THE YORKSHIRE DALES GREEN LANES ALLIANCE
Campaigning to free green lanes from recreational vehicles.
Where the tarmac stops, vehicles should stop.
YDGLA, PO Box 159, Otley, LS21 9BT
Frequently asked questions
Thirteen of the commonest questions and assertions are set out below, in red italics YDGLA’s responses follow, in black. Technical terms (eg ‘NERC’, ‘Winchester Judgment’) are defined in this website’s ‘glossary’ page.
1.The number of unsealed green lanes legally available to motor vehicles was always small, and as a consequence of the NERC Act and the ‘Winchester Judgment’, is now even smaller. As a proportion of the national network of rights of way, it is only 2% or 3%. Why can’t YDGLA leave vehicle users to enjoy these routes? If you don’t want to meet motor traffic, use other routes, from which motor vehicles are forbidden.
There are two problems with this challenge.
First, the figure of 2% or 3%, when applied to the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) is probably wrong. Because of the contested status of unsealed unclassified county roads (UUCRs), nobody knows exactly how many unsealed routes are still, despite the NERC Act, legally open to motor traffic. It will take some time for the full impact of the NERC Act and the ‘Winchester Judgment’ to be measured, but at present, recreational vehicle users continue to press their claims to be able to ride and drive on some of the most beautiful, key green lanes that connect dale with dale.
The second problem is the assumption that the YDGLA is a walkers’ organisation, concerned solely with walkers’ desires for traffic-free green lanes. This assumption is mistaken. If enquirers want the walker’s view, they can get it from the Ramblers’ Association. The YDGLA is an alliance of all those in the Dales - residents and visitors alike - who have reasons for wanting to see an end to recreational vehicular use of green lanes. Furthermore, many users of green lanes - farmers, equestrians, mountain-bikers, non-motorised disabled people - simply cannot leave the green lanes and go elsewhere: there are, for all practical purposes, few other routes open to them.
Farmers, for example, have powerful reasons for wanting to see an end to 4x4s and motorbikes on the green lanes that cross their land. The damage to the surface to the lanes that recreational vehicles cause can make it difficult for farmers to get to their own pastures and to move stock. Sheep tend to associate Land Rovers with the arrival of food, especially in winter: Land Rovers driven for recreation, therefore, can draw sheep away from the flocks that farmers have laboriously consolidated near farm buildings and lead them out on to the moors. Motor-cycles, especially when they go back and forth through wet and challenging troughs in the moors can produce morasses in which sheep drown.
Archaeologists have objections to vehicular use of green lanes, on the ground that ancient sites, like the Roman marching camp on Mastiles Lane, have been damaged. Some archaeologists, along with others who want to preserve the Dales heritage, believe that many of the ancient, historic green lanes, some of which are medieval, monastic routes, should be scheduled as ancient monuments in themselves, and given the protection that they need.
Residents of small, hitherto tranquil Dales hamlets, from which green lanes leave the tarmac and head up across the moors, object to the noise and nuisance that convoys of 4x4s and motorbikes regularly bring.
Naturalists and gamekeepers are worried about the impact of motor vehicles on ground-nesting birds, and on the flora of upland areas. Sites of Special Scientific Interest, like the moor through which the Roman Road that crosses Blubberhouses Moor runs, or the limestone area around Sulber Nick, through which Long Lane runs, were - until traffic regulation orders were imposed on them - regularly damaged and disturbed by recreational motor vehicles. Gamekeepers report how difficult their jobs have become when motorcyclists routinely ride across the moors that they manage.
Some green lanes have become impassable to horse-riders and pedal-cyclists. Fast-moving motor traffic, especially motorcycles, alarms horses and can make life dangerous for their riders, particularly young riders. In other parts of the country there have been accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders who have had encounters with motor vehicles. There has been at least one fatality - to a horserider who was thrown when her horse was spooked by a motorbike.
Disabled people, elderly people, and parents with children need traffic-free green lanes. These groups cannot easily use footpaths: stiles are often too difficult to surmount. Green lanes, because they are free of stiles and often have comparatively easy gradients, are attractive to groups with limited mobility. Encounters with motor vehicles are unwelcome, and sometimes dangerous - eg for deaf, blind or learning-disabled users, or young children.
Walkers have their own objections. The green lanes that are presently BOATs are the classic, ancient routes that cross from dale to dale. If walkers, along with cyclists and horse-riders, conceded these routes to vehicle users, and went elsewhere for traffic-free recreation, some of the finest, most beautiful routes in the Dales would be forfeited.
2. Many footpaths are eroded. Why doesn’t YDGLA campaign about them, instead of concentrating exclusively on the nuisance caused, and the damage done, by 4x4s and motorbikes on the routes that bear vehicular rights?
