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Time for a decision on 4 x 4s and green lanes

Friday 25 April 2003

Our countryside columnist John Sheard hopes that an ill-judged legal threat from off-road vehicle drivers will finally provoke Government action save the green lanes of the Yorkshire Dales

IN SOME ways I should consider myself lucky. The bridleway fifty yards from my favourite fishing haunt is too narrow to take the monster 4 x 4 trucks which have somehow become a fashion statement by suburbanites out to prove their street cred away from the Sainsbury's car park.

They wouldn't risk scratching the gleaming paintwork of their Range Rovers and Shoguns on the blackthorn bushes which bound the lane. So, of a weekend morning, I only have to put up with the high-pitched squeals of the trail bike riders who discovered the spot four or five years ago and now treat it as their very own Le Mans.

Others are not so lucky. There are scores of small communities in the Yorkshire Dales whose life is made a misery by macho men, and their sometimes even more macho wives, who have spent anything up to £50,000 on an off-roader with nowhere to go but the heart of a national park.

Mastiles Lane

Local farmers now have difficulty in getting even their tractors to fields they have accessed for generations, most of that time by horse and cart in pre-motorised days. The reason: huge ruts churned up by off-roaders or trail bikes. For fun!

Walkers, cyclists and horse-riders regularly claim to have been driven off green lanes by these noisy monsters. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has been trying to ban them for more than a decade - with total lack of success.

And the reason for that is that the lawyers have happily plunged their oars into waters which were already murky because the laws governing these green lanes disappear back into the mists of antiquity.

They have been public rights of way for centuries and changing that situation has been beyond the wit of at least the past three governments to my certain knowledge. This week, however, the lawyers raised the stakes again - and hopefully, have shot themselves in the foot.

The national park authority and North Yorkshire County Council are trying to impose Traffic Regulation Orders on some of the more popular green routes - Mastiles Lane between Malham and Kilnsey is the best known - so as to have the power to ban the off-roaders.

This has drawn an angry response from the All Wheel Drive Club, which is threatening to go to law and seek a Judicial Review to prevent such action. And I hope they do - because this could be the very action that could finally spur DEFRA, which has already promised action, into actually carrying it out.

In taking this stance, I feel I admit to a little sadness - and will no doubt upset a lot of people, because I have had more angry responses on this subject than on any other. And I do believe that the countryside should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

However, out of simple courtesy, I also feel that one should only enjoy one's own pleasures if they do not interfere with other people's - and I find it very difficult to reconcile the peace and quiet of casting a fly for a trout with the ear-splitting row of trail bikes racing by, a sound as welcome as the scream of a dentist's drill.

Let these owners of "bully-wagons" - as the big 4x4s are known in my locality - churn up some disused quarry or coal tip in the thousands of acres of industrially spoiled land that Yorkshire has in over-abundance.

But perhaps that would not give the drivers the same thrill: there would be no great silence to rip asunder, no wildlife to terrify, no beauty to despoil. It is to me a great shame that people with enough wealth to squander on pointless toys do not also have the insight to understand the offence they cause to genuine country lovers.

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