Where Are The Gates?

Back in April this year our local MP, Ranil Jayawardena, wrote a letter to a few constituents. This was in a response to complaints regarding a severe lack of access at Long Valley, and the fact DIO had not complied with the ministerial directive to keep the gates unlocked when not in use.

Two statements in the letter caught our eye:

I have been told that it is the MoD’s intention to include foot gates at various access points and work has already been commissioned to address this issue…

…officials have been directed to make sure the existing gates are open for public access to Long Valley when it is not in use for military training.

You can read a copy of the letter for yourself here:

Its now December and its painfully apparent DIO South East staff have not complied with either.

There are no new gates.

The area remains closed when not in use.

If you wish to know more details then please read on. Equally, if you feel its about time the gates were installed and open when not in use then do please take a moment to write to your MP and ask two questions:

  • Where are the promised additional gates?
  • Why do the gates at Long Valley remain locked when its not in use?

As ever, the easiest way to contact your MP is to use the Write to Them website.

No Gates

It’s painfully obvious to anyone using Long Valley the current number and location of gates is inadequate. This map shows us why:

The red area is the now-fenced part of Long Valley. The green dots represent existing gates and the red crosses indicate where new gates are required. The red lines show the routes required between existing gates.

With no gates to the north and just one gate serving the west access here requires climbing the fence or, as indicated by damage, cutting a hole in the wire. The southern side has just two gates with the fence blocking routes in use for decades.

TAG have pressed for more gates, in part to reduce the ongoing spend of public money maintaining the fence as casual access is reasserted but mainly to help those less able access the area for recreation.

Regrettably the proposals have been been disregarded by DIO with a simple “too close to dangerous roads” statement. This claim overlooks the fact all gates are near a road and all locations are set back from the kerb…We are deep into the territory of where policy and decision making is driven by ego rather than evidence, something that fails to meet the standards in public life.

How do we know DIO have no intention to install more gates? Back in July we raised an FOI asking to see works orders for gate installation.

It was little surprise to find there was none.

But hang on, didn’t the MP’s letter say work had already started?

Either politicians are simply telling us something we want to hear hoping we will go away and forget about the gates…or DIO have failed to act. With a track record of failing to deliver we err on the side of DIO inaction.

Locked Gates

Back in July 2020 the Minister for Defence Procurement wrote a letter that contained the following statement:

I can assure you that officials have been directed to ensure the existing gates are open for public access to Long Valley when it is not in use for military training.

We now know DIO staff have ignored the minister and failed to comply with this directive.

The gates have remained locked for extended periods when there is no training underway. We can be very confident of this as its based on DIO’s own booking on and off records. Every formal user of the lands must do this when they arrive and leave. Here’s the analysis of the Long Valley records from September 2020 to February 2021:

MonthHours ClosedHours Used
Booking on/off recorded duration vs published closure dates & times taken from DIO’s own records

The number of hours used seems incredibly low, but this is very much backed up by casual observation of what is – or is not – going on in Long Valley.

A puddle with clear water. No one has driven through this for days, if not weeks.

Photographs such as the above provide excellent evidence of the current activity at Long Valley. TAG are maintaining an audit and with the news troop numbers set to fall, or head off to Germany, we are not expecting a rise in use anytime soon. If you can contribute with photos and observations then do please get in touch.

MTB tracks, walkers and dog paw prints show who is using Long Valley and none are military training, yet the gates remain locked.

We are unable to analyse the booking on/off records beyond February. DIO realised what TAG were up to and subsequent FIO have not yielded any meaningful information. We now firmly believe DIO staff are deliberately concealing the truth about just how little Long Valley is used.

The £250,000 spend of public money on the fence really isn’t looking good value, is it?

DIO staff – specifically those tasked with public access – have a lot to answer for here and action to restore access is well overdue.

Verification and Trust

Some DIO staff include a guiding principles statement of “My Word is my Bond; Trust but Verify” in their email signature. Having consistently failed to verify TAG struggle to trust what DIO say. This applies to both the corporate and individual levels and the bond value of the words is more rather than less likely to be graded a junk asset and worthless.

Politicians need to get a grip and start actively managing DIO and ensure their instructions and commitments are complied with. Gates must remain unlocked when not in use and the additional access points installed as a priority.

Locked gates and no training represents lost opportunity we can never get back. Time has passed and the space remained inaccessible and the status quo must not continue.

Those responsible for access must be held accountable for the loss of recreational opportunity, and to ensure the Access part of the public office held is recognised with deeds and actions, and without further delay.

DIO – The Silent Service

Way back in March Hart District Council wrote the DIO Chief Executive Graham Dalton, raising concerns among other things at the lack of access at Long Valley.

You can read a copy of the letter here:

In April Guildford Borough Council also wrote a letter to Mr Dalton, raising concerns and seeking answers to the issue of public access at Ash Ranges.

You can read a copy of that letter here:

At time of writing neither council had received a response from Mr Dalton.

But before we look into that, a quick reminder of some of the issues, and DIO’s spend to “fix” them.

The Power to Spend

DIO display a special level of contempt for elected officials and the communities they find themselves dealing with. A case in point is the matter of additional gates at Long Valley, and ensuring the space is open for recreation when not in use. Local residents have received written assurances of both but DIO simply refuse to act.

The promised gates? Not even planned, let alone installed.

When the fence was built DIO were assuring everyone it was for public safety. The bill for fencing now runs close to £250,000 and we know the lands are empty more often than not with DIO’s own records showing February 2021 was used just 34 hours of a total of 320.

Back in 2018 DIO were claiming Long Valley was in use “day and night” and the area will be kept open for recreation when not in use. Regrettably neither are true and provide more evidence of DIO unable to communicate the truth. So confident in their claims, the signs are still hanging on the fence in 2021.

A quarter of a million pounds have been spent on fences to protect us from danger that simply does not exist for most of the time. When in use, typically its one single vehicle making a lot of noise driving slowly around the test track, or parked up at Eelmoor. The vehicles are easy to see and – most important – avoid.

We struggle to understand how the fence can be described as good value for the taxpayer, nor can DIO demonstrate adherence to their own written statements, yet political directives to deliver remain ignored.

But its not an isolated waste…at Ash Ranges DIO have spent close to £50,000 on a path that no one wants or needs whilst the claims of risk are centred around the visually impaired or illiterate being unable to understand signs and that they might hurt themselves if they fall down a hole.

Or maybe its COVID fault.

But then blaming the local community for vandalism seems reasonable in DIO’s eyes.

The messages for closure at Ash have been consistently confusing and mixed, but ultimately we believe is founded on zero evidence. Such is the risk aversion at DIO…it’s bordering on paranoia rather than a rational, evidence-lead approach. This in itself breaches standards in public life…whilst remembering the costs of vandalism at Ash Ranges could not be disseminated because the estimates were privy only to those with “…corporate knowledge of such events…”.