The YDGLA takes no view on footpaths and their problems. If vehicle users are concerned about footpath damage, they can take the matter up with the National Park Authority, with North Yorkshire County Council Highway Authority, and with the Access Officer of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
3. Wherever a green lane has been damaged, the fault lies with the Highway Authority (for failing to maintain them), with farmers (for taking heavy agricultural vehicles onto them), with forestry operations, with the weather. Damage done by recreational vehicles is negligible.
Following the guidelines of the Department of the Environment’s Making the Best of Byways (1997), green lanes in the YDNP and the Nidderdale AONB have customarily been maintained to a standard ‘commensurate with the purpose for which byways are primarily used’ (p14). Up until a few years ago, this primary purpose was use by farmers who require access to their pastures, and pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders. A light maintenance regime, or, often, no management at all, was adequate.The upsurge in 4x4 and motorbike use, however, has raised the question of whether these routes should now be maintained to vehicular standards, for it is clear that they cannot stand the passage of the motor traffic that they are now having to bear. The cost of bringing the many miles of green lanes up to vehicle-bearing standards would be prohibitive, and the laying of vehicle-bearing surfaces would constitute such a change in the character of the routes that the authorities have, (rightly, the YDGLA thinks), decided not to undertake major re-engineering projects. Heavy agricultural vehicles have never been a common feature of the upland pastures of the Dales. There is no arable land, and thus little need for heavy machinery. If anything, damage to green lanes by farmers is decreasing. Farmers now tend to use quad bikes rather than the more damaging tractors and 4x4s when they go out to feed and gather their stock. There is virtually no forestry along the green lanes of the YDNP and the Nidderdale AONB. The weather hasn’t changed significantly over the past ten years. Why then is the fabric of the green lanes deteriorating so swiftly? There is only one plausible explanation, namely, the increasing volume of recreational off-road vehicles. The evidence of the damage caused by motorbikes and 4x4s is plain.
The evidence produced by the traffic regulation orders that have been imposed by the Dales Park Authority is incontrovertible. The orders show what happens when recreational vehicles are prohibited from a set of green lanes, leaving all other use of the lanes (eg agricultural vehicular use) exactly the same. The result is that the simple exclusion of recreational motors, results in the spontaneous regeneration of the fabric of the lanes. (See ‘Latest News’ page, 19 January 2011.) All the lanes subject to the TROs are now in much better shape, even in the absence of additional maintenance. Mastiles Lane, for example, when 4x4 and motorbike use was at its peak, was turned into a sea of mud: now has a cover of grass, just as it used to have, before recreational vehicular use became popular. (So severe was the damage to Mastiles Lane that it required emergency repairs in some places: but long stretches of damage have been left simply to natural regeneration - which has done the job.)
4. Even if vehicle users concede (and they do so very reluctantly) that recreational vehicles do cause damage to green lanes, the damage is caused solely by irresponsible vehicle users. R esponsible users follow strict codes devised by 4x4 and motorbike clubs, and do no damage.
The distinction between responsible and irresponsible vehicular use is hard to discern. If, for example, a group of half a dozen 4x4s, followed, an hour later, by a dozen motorbikes, make their way along a once grassy lane, how is the observer to know if the drivers and riders are responsible or irresponsible? They are all taking heavy and noisy motor vehicles onto a grassy track that came into existence to serve pedestrians, sheep and cattle, and a few horses and carts. It’s pretty obvious that grass cannot bear the passage of motor traffic. If the definition of ‘responsibility’ includes some sort of recognition of the historic and scenic character of the Dales green lanes, as well as their fabric, it’s hard to see how the taking of a modern motor vehicle, for the purposes of recreation, on to the lanes can ever be responsible. The magazines catering to vehicle users, and vehicle users’ postings of their exploits on the internet are instructive. They regularly exhibit images of 4x4s and motorbikes, on public rights of way, negotiating deep mud, steep gradients, watercourse-crossings and rocky surfaces, all evidently to the pleasure and satisfaction of the drivers and riders. Plainly, vehicle users do not want green lanes to be surfaced to a standard capable of being driven along in a Morris Minor. On the contrary, the challenge of piloting motors across demanding terrain seems to be at the heart of the pastime. If recreational motor vehicle users recognise that one of the chief special characteristics of the Yorkshire Dales is their peace and tranquillity, they will hardly be acting responsibly if they insist on taking motor vehicles, with the attendant noise, smell, emissions and visual intrusiveness, along green lanes into remote countryside.
5. Even if bans on recreational vehicular use of green lanes are introduced, the police won’t enforce them. Illegal vehicles are hard to catch, and, in any case, the offences they commit are, in police terms, chiefly minor traffic offences that will not justify the police time that would be necessary to catch and prosecute offenders.
