Many mountain bikers are looking for new opportunities. As a result of this, there has been an increase in the number of mountain bike trails constructed without permission from the land manager. This has resulted in a range of benefits including maintaining participation through new challenges, developing the skills of riders including our best athletes and tourism opportunities in key destinations and events utilising these trails. However there is growing concern from landowners as some of these trails have created problems, including environmental damage, injury to mountain bikers and other users, and, also, raised liability concerns for land managers’ due to their duty of care to those on their land.
While Scotland’s right of responsible access includes cycling, it does not extend to the construction of trails without permission from the land manager.
The National Access Forum (NAF) was tasked by Scottish Land & Estates and Forestry Commission Scotland to address the situation. It was agreed to form a sub-group of NAF to investigate why the trails were being built and provide potential solutions to enable mountain bikers and landowners to communicate and understand each others perspective.
We (DMBinS) were keen to be heavily involved in the sub-group and advocate the benefits that these trails provide for mountain bikers. Together the sub-group developed new guidance which stresses the importance of dialogue between land managers and bikers in order to find solutions to problems on the ground and makes positive suggestions for future trail management. These include the adoption of trails by land managers or agreements with volunteers or mountain bike groups/trails associations/clubs.
We proposed to utilise the profile and interest around the Scottish Mountain Bike Conference to create a working example of one of the management models proposed in the guidance.
There was existing trails in the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) land which has been used frequently for events and is ridden regularly, under SOAC, by locals and visitors to Laggan Wolftrax MTB Centre in the Cairngorms which all agreed would be ideal.
The trails have had little formal management or maintenance systems in place. There is maintenance required on the trail and an inspection should take pace to ascertain the level of maintenance and trail reconstruction required.
The proposal for the Trail Summit on Saturday 24th November was for an indoor session to introduce the NAF guidance by FCS and DMBinS followed by a practical session at Laggan. FCS would lead volunteers to repair/improve sections of trail. It was proposed for FCS to lead this session due to insurance requirements, no specific training for Laggan Forest Trust volunteers to lead sessions and the challenge of agreeing appropriate paperwork in a short timescale.Back
In keeping with the previous discussions at the conference and the NAF guidance, the dig was not on the purpose built mountain bike trails at Laggan, but rather on a selection of nearby unauthorised trails which had been picked by the local trailbuilders for the delegates to work on.
John Ireland, Forestry Commission Scotland Safety, Health and Environment Manager, was joined by his MTB Ranger colleagues to deliver a safety briefing, volunteer sign-in and divide the 50 volunteers into 5 work crews.
Led by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) the volunteers comprised of members of Laggan Forest Trust, riders, trail builders, Forestry Commission England, EWS, Specialized trail advocates, local bike clubs, local bike shops and IMBA Europe all came together, in a massively positive event to work on a trail that not so long ago would have been viewed entirely differently.
The five trail crews worked on a variety of improvements to the trails including improving drainage, trail armouring, trail realignment, clearing fall-zones, creating a natural drop-off with a B-line and creating a series of bermed corners.
There was a real buzz and excitement in the area about the possibilities for improved engagement between landowners/managers and mountain bikers. There was an improved understanding of some of the issues which landowners and land managers face with unauthorised trail construction and an appreciation of the openness of FCS to discuss 'enduro' style trails on the land they manage.
The trailbuilders were appreciative of the volume of people helping to improve the trails and they are riding really well as a result of the improvements.
The long term proposal is for Laggan Forest Trust (LFT) and FCS to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Service Level Agreement (SLA) together. The MoU and SLA would enable LFT to manage volunteers to continue to support the ongoing management of the trail through conducting annual inspections – with subsequent recommendations for maintenance improvements.
If you require any information, the new guidance has been created to help mountain bikers and land managers discuss and decide the most appropriate model for their circumstance. Clear, transparent and effective communication is required between mountain bikers and land managers to decide upon the most appropriate model, including the future for any existing unauthorised trails. Some aspects of this guidance may also be useful to event organisers or businesses who wish to engage with land managers about trails
There are a range of possible options for addressing user-built trail construction. At one end of the scale is the model there is the situation where the land manager decides to close the trail and remove any unsafe features. At the other end of the scale, there may be opportunities for a mountain bike group or community to own or lease the site, giving it full control, and associated liabilities.
In between there are a variety of possibilities that can be discussed by mountain bikers and land managers. For each of the possible options, early engagement between mountain bikers, land managers and other stakeholders is key – and it should be recognised that this process is likely to take time.
The new guidance outlines the potential benefits and challenges associated with the following options, but there may well be other possibilities that suit particular circumstances. Case studies illustrating different types of approach are provided in the guidance, and examples of agreements, risk assessment templates and insurance certificates will be uploaded to the DMBinS website in due course.