Our view: DIO are bleeding our cash in an attempt to fix issues that have no evidence base supporting their claims whilst ignoring what collaboration with the local community could deliver.

We are not alone in this view. The Public Accounts Committee agree and although the numbers are much bigger and are dealing with land disposal (housing estate anyone?) statements such as this are eye catching:

...the Department wastes resources that could support frontline personnel and develop new military capabilities.

Its difficult to disagree. The PCC are clear – DIO waste our money.

The Power to Ignore

DIO CEO Graham Dalton’s LinkedIn profile is an interesting read. Our eye was drawn to this personal statement and the claim made:

…adept at aligning wider stakeholder interests with core business objectives.

Just how does this statement fit with Mr Dalton’s failure to respond to both Hart and Guildford Councils?

There are perhaps a couple of possible explanations:

  • Mr Dalton does not see the local community, and specifically their elected representatives, as stakeholders.
  • Mr Dalton is more adept at personal, positive PR than delivery of engagement.

Thanks to a massive response to the Byelaws Review survey we know the lands account for at least 59,000 hours of recreation a week. The Aldershot Byelaws, whilst not unique, are rare and Section 2 grants recreational access at all times when not in use for military training. If this does not make the local community very significant stakeholders then what would?

This ability to ignore does not come as a surprise to us.

DIO SE, and in particular Mark Ludlow (DIO SE Security and Access) and Lt Col Dickie Bishop, have a track record of ignoring the local community and we have Parlimentary Ombudsman complaints seeking answers.

Either way and for whatever reason, the fact Mr Dalton can apparently ignore elected representatives indicates the internal levels of distain and contempt for politicians and the ethos runs right to the very top of DIO.

The Power of Us

TAG know many of the community has raised their voices and concerns. Public voices helps keep the issues DIO SE trigger in sharp focus. DIO must be held to account for their decisions and be compelled to uphold the standards in public life.

From whatever angle, failing to respond to not one but two Council letters cannot be seen as meeting the minimum expectations. TAG have written to the local MP Ranil Jayawardena, pressing Jeremy Quin MP for some answers; seeking responses from Mr Dalton whilst pressing the issue of why DIO are empowered to ignore everyone – politicians and communities alike – and what is being done to change this completely unacceptable behavior.

If you find a lack of positive engagement from DIO disturbing, and the idea of unelected civil servants remaining unaccountable and enabled to ignore instructions, then do please take a moment to contact your MP:

Write to Them

At time of writing both Councils have written again to Mr Dalton with follow-up letters and emails. This is something that should have been unnecessary, and another good example of how DIO waste public time and money.

We will publish Mr Dalton’s reply – if one is every forthcoming – in due course.

For PRs Sake!

We do appreciate feedback from the MTB community on what is happening on the military lands – and in particular we really like to hear of any encounters with DIO’s Training Area Safety Marshals (TSM).

So we were delighted to hear of one positive outcome, when a TSM lent a mountain biker a tool to fix their bike and helped continue the ride.

This is the kind of collaboration and cooperation that makes the world a better place and we need more, not less, of it.

A TSM vehicle in Long Valley…encounters with them are rare given the area they are trying to manage

Regrettably its still too early to pop the champagne and celebrate a new, positive and engaged DIO.

After fixing the bicycle the TSM and rider had a friendly chat.

Sadly we do not have a recording (and we do encourage this) but the rider did share the gist of what was said. So we are going to pick apart and examine in more detail some of the statements the TSM made.

What follows is a breakdown of the issues and concerns with the TSM’s view:

Cycling is banned and MOD Police can fine you and sieze your bike

Both of these statements fail to recognise the 2019 agreement between DIO and TAG that legitimised cycling on the military lands – you can read it here. In the current byelaws DIO can issue a Section 8.3 authorisation permitting anything that is listed as illegal, and there is precedence for DIO doing exactly that when Mark Ludlow (DIO SE Security and Access) issued Farnham Ramblers with permission to walk in groups.

The original copy has been removed from the Ramblers website…but we kept a copy and you can read how Ramblers were given the green light by Mark Ludlow in 2014:

The 2014 date is significant – remember how DIO set about banning MTB at the same time?

There are plenty of nagging questions; Why does DIO refuse to acknowledge the 2019 agreement with cyclists? Why are TSMs still repeating out of date information? And why were the Ramblers able to secure permission and MTB not?

Mark Ludlow cannot deny such an agreement was made…as it was discussed with the Chair of TAG in his Longmoor office…then followed up with emails and subsequent publication. At no time have DIO sought to amend or revoke the agreement, so as far as TAG is concerned the deal stands.

Short answer is we don’t know why TSMs are failing to recognise the agreement but the working presumption is Mark Ludlow has failed to inform TSMs, or simply refuses to offer the same courtesy extended to Ramblers and recognise the agreement is very much valid.

On this point we consider it a failure of standards in public life to not acknowledge something that patently exists and have an active Parliamentary Ombudsman complaint against DIO and Mark Ludlow seeking formal, written recognition of the agreement for cyclists and securing legal certainty for all.

Cyclist must stick to the fire roads as cycling on single track is inherently dangerous and MOD will be sued by anyone hurting themselves.

Firstly, DIO had full sight of the published 2019 agreement, yet restrictions as to where cyclists were permitted to ride was not included, nor amendment(s) sought. As far as TAG are concerned single track is the place to ride and is more often multi-use and shared with walkers, who suffer no such restrictions.

Secondly, there is no evidence we are aware of that suggests single track is more dangerous than the fire roads. Indeed, there is a good argument to use single track as it avoids meeting vehicles, particularly in places like Long Valley.

According to DIO this single track is inherently dangerous and riders must not use it. TAG do not agree and consider such policy to be completely lacking in hard evidence and is a good example of failing to uphold standards in public life

As for MOD being subject to personal injury litigation by an MTB rider…this is utter nonsense. MOD are being sued by cyclists…but slippery roads, traffic barriers and wheelie bins were all cited as primary causes and military bases are the typical location.

No one, in spite of the thousands of hours ridden, has sued MOD for injury on Aldershot single track…we have collectively and individually “opted in” to the risks it might pose to take massive benefit from the joy riding the trails brings. To put it simply, single track is worth it.

For failing to use objective evidence to advise policy we have evidence of another failure by DIO to uphold standards in public life.

Hopefully in the future when the new bylaws are put in place it will allow cyclists to ride the fire roads

The 2019 agreement between TAG and DIO already permits greater use than just the fire roads, so a new set of byelaws that restrict us will be doomed to fail.

TAG oppose the idea of “fire roads only” on the simple grounds it will permit DIO to maintain a negative approach to cycling – there is a hard, embedded culture that will ignore (and has ignored) the byelaws and continue to use the single track.

All TAG seeks is parity with walkers and what they enjoy today – the freedom to roam – and nothing less will be as much unreasonable as unenforceable. To achieve parity with walkers will do nothing other than formalise how the lands are ridden today, nothing more and nothing less. There will be no mass MTB rampages through the heather or other senstive areas…things will just carry on as we use the existing network of routes, but we all get DIO and their massive risk adversion culture off our collective backs.

