance. This initiative was instrumental in encouraging the National Trust to open up permissive bridleways on the Longshaw Estate.