Until recently, this has been true.But the police in the Dales are now receiving so many complaints from farmers and from the public that they are beginning to take action. 4x4 drivers and motorcyclists have been successfully prosecuted for taking their vehicles along lanes that are closed to them. The Police certainly do not turn a blind eye to illegal vehicular use. They recognise that is becoming a public nuisance. And even where the route is a legal, vehicular route, the manner in which many 4x4 and motorbike users drive and ride is a danger to other users of the routes, and constitutes a more serious breach of highway law. In certain circumstances, the police have powers to confiscate vehicles, and even to send them to the crusher. These powers have been used in other parts of the country.
6. Vehicular use of green lanes guarantees access for the disabled to the remoter parts of the Dales. To ban recreational vehicles would be to discriminate against the disabled.
There are two aspects to this assertion. If it is argued that only disabled drivers, displaying official disabled badges, should be allowed to use the green lanes, the argument would have some force. The numbers of vehicles would dramatically decrease, and motor-bikes would vanish altogether. This would certainly make a big improvement. But the argument seems not generally to be advanced in this way. More commonly, the alleged needs of the disabled are used by able-bodied vehicle users as a cover for their own activities. Further, it is by no means clear that the amenity of disabled people is automatically enhanced by allowing 4x4s driven by disabled drivers, or carrying disabled passengers, to use green lanes. Because green lanes do not have stiles, often have fairly easy gradients, and have (or used to have) moderately smooth surfaces, they are of great value to blind people, learning-disabled people (who find stiles intimidating), and the elderly and infirm - as well as adults with small children, often with push-chairs. To the many, diverse members of this large group of green lane users, it is not at all clear that the passage of a 4x4 driven by, or carrying, a disabled person, is in their interest. Developments in the technology of small, rugged versions of electric scooters that disabled people use around towns are promising. With such ‘Tramper’-type scooters, people who cannot walk at all can make journeys of many miles along green lanes, quietly, accompanied by friends walking alongside, and make a far smaller impact than is made by a 4x4 - or rather, they could make such journeys if the surface of the lanes had not been so badly damaged by 4x4s and motorbikes.
7.To take away vehicular rights on green lanes is an undemocratic infringement of human rights.
Any decisions about vehicular use of green lanes are taken by democratically or legally accountable authorities - North Yorkshire County Council, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, or Parliament. The human rights plea is a non-starter, as the TRF (the motorcyclists’ association) itself recognises. Recreational vehicle users would have as much chance of bringing an action under human rights legislation as they would if they complained about not being allowed to drive their vehicles into a pedestrianised city centre. It is not the right to go onto green lanes that is in question: it is only the right to take vehicles that will be withdrawn. Authorities throughout Britain and Europe are routinely, legally, imposing traffic bans in all sorts of places - both urban and rural (prohibitions in national parks are common): human rights are not in question.
8. Vehicle users spend time and effort voluntarily repairing green lanes, for the benefit of all users.
Vehicle users undertake repairs to green lanes because they want to be able to ride and drive along them. It is a wholly self-interested enterprise. If they were concerned about the amenity of farmers, cyclists, horseriders and pedestrians, the best thing to do would simply be not to take vehicles on to the green lanes in the first place. And in areas where vehicle users have made repairs, the results are not nearly as impressive as the repairers claim them to be. If a section of a green lane that is impassable to vehicles is made passable, vehicles will be attracted to it and the pressure will come on further along the track. This has happened in the much-publicised case of the volunteers’ repairs to Deadman’s Hill in Nidderdale, where even the stretches repaired by the volunteers are swiftly deteriorating. And in any case, at the summit of this route, it is plain that many vehicle users prefer to leave the repaired section in search of a more challenging route.
9. Why is YDGLA opposed to schemes of voluntary restraint? Why is legislation needed when vehicle users will voluntarily refrain from using what they consider to be unsustainable routes?
First, we have seen no evidence that voluntary restraint makes much difference to the use of any particular lane. It is true that some - though not all - members of 4x4 and motorbike organisations will observe recommendations endorsed by their organisations, but there are plenty of drivers and riders who simply ignore voluntary codes. Secondly, vehicle users’ notions of ‘sustainable’ do not correspond with ours. Routes that they deem to be capable of sustaining motor-vehicular traffic turn out often to be tracks that, in our view, cannot sustain such use. Furthermore, we value peace and tranquillity highly. The presence of any and every off-road vehicle degrades it.
10. Why does YDGLA always insist on all-year-round traffic regulation orders? Why not consider restrictions on vehicles for just the wetter months of the year, leaving them free to use the lanes in the summer, when vehicles will churn up less mud?