Persisting with restrictions on cyclists will empower DIO to maintain marginalisation. When set in the context of their overwhelming desire to fence in areas and permanently exclude everyone, it’s easy to see how DIO will use MTB as the excuse – blame the MTB community for riding off the fire roads and stick up more barbed wire topped deterrent fences. For evidence we need look no further than DIO’s willingness to apply collective punishment at Ash Ranges and use any and all means to fabricate justification to support subjective policy.

For these reasons TAG are calling for byelaws fit for purpose whereby recreational access is protected from the excesses of an unaccounable DIO.

DIO would be interested to know if an area could be used by MTB [for digging]

Of all the issues raised, this is perhaps most galling.

Back in 2019 Mark Ludlow solicited a report from TAG looking into the feasibility of having an area set aside for trail construction.

TAG volunteers duly met with a few diggers, scoped the suggested areas and worked up a plan into how we could work together. The report was authored and duly delivered to Mark Ludlow.

To date the report has neither been acknowledged nor responded to.

Therefore the answer is already on Mark Ludlow’s desk, yet two years later DIO are still asking the same questions.

Why would this be? Are DIO really interested in working on this?

TAG believe we are deep into egocentric decision making territory and bad faith engagement…to that end we have an active Parliamentary Ombudsman complaint against Mark Ludlow for failing to respond to the solicited report.

DIO are getting a lot of negative press…could you do a positive post on social media?

We would not consider for one minute holding DIO and its staff to account as negative press but see it as a civic duty to act, to hold public office holders to account for their actions, see unwelcome behaviour corrected and ensure civil servants meet the expectations of standards in public life.

One sad aspect of this encounter is the TSM thought it necessary to ask for a positive post. It highlights the depths DIO have reached in their standing with the local community, and a simple act of helping someone in distress must not become transactional, as good deeds are exchanged for a good news story.

A desire to help others at times of need is part of what makes us human, and is not something to be traded. That aside, we do really (like really, really) appreciate the efforts of the TSM and recognise the issues we all face are generated by the leadership and daft policy, not always the people at the sharp end.

If DIO really do need some positive PR then TAG can quickly act. Implementing the following changes will deliver DIO good news stories by the spadeful:

  • Reinstate access to Ash Ranges and create a warden scheme to work with the community.
  • Install the promised gates at Long Valley
  • Stop using DANGER signs to tell lies and comply with the Ministerial directive to keep Long Valley open when not in use.
  • Issue a formal notice under Section 8.3 confirming cyclists may use the lands and ensure TSMs are fully aware of its existence.
  • Work with TAG to implement the digging proposals.
  • Develop with TAG a long-term educational plan that helps civvies understand military training
  • Ensure Porridge Pots is accessible and add a gate at the northern boundary ensuring the strategic north/south route is restored in full.

Implementing the above could potentially negate the requirement to persue the Parlimentary Ombudsman complaints to their conclusion.

Above all, DIO must recognise there is a society and community that has deep involvement, respect and passion for the lands, and to start to work with them to make the world a better place. Furthermore, the almost unique and highly valued Section 2 of the byelaws – recreational access to all areas at all times when not in use – must become embedded thinking within DIO SE.

Then positive PR will not really be required…it will just be positive all round.

Until then, restoring long term trust in DIO will require a lot more than a fleeting glimpse of positive social media PR.

Kind Words… But No Action

In March 2020 DIO blamed COVID and locked the gates to 340 acres of land at Ash Ranges.

Fast forward to the present and the gates remain locked, except this time DIO have made it clear they are blaming local residents – a letter from Jeremy Quin MP (Minister for Defence Procurement) has been shared by Michael Gove MP informing us vandalism was costing too much.

You can read the full response here:

Instead of punishing the guilty and going after the criminals DIO have elected to impose collective punishment on an otherwise supportive community…a community that were being thanked by MOD Police for their work in a warden scheme.

Yes, you read that correctly.

There might just be a good reason the vandalism was historically lower:

In 2009 MOD Police were writing to local residents thanking them for helping reduce vandalism costs.

Nowadays local residents are more likely to be threatened with arrest or invited to the local police station for an under caution interview, such are the depths DIO have reached in managing community relations.

Disaster? Incompetent? Obstinate? Guilty as charged.

Ash Ranges has acres of safe space – ideal for recreation when not in use and plenty of residents continue to jump the fence when red flags are down

Flash the Taxpayer Cash

It’s easy to look at the headline figures in Quin’s letter, blame residents for breaking things and move on.

Except the figures do not tell the whole story and two sets of costs have been ignored.

Firstly, the quoted figures do not include the spend of £48,166.08 on upgrading the perimeter path. According to DIO this linear path is supposed to compensate for the loss of 340 acres of space and 10 miles of informal tracks and paths.

The path is now flooding and is reverting to a boggy mess while a perfectly good all weather track lies just inside the fence. The spend on maintenance is likely to be ongoing and the locals do not for one minute think the path a fair swap for 340 acres.

Secondly, the DIO figures lack any assessment of the value of outdoor recreation.

Being outdoors and taking exercise is proven to improve both physical and mental health and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport recognise there is a hard cash saving on NHS and GP services. The benefits of a healthy community – something the government is keen to promote – and reduced costs of healthcare are ignored by DIO…or maybe they just missed the memo?

Either way DIO do not measure value, focusing solely cost – we know this because no impact assessment was prepared ahead of closing off Ash Ranges. So whilst DIO will claim a gain and saving, wider society will pay more as the demand for healthcare heads upwards and the final bill is met by the NHS.

DIO can find the cash to upgrade a path and spend nearly £50k in an attempt to placate the community…but no consultation established if a path was needed or wanted. Even when historical evidence supplied by no less than MOD Police exists to demonstrate a warden scheme could work for all do DIO step back and engage?

No, not at all.

For some reason…We are reminded of the classic Blackadder quote:

If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.

Zero Action

Jeremy Quin kept his job during the recent reshuffle. We see this as a good thing; we have a Minister who finally recognises the strength of feeling:

“I can assure you that I am very aware of the strength of opinion and the desire of local residents and the Army to maintain what is a long and very positive neighbourly relationship”

But on the other hand we are faced with precisely zero action from Jeremy when it comes to accountability. DIO are enabled and empowered to persist with a policy of ignoring the Ministerial directive to keep Long Valley open when not in use, and failing to install the promised gates. Good neighbours do not act like an entire community is irrelevant, do they?

So we have a Minister who claims to understand a community and the passion we hold for the lands, but singularly and simultaneously fails to hold Mark Ludlow (DIO SE Security and Access) to account and ensure written commitments are delivered on the ground.