We, along with the general public, are fundamentally opposed to recreational vehicles on the green lanes of the Dales. Vehicles, therefore, are no more welcome in July than they are in January. In any case, it is no longer clear that summers are drier than winters. We have seen, during the last couple of summers, rainfall that has saturated the moors.
11. Spending by vehicle users, when they visit the Dales, pumps thousands of pounds into the Dales economy.
The assumptions that are made in such estimates are highly dubious. But even if the estimates were accurate, down to the last penny, the argument still backfires. If the people who spend this money in the Dales truly love the area, and really value the beautiful green lanes that are such a feature of it, then when the law changes and they are obliged to leave their vehicles where the tarmac stops, they will continue to visit the Dales, and spend just as much money. If they love the green lanes, they will continue to explore them in less damaging, more sustainable ways. But if, on the other hand, they come only to drive and ride their vehicles along the green lanes, and would never go near the Dales if they were required to leave their motors where the tarmac stops, then the loss of the income they allegedly generate wouldn’t be much of a loss. Furthermore, the drain on the public purse caused by the need for repairs to green lanes that have been damaged by recreational vehicles more than cancels out any financial input that the vehicle users contribute make to the Dales economy. (It cost £218,000 to repair just over 2,100 metres of Arten Gill - that’s nearly £104 per metre.)
12. If recreational vehicles are prohibited from the green lanes of the Dales, where else can they go?
This is not a question for us. We are a single-issue group. Our sole aim is to work for the prohibition of recreational vehicles from green lanes in the Dales. Where else vehicle users can go in their 4x4s and on their motorbikes is a question for motorised users themselves. But it is important to recognise that traffic regulation orders prohibit nobody from enjoying green lanes: they prohibit only vehicles, not their riders and drivers. Those vehicle users who love green lanes for their intrinsic charm and for the access they give to remote, tranquil, unspoilt landscapes will continue to enjoy them. The only difference will be that they will leave their vehicles where the tarmac stops and will continue on horseback, on a mountain bike, or on foot. To say that traffic regulation orders prohibit people is like saying that the now commonplace and popular schemes for the pedestrianisation of city centres prohibit people. On the contrary, pedestrianised city centres are now much more agreeable, well-used places than they were when motor traffic was permitted. The removal of motor traffic from green lanes will be just as popular, and will lead to an equivalent improvement in general amenity.
13. Many 4x4 and motorbike users have no particular concern for the Dales heritage that the green lanes embody, and set no especial value on the peace and tranquillity that the Park and the AONB were set up to preserve. They enjoy riding motorbikes and driving 4x4s across challenging terrain: it’s the essence of their pastime. If their activities produce more noise, ruts, mud, erosion and pollution, then so be it. They aren’t particularly bothered by the noise and mess they make. They will take their 4x4s and motorbikes on to green lanes as long as they are legally entitled to do so - and some of them will continue, even when the law prohibits them.
The only counter to this point of view is to show that public opinion seems decisively to have swung against vehicles away from the tarmac in the countryside - no matter whether opinion is measured at the local level - by reference to the views of parish councils, the views of farmers, of civic societies, of numbers of amenity groups, and, increasingly, the views of local councillors - or at the national level, by reference to Parliament. All three of the MPs whose constituencies include parts of the Dales National Park or the Nidderdale AONB are honorary members of YDGLA. They would hardly have given their support if they believed that YDGLA is miles out of step with public opinion. The passage of the NERC Act demonstrated both the extraordinary level of cross-party support for the bill, and the almost complete lack of support for vehicular use of green lanes. In order to measure public opinion on the matter, ICM Research Ltd was commissioned, in March 2004, to carry out a ‘Countryside Survey’. One of the propositions with which respondents were invited to agree or disagree was this: ‘The use of recreational motor vehicles on rights of way in national parks, and other areas of outstanding natural beauty, should be banned so that people can go there for quiet recreation, and so that the peace and tranquillity of the countryside can be preserved for future generations.’ 87% of the respondents agreed with the proposition, 8% disagreed, and 5% didn’t know.
4x4s and motorcycles on green lanes is an issue that produces many complaints, from both residents and visitors, to the Dales Park Authority, although since the imposition of 7 traffic regulation orders on the most sensitive of the green lanes, the number of complaints has dropped. When public opinion is given democratic expression by the application of Traffic Regulation Orders by the local highway authority (in the AONB), and by the Park Authority (in the Dales National Park), and when Parliament, under pressure from citizens, completes the job that it started with the recent NERC Act, and passes laws that will preserve every ancient green lane from recreational motor traffic, it’s hard to see how recreational vehicle use of green lanes will continue.