None of this bodes well for a set of byelaws that are fit for purpose, preserving and protecting recreational access. With closed car parks, locked gates and barbed wire topped deterrent fences the signals from DIO are clear; recreational users are unwelcome irrespective of the lands being in use.

The lack of accountability from Ministers may well result in a new set of byelaws that suit DIO perfectly with casual recreation reduced to when they can be bothered to unlock gates. So far Ministers have failed to ensure DIO comply with basics, so what chances do we have with a new legal framework?

Finally, we do not agree with the Minister when he claims:

While in the circumstances it is very hard to mitigate the issues raised around the TA [Closed area]

This is classic over-thinking of a “problem”. The answer to reducing vandalism costs can be quickly resolved by instructing DIO to engage with the local community, reinstate access and start working together.

We know this works – MOD Police letter speaks for itself. This would be a win-win as mental and physical health benefits, reduce direct criminal costs and strengthen goodwill and collaboration between the army and civvies.

After reading this you feel pressing the Minister for some accountability and ensure DIO follow instruction and reinstate access to Ash Ranges then do please raise the matter with your local MP using this link:

Write to Them

Allowing DIO to carry on regardless – as if the community does not exist – may have more long-term consequences than DIO can imagine. Damage to the relationships, loss of goodwill and cooperation will undoubtely escalte if left unchecked.

In the meantime, we have raised the issues of DIO behaviour again with local MPs and we will report back shortly when a response is received.

Taken for Fools

Back in April many in the local community received a letter – ironically dated April 1st – from local MP Ranil Jayawardena.

The letter contained two highly relevant assurances regarding access and use of Long Valley:

  • More access gates and work had been commissioned to address this
  • Officials have been directed to ensure gates are open for public access when not in use.

You can read a copy of the letter here:

DIO have not met either political commitment.

The gates remain wishful thinking and the concept of “in use” is broadly ignored.

We believe now is the time to call the DIO to account and would encourage you to write to your local MP and ask:

  • Why are DIO are permitted to act as if the local community does not exist?
  • Why political accountability with respect to DIO SE staff decisions and (in)actions appears to be weak or non-existent?
  • Why are direct instructions such as “install gates” and “keep it open when not in use” are casually ignored?
  • Where are the promised gates?
  • Why is Long Valley shut when not in use?

If this has piqued your interest, please read on.

Where are the gates?

Currently there are just six pedestrian gates permitting access and they are poorly distributed with three on the eastern side, two along the southern boundary and just one in the west. The north west and north sides have zero access and there is a 5km off-road detour from one gate to the next.

When Ranil’s letter arrived, we wanted to believe the commitments but going on past DIO performance of ignoring anything they didn’t want to do we held off starting the celebrations.

The red arrows indicate where we think the extra gates are required. Please get in touch if we have missed any – we can add them to the list.

All points where gates are needed are popular. They have become subject to “restorative access measures” (we refuse to call it vandalism) as the community assert the promised access. Fitting gates would reduce long-term maintenance and repair and restore access.

After 4 months and no sign of activity we decided it was time to close the loop and find out what planning work had been done so we submitted a Freedom of Information Request – you can read it and the response here.

A gate is needed here. Even when not in use locals resort to climbing the locked vehicle gate. This track is marked on the 1888 Ordnance Survey map and has been in use for decades.

The short answer is no statement of need, no contractor engagement or indeed any sign of work on gates has commenced – DIO hold no information on the matter. Contrary to assurances nothing has happened and the gates remain elusive.

This has all the hallmarks of DIO ignoring a direct political commitment again. Their track record on this behaviour is thoroughly disappointing.

Where is the Access?

Dating back to 2018 the local community has sought and received assurances Long Valley will remain open for recreation when not in use.

Since then DIO have consistently ignored political commitments, including a direct instruction from the Minister for Defence Procurement himself (letter dated July 2020), and have carried on blocking access irrespective of use.

All of the access issues are documented here and here. The persistent closure is not supported by the intent and purpose of Section 2 of the Byelaws and DIO remain unaccountable for their actions.

The warning signs continue to convey worthless information for most of the time and from the booking on/off records between September 2020 and January 2021 we know the lands remained empty for extended periods, or just a tiny fraction of the 960 acres was occupied for part of the time. Of the 320 hours of locked gates during February just 34 hours were booked out and in use.

The signs do not convey accurate information for the majority of the time and have failed the basic standards we should expect.

With the Long Valley signs now demonstrated to lie more than tell the truth the local community have elected to express their frustration with some plain speaking stickers

Who are the Instructed Officials?

DIO is an official body, but it is individuals who represent it take the decisions – and ignore the instructions – that impacts all of us.

So we think it’s time those who spent £250,000 of taxpayer money preventing access at Long Valley are named. Of all the DIO staff involved there are two whom we believe to be directly responsible;

  • Mark Ludlow – Training and Safety Officer (Security and Access)
  • Lt Col Dickie Bishop – Commander, South East Training Estate

These two individuals have track record of seeking to exclude recreation – closing car parks, removing access at Ash Ranges, installing deterrent fences – we firmly believe both Mark and Dickie find the idea of recreational access very difficult to accept in practice or principle, despite what the Byelaws say. Their actions suggest their intent is to make access (the “Access” part Mr Ludlow’s job title) or as difficult as possible, even when the lands are empty.

If you have read this far, we would encourage you to write to your local MP and ask the questions we posed at the top of this article.

Who are the Fools?

What is regrettable is how a local community – one that cares passionately about the lands – is held at arm’s length at best and ignored at worst. How DIO have behaved over the closure of Ash Ranges is a perfect example of how not to “engage” with the community yet accountability remains absent.

Based on sound evidence this sign at Long Valley can be accepted as telling the truth. Contrast this with the DANGER signs, which for most of the time display misleading or irrelevant information and are perpetuating lies.

DIO prevent access without good reason whilst failing to balance the positive outcomes recreational use brings with a minimal risk. Mental and physical health is improved with recreational access, with a positive reduction in demand for NHS & GP appointments coupled with the simple joy of living in a happier, healthier community.

This is not something TAG are making up – the government acknowledge, and numerous scientific reports agree recreation in open space is a very good thing with positive impact on high demand health issues such as obesity, diabetes, depression. These very issues that impact all of us fail to register in DIO for we know Ash Ranges was closed without any consideration or care.

So whilst the date of Ranil’s letter is likely to be coincidental its very clear who the fools are in this game. Unless and until DIO are held to account the local community will remain ignored and treated as fools.

Setting the Record Straight

At times DIO can appear benign and at times charming, acting as if we are welcome to use the lands. The recent “Respect the Ranges” video even goes as far to spell it out:

“We very much welcome the public coming to use the estate but at the right time and when it’s safe for them.”

As we will see, the tricky bits for DIO are twofold. Firstly, accepting Aldershot Byelaws and Section 2 exists and is (nearly) unique with the wide ranging casual recreational access it grants appears difficult. Secondly, figuring out a rational and objective definition of “safe” does appear to be a challenge.

Yet even with a broad statement here in the South East the concept of “welcome” remains elusive. TAG have now raised and escalated a complaint regarding the approach and attitude of the Training Area Safety Marshals (TSM).

We have recent reports from dog walkers and mountain bikers documenting an overtly hostile attitude that ignores the cycling agreement, does not respect the byelaws and is making it clear DIO would rather see recreation removed. One TSM went as far as expressing a desire to fence the entire area and ban recreation at all times.

Just how welcome are we?

A DIO “Welcome” to the estate – making it as difficult as possible irrespective of use. DIO are on the record as saying this gate at Long Valley is acceptable for cyclists and horse riders. On this we disagree and its not hard to see why.

Isolated Incidents? Or Pattern of Behaviour?

Regrettably its not the first time TAG have raised concerns.

Many will be unaware of an incident back in 2019 at Beacon Hill when a DIO representative decided it was appropriate and acceptable to shout foul and abusive language at children. To their credit DIO acted upon that complaint and one of the positive outcomes was the 2019 agreement that cyclist were to be welcomed (see the Facebook post).

However, since early 2020 a steady stream of complaints has been reported into TAG, each telling riders they can only use the fire roads and a dog walker was advised the area was dangerous because there were trip hazards. At no time was military training underway…its very much a “get off our land” approach that really does ignore the principles of Section 2 of the Byelaws.

The gates and 5kms of barbed wire topped deterrent fence are a welcome sight – if you happen to be DIO and want to see recreation blocked at all times irrespective of use. We now know from analysis of booking on/off records Long Valley was used just 10% of the time it was closed.

We see all of this as a softening up of the public ahead of the byelaws consultation, encouraging all of us to accept restrictions before the new laws actually apply. But without hard evidence things remain a they-said-I-said argument and the issues triggered remain unresolved.

What was needed was some hard and verifiable evidence.

Hard Evidence

We now have a 14 minute recording of an exchange between a mountain biker and a TSM.

You can have a read of the conversation highlights and analysis here:

There were so many misguided, inaccurate and just plain wrong assertions – up to and including threatening arrest – that its clear to us that DIO and their staff are relying on ignorance and bluster to encourage compliance to non-existent sections of existing or yet-to-be consulted on byelaws.

TAG have an in-progress complaint intending to address this but in the meantime we have put together a little guide to help.

A Guide to Reality

What follows is a layman’s guide to help anyone who is stopped to help counter the TSM & DIO view of reality. The comments are all based on quotes or feedback.

Anyone in uniform can enforce the byelaws.

This really depends on who is wearing the uniform. Lets look at who can:

  • A serving officer or NCO.
  • MOD or civil police.
  • Anyone authorised in writing General Officer Commanding, Army District or Officer in Charge of Military Lands.

So a TSM (who is a civilian) must possess and be able to produce written authority. Anyone lacking authority is unable to enforce the byelaws.

However, there is some doubt over the existence of the roles mentioned in the byelaws, and a later piece of law (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984) may have removed the powers of arrest from individuals such as a TSM entirely (Update: we have two contradictory FOI responses, one saying both roles are defunct and a later one saying one is active…we are checking…).

Either way, if you are stopped the TSM should be able to produce written authority to let the conversation proceed and asking to see copy is a perfectly reasonable request.

If you are stopped by the army then it will be for good reason(s). Military training takes priority and following their instruction is part of being a responsible user of the lands and everyone should follow the code of conduct. This includes making sure troops have priority and space to train.

Cycling is only permitted on the fire roads.

This contradicts the 2019 agreement between TAG and DIO that makes it clear cycling is permitted on the military lands when they are not in use. There was and remains no mention of any requirement to stick to the fire roads. TAG have never been requested to remove or alter the agreed and published statement and our challenge to DIO over this remains unanswered.

Until TAG are advised otherwise (and we will need an evidence-backed reason(s) to support such a change) we very much see the agreement to cycle as written authority under Section 8(3) of the byelaws and in effect granting cyclists access parity with walkers.

If presented with the “fire roads only” assertion then politely remind the TSM of the 2019 agreement and ask them if they have been informed of its existence. From a limited sample of people who have pointed out the agreement with cyclists it seems unlikely the TSMs have been updated by the leadership.

Perhaps the strongest evidence refuting DIO’s assertion we all need to stick to made up tracks is highlighted in the Respect the Range video – the mountain biker is seen enjoying the space but at no time is seen riding on a fire road.

This area is closed for your safety.

On the face of it this sounds very benevolent and almost caring.

The reality is more about DIO running scared of being sued (spoiler alert – no evidence of it happening here) rather than caring about safety.

If there is genuine risk triggered by military training then the statement is valid. But when the lands are empty the space is about as benign as possible. The the risk of harm – even falling down holes – is near zero and for the likes of MTB accepting the risk is part of the reason we ride…the mental and physical challenges posed deliver benefits far in excess of any downside.

It may seem unbelievable but falling down a hole has been given as good reason to close access to 340 acres at Ash Ranges. The holes in question are a) tiny and b) marked with a warning signs. The risks are mitigated but DIO reality means they remain a concern, particularly those who “cannot read”. For those who genuinely cannot read the text is accompanied with a graphic…no, we are not making this claim up.

Its not just holes that trigger concern for our well being. Trip hazards – tree roots – have been cited as why DIO don’t like people taking recreation on the lands. Ash residents were quick to point out the canal lacks any warning sign…and people are encouraged to walk alongside it…

Should a TSM claim “Heath and Safety” then remind them that only applies to those at work and not to anyone using the lands for recreation, and there is no provision in the byelaws to prevent access on the grounds of public safety – only the presence of military training can justify closure.

If you are stopped and told to leave due to military training nearby then comply but please make a note of the date, time and precise location. We can verify any TSM claim by checking the booking on/off records for the area – just like we have done for Long Valley.

When in use this place is lethal as its looking at the pointy end of loaded guns. When not in use the risk of harm drops to near zero yet DIO maintain its closed for “safety” reasons – such as falling down holes. The nearest hole to fall into from this point is about 500m away.

My boss said “appetite to risk” has changed. Its above my level. I’m just doing my job.

From a TSM perspective the statement is factually correct and feels like a get-out-of-jail-free card, blaming someone else who isn’t there for the situation.

However, we have yet to see evidence of any waiver available to a TSM (or indeed anyone at DIO) that excuses them from adhering to the Seven Principles of Public Life.

Or in other words, it does not really matter if the boss asks you to work outside what the the byelaws say or to ignore things such as the 2019 cycling agreement. Failing to uphold standards is an individual matter as much a corporate responsibility.

Col Cook is on record of saying DIO’s “appetite to risk” had changed but to date the statement has not been backed up with evidence and to this day remains outside of standards of accountability, objectivity, transparency, trust and ultimately, leadership.

Blaming the chain of command does not absolve anyone and TSMs must uphold the minimum expected standards of public life.

The MOD/DIO grants permissive access.

We can deal with this one really quickly. The MOD/DIO does not grant permissive access.

Section 2 of the byelaws – a law that is ultimately enabled by Parliament – grants recreational access to all areas the Aldershot lands and at all times unless it’s in use for military training.

The anti-social elements who [leave dog mess/ride bikes/start fires etc] will mean MOD will permanently remove access.

With 59,000 hours of successful recreation per week* the vast majority of visits leave zero trace, whilst at the same time the byelaws (plus others) contain the means to punish the guilty.

Closing access on the actions of an absolute tiny minority would fail any rational test of objectivity – one of the principles of public life and office – and applying collective punishment would be considered unacceptable.

Whilst the threat sounds very real, in reality a more balanced, objective and rational view would be expected and required.

*See the Community use survey reports:

This area is closed off. We told you its closed off.

Currently three areas are closed off, either permanently or part time; Ash Ranges complex (permanent but widely ignored by locals), Long Valley (part time but restrictions widely ignored) and Porridge Pots/Deepcut (as per Long Valley).

If stopped in these areas the TSM may start to assert the area is closed and no one can be there. We are now dealing with the most contentious issue; what powers do DIO possess to close access even when the lands are empty and not in use?

Can DIO close areas because they want to? For health and safety? To stop vandalism?

The short answer we think is “None whatsoever” and only the persistent presence of military – like Gibraltar or Keogh Barracks – dictates and permits public exclusion on a 24/7 basis.

However, DIO maintain they can close an area off whenever they like and for whatever reason.

We believe none of this meets the purpose and intent of Section 2 of the byelaws, nor meets minimum public standards for objectivity, transparency, accountability or truth.

When pressed not even the Minister for Procurement (Jeremy Quin MP) could offer sound legal opinion that clearly demonstrated DIO had the powers to restrict access at all times irrespective of use.

If military training is genuinely underway (again, note date/time/location – we can validate any claim) then you must leave the soldiers alone. If the lands are empty then there remains a big question mark over the TSM’s powers and DIO’s interpretation.

Our friends at Save Our Spaces are fundraising with the intent getting legally qualified advice on this point – please chip in and support their fundraiser if you can as any view will apply beyond the boundaries of Ash Ranges.

It’s MOD land and we can do what we want with it.

We can only give half marks for this statement.

Yes, its MOD land but the space comes under an Act of Parliament (1892 Military Lands Act) and a set of Byelaws. MOD are beholden to the law as much as we are and Section 2 exists as much to permit recreational access as to preserve it. Therefore DIO are expected to uphold and respect access at all times when not in use and they cannot do what they want with it.

Gather The Evidence

If there is a genuine need to intervene no one will ever object to a TSM doing their job. They are there to help troops train and if that means stopping recreational users from interfering in an exercise then we can and must do we can to support that.

So we fully respect TSMs have a job to do and we ask that everyone affords them the utmost courtesy as they go about their work on the lands.

However we cannot support intervention when none is necessary, particularly when accompanied by any low level hostility towards recreational users. Nor can we support TSMs – or indeed anyone at DIO – who is unable to meet the basic principles of standards in public life. Nor can we accept a draconian “hostile environment” interpretation of Section 2 of the byelaws and DIO’s attempts at preventing us accessing the lands even when empty.

The recording has proved a rich source of evidence and enabled us to directly challenge the belief system that perpetuates within DIO. The more examples of these we have the better as we think it will demonstrate the issues go beyond the individual level and deeper into a culture that refuses to respect Section 2 of the byelaws, or is acting on a desire to bring the Aldershot areas into line with the rest of the MOD estate.

It may come as a surprise but Section 2 of the Aldershot byelaws is just one of two examples from the hundred or so military byelaws and its presence is perhaps seen as a massive inconvenience and loss of control for an organisation used to dealing in and very much preferring…control.

To be clear; we believe bringing Aldershot in to line with the rest of the MOD estate will prevent casual recreation at all times irrespective of being in use. The lands could be closed at a whim or when the risk appetite changes and access will be prevented at all times and the current approach is risk adverse in the extreme whilst lacking any balance that recognises the physical and mental health benefits access delivers to the community.

Back in May last year TAG called for protection of access to feature in the new byelaws for this very reason.

So, if you can and are comfortable with recording please preserve any encounters with TSMs. Easily identified, they will typically be dressed in combat fatigues, wear a high-vis jacket and drive a distinctive white pickup with red bonnet and doors. They should not be confused with Landmarc staff, who are an altogether more engaging and friendly bunch.

It is highly unlikely TSMs will appreciate being recorded and may start to raise objections.

To counter any insistence the recording stops, the following guidelines should apply:

  • You do not have to tell anyone you are recording
  • We believe there is a very strong defence of “public interest” for recording and subsequent publication
  • TSMs carry body cameras – their actual use appears to be infrequent – and filming is not their exclusive right
  • If a TSM records you then the material can be requested under a Subject Access Request
  • There is no provision in the byelaws to prevent filming or recording
  • The evidence gathered is irrefutable – no one can argue over what was said

If you do happen to record an encounter we would love to hear from you – do please get in touch using our Facebook page.

And Finally…

We would rather see a community working in collaboration with DIO, working together to achieve the common goals of making sure the military lands can support the training needs of a modern army whilst at the same time enabling casual recreational access at all times when not in use.

There is much we could do…and should do. The “Be like Pete” litter pick on Caesars Camp shifted 10 bags of rubbish off the lands and is just one example where we can all do our bit. There is a lot we could do with education on everything from why the wildlife is special to making sure everyone knows its a minimum distance of 100m between soldiers using pyrotechnics and a civilian.

The potential is there and remains both untapped and massive. The passion the community feels for the space is a latent force – a causal read of the Recreational Users Survey should make that clear – but remains formally unrecognised.

For now collaboration remains elusive and our political leaders seem unwilling or unable to issue enabling direction to DIO. When direction is clear DIO remain at liberty to ignore it.

It can be difficult to remain optimistic at times.

Signs And Lies

Since 2018 three areas of the Aldershot lands have been permanently fenced. In the extreme access to Ash Ranges was removed entirely, alienating the local community who continue to press for access to be restored.

The other areas subject to fencing are Long Valley (known as B4) and Porridge Pots (G2). From the initial Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) in 2018 that exposed the plans to fence the complaints stacked up. Political assurances were duly issued making it clear recreational access would continue when not in use.

Except that didn’t happen.

DIO shut the area off and then kept it closed 24/7 contrary to the intent of Section 2 of the byelaws and ignoring political assurances. DIO have now spent close to £250,000 of taxpayer cash at Long Valley alone trying their utmost to make recreation as difficult as possible.

It took 18 months of regular audit, political pressure and creative thinking by TAG to compel DIO to meet bare minimum standards.

In 2020 access problems deteriorated with more fencing – extending to 5kms of barbed wire topped deterrent fence with no gates – triggering more complaints.

In the end the Minister for Defence Procurement (Jeremy Quin MP) issued a ministerial directive in July 2020 instructing DIO to maintain recreational access when not in use.

This statement has been repeated as recently as March 2021 in letters sent by the local MP Ranil Jayawardena.

Yet still problems persist, and whilst we say “DIO” a lot the root of the issues boils down to people who make decisions that impact the community.

We believe the individual responsible for making sure the gates are locked even if there is nothing or very little going on is Mark Ludlow (Training Safety Officer – Security and Access) and his boss, Lt Col Dickie Bishop (Commander, South East Training Estate). From the closure at Ash Ranges we know impact to the local community does not factor into their decision making and are maintaining a hostile environment towards recreation.

Persistent Lockout

Since late last year TAG have been aware of extended periods of zero or very minimal use at Long Valley with the gates remaining locked. We are also aware of similar issues at Porridge Pots with gates left locked and zero training underway…not for an odd hour but for days at a time.

So we raised another Freedom of Information request asking for the booking on/off records for several areas for the month of February; Porridge Pots, Long Valley, Caesars Camp and Beacon Hill.

If you are not into stats then we can summarise it right now:

  • Long Valley was closed for 326 hours but in use for just 34hrs 20mins.
  • On one day Long Valley was used for 2hrs 19mins but the gates remained locked for 24hrs
  • Porridge Pots saw 5 days of locked gates and no activity
  • Caesars Camp and Beacon Hill saw more booking on/off activity than Long Valley

Before we go any further, a quick reminder;

No one is objecting to military training. The army get absolute priority and the need to train is recognised. It remains our collective and individual responsibility to give troops space to train.

Equally, no one is objecting to flexibility of training and recognise things change and often at short notice. But we also recognise locked gates and empty spaces prevent recreational users from being flexible and “going the other way” when training is underway in unfenced areas.

We can all follow signs and instructions if there is trust in what we are being told…we really wanted a system of safety to work for all but in reality the notices regularly cry wolf and trust is now zero…no one likes being lied to and thats exactly what the signs are doing.

We also have some deeper concerns seeing an organisation such as DIO wilfully ignoring not only a ministerial directive but actively working against the principles and intent of the byelaws. How can civil servants such as Mark Ludlow ignore a clear instruction? Remember, this isn’t a one-off event but a pattern of behaviour lasting nearly 3 years. It’s a persistent problem.

A Deeper Look

If you want to know more and see for yourself, you can download and review our analysis of Long Valley use in February here:

The fenced area at Long Valley covers close to 1000 acres and has roughly 48kms of trails running through it, not counting the main vehicle test tracks. Yet we see only a fraction of the area in use – typically the Eelmoor road loop – triggering gate closure.

Eelmoor accounts for just 4% of the total area and is over a mile from the gates on the western side. Only a few trails exit onto the tarmac and the space is easy to avoid. On that basis the closure of the entire area based on a tiny fraction of usage is hardly proportionate.

The reference to “Chainsaw Training” is – we believe – not correct but if it were the risk assessment insisting on 1000 acres of space must be a massive overkill. We have our suspicions about what “Chainsaw Training” actually means, but if you happen to have seen any on the dates in question…do please get in touch and let us know..

We do know DIO are risk-adverse in extremis and the basic risks such as falling down holes* are a real concern for them. But is 1000 acres really needed for chainsaw training – who are they trying to fool?

Ignorance is Bliss

At Porridge Pots DIO have installed a sign:

Problem is, only 50% of the lines of text are telling the truth.

The “MILITARY BYELAWS APPLY” bit is correct and true. The lands do indeed come under the Aldershot Military Lands Byelaws.

The “NO ENTRY” statement is encouraging everyone to stay away, but this sign is trying to stop people using Porridge Pots – an area that comes under Section 2 of the byelaws and has received repeated political assurances that recreation will be permitted at all times when not in use.

It’s a very crude attempt to try and deny legitimate recreation by trying it on with a little bit of fear and intimidation thrown in to make the sign look scary.

DIO up the ante at Long Valley with this:

Proclaiming “DANGER” and “MILITARY TRAINING IN PROGRESS” sounds very official and serious.

Except we now know the signs are not always telling the truth – far from it – and have been guilty of lying since the very first day they were used.

Again the reference to the byelaws is printed on the notice.

But what part of Section 2 and recreational access at all times when not in use – does DIO struggle to understand?

DIO very much remain dependent on our ignorance to impose changes and apply false interpretation. We have a sneaking suspicion they are either a) exceptionally ignorant of what the current byelaws actually say (More on this soon…much more…) and simply make things up that suits their own agenda, or b) are simply expressing what powers the new byelaws will grant them in the hope no one will notice and if they do zero accountability will follow.

Yet at the same time DIO will go to great lengths to paint a positive picture and are on record to claim that access to Long Valley in particular is a cyclist and equestrian utopia. In realit gates are scarce and none meet the minimum standards for horse riders.

The recent Respect the Ranges video goes as far to say:

“We very much welcome the public coming to use the estate but at the right time and when it’s safe for them.”

But let’s be honest; a 5km stretch of barbed wire topped deterrent fence with exceptionally limited and locked gates cannot in any way be described as “welcome”. DIO’s intent with the fenced areas is clear…Maybe Mark Ludlow didn’t get the multiple memos?


In absence of any rational explanation we are at a loss to understand why a department of the Ministry of Defence can disregard the intent of the byelaws and – perhaps more important – why Ministers such as Jeremy Quin are comfortable with civil servants ignoring clear instructions?

TAG have raised a series of complaints regarding access issues with both DIO and the Minister.

To date no acknowledgement or response has been received. The process of accountability is painfully slow and has been escalated to the Ministerial Correspondence Unit.

Currently our hopes for accountability measured against The Seven Principles of Public Life are not high as we remain witness to MOD marking its own homework, but rest assured TAG will remain on the case. Our local MP Ranil Jayawardena has already given his support for escalation if necessary.

Adding your voice to the complaints would be appreciated. Please feel free to quote this post and write to your MP using this link.

*We are not making this up. Being unable to read a warning sign and falling down a hole is on record as an unacceptable risk. Literacy rates in the UK are exceptionally high and the warning sign in question carried a graphic to add further explanation.

Revealed – Byelaws Intent

Finally, after many delays the new Aldershot byelaws may be revealed and the review to commence. They have been “imminent” for a long time and twice start dates have been suggested…only to consultation to fail to start.

But back in December DIO let slip their intent and their plans for the byelaws and recreational access was revealed.  You can read the minutes here in section 2.

It does not make comfortable reading and directly contradicts the repeated Ministerial assurances…it is not the MOD’s intention to limit lawful use… asserted again only last week in a letter to local residents.  

Protection? Or Problem?

From what we know, DIO are intending to define two distinct designations:

Protected Areas that are closed to unauthorised persons and;

Controlled Areas where access is only permitted when the area is not being used for military training.

Our reading is that today (setting aside for one moment DIO’s apparent disregard for Section 2 of the current byelaws) all the areas we enjoy now are likely to fit into the Controlled Areas definition. 

The greatest concern is Protected Areas.

DIO go on to explain why these areas are deemed necessary:

ML provided background information, explaining the problems involved with balancing wider public access and the legislative requirement to protect SSSI, SPA and other ecological areas across the estate.

Without sight of the proposed bylaws we do not have a clear picture, but with DIO’s “hostile environment” approach towards recreational access (closed car parks, ignoring the 2019 agreement on cycling as two examples) coupled with an unwillingness to respect Ministerial commitments, we feel that a reasonable summary is that the presence of wildlife-protecting designations will be used to prevent the recreational access at all times when not in use. 

The presence of wildlife-protecting designations will be used (abused) to prevent the recreational access at all times when not in use. Protected Areas will be imposed under the banner of protecting wildlife to permanently remove our access to the lands irrespective of actual use for military training.

Protected Areas could be imposed under the banner of protecting wildlife to permanently remove public access to the lands irrespective of actual use for military training. 

This raises the question “How much of the lands enjoy current protection?” Let us consider the current situation. 

Access in 2018

Until the fencing went in at Long Valley and Porridge Pots, and Ash Ranges was open when not in use recreational access can be illustrated by this map:

The areas in dark red are zero access areas; ranges or Rushmoor Arena. The light red areas were, as of 2018, open for recreation when not in use for military training

The spaces in light red represent approximately 12,500 acres of open space that, under the stated intent of Section 2 of the Aldershot Byelaws, are open for recreation at all times when not in use.

Access Today

Fast forward to 2021 and we can see some changes:

Same map as previous with overlay – the purple areas represent lands lost to casual recreation, either permanently or for extended duration

Based on the experience at Ash Ranges DIO will close access with impunityand then refuse to engage with the public leaving the local community reduced toresorting to a potential legal challengeand demonstrates DIO’s attitude and example as a good neighbour. 

Long Valley is a case in point; It took 18 months of audit and political lobbying to see DIO partially meet Ministerial assurances of the land being available for recreation when not in use for military training. This is an ongoing issue and TAG have an open complaint with examples of extended periods of closure being applied when the lands are empty. 

The locations of closed car parks are not marked but the intention is clear; DIO do not want recreational users on the lands and are prepared to ignore Section 2 of the byelaws and Ministerial directives to achieve that aim. 

SSSI Protected Areas

If the stated intent of Protected Areas is the creation of authorised access only nature reserves, just how much space is at stake?

Using the DEFRA Magic Map Application online tool allows anyone to view all sorts of information about the natural world with an Ordnance Survey map as a background – you can check it out yourself here.

We were interested in two things; Aldershot Military Lands and wildlife designations, such as Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Here’s what it revealed:

Aldershot training areas with SSSI overlaid as green hatching

Therefore the short answer to “how much” is “pretty much all of it. To the north the military lands butt up against the trails of Swinley Forest, which like its military neighbour is designated SSSI. 

If DIO are permitted to close recreational access to the lands to “protect SSSI, SPA and other ecological areas across the estate” then will the Crown Estate follow suit?

Probably not, but not shown on the map are other areas that benefit from SSSI protection AND freely allow public access:

  • Fleet Pond
  • Eversley Wood
  • Yateley Heath Wood
  • Yateley Common
  • Bagshot Heath
  • Wildmoor Heath
  • Blackwater Valley SSSI
  • Heath Lake SSSI

There are plenty of cases and spaces where people and wildlife can and do mix,

Based on the experience at Ash Ranges DIO will close access with impunityand then refuse to engage with the public leaving the local community reduced to resorting to a potential legal challenge and clearly demonstrates DIO’s attitude and example as a good neighbour. 

Potential Losses

A worst case view, with current and potential losses combined:

The combined view of already lost plus designated areas with potential to be Protected Areas.

The concerns is that over a period of time DIO would have the potential and firm legal basis to remove massive areas that today are free to enjoy with responsible recreation when not in use for military training.

Even when constrained by existing byelaws and political instruction DIO cannot be trusted as shown with spending £36,000 on 820m of fence at Long Valley to protect a “high value training area” but what protection does Long Valley need when faced with nothing more than recreational use? Just how can public funds be spent when the impact is a loss of access at all times irrespective of use and there is zero consideration for public access in the plan? 

The Data. The Facts.

IIt is disappointing to conclude public exclusion is DIO’s intent. From the Byelaws Review Recreational Surveys  (You can read them here: Surrey Heath, Aldershot and North East Hampshire) we know very few are a “single activity” user of the lands…dog walking one day, cycling the next…and 30% of respondents listed “wildlife watching” as part of theirenjoyment of the lands. On this basis it feels wrong to exclude people from the landscape, but the experience from Ash Ranges is indicative of an uncaring DIO.

But then again, should we really be surprised? Towards the latter half of last year DIO went to great lengths to explain to TAG why cyclists must stick to the fire roads – the quoted reason was it was “driven by the requirements of wildlife legislation” backed up with them supplying a copy of Natural England’s document   Scientific research into the effects of access on nature conservation: Part 2: access on bicycle and horseback  tto support their arguments.

For those who care about the lands its an interesting read, if a little light on relevant evidence. TAG do not understand why DIO forwarded such a document with so much positive to say about cycling. 

TAG were left wondering why DIO forwarded such a document as there was as much positive to say about cycling. The report acknowledged damage to ground nesting bird nests by cyclists is rare and other recreational users likely responsible for harming sand lizard eggs, to name but two relevant points.

TAG found the document encouraging but when we shared our enthusiasm with DIO they denied that the document would form or guide policy.

If the damage to SSSI is so great then why not prosecute those responsible today? DIO have acknowledged such laws and powers exist, yet cannot or will not see them applied to protect the space – something we would all support. To claim the lands require greater protectionwhilst not taking action under the currently available laws is disingenuous. 

The truth is no one bothers to ride on the really sensitive areas. They are physically hard work and when faced with literally hundreds of alternative tracks and trails there is no point when its easy to get from A to B on any number of established and often narrow (less harm) routes.

Summary and Action

The devil of the new byelaws will very much lie in the details of what they say and what power(s) it gifts to DIO. We have only seen a hint of what is possible, but clearly it flies directly in the face of every political and Ministerial assurance to otherwise limit or restrict recreational access.

The minutes of the meeting may be an expression of what powers they think are needed…or it is already in the draft byelaw. 

We do not know for sure but we do know that DIO is unwilling to engage with TAG. It requires constant political attention and this is both tedious and expensive in everyone’s time. TAG has resorted to maintaininga “DIO Statement Fact Checking Sheet” whereby every utterance is subject to close examination for evidence of the truth. Currently the list stands at 58 entries and it makes disappointing reading both from a taxpayer and public user perspective. Collated by TAG and the Ash Ranges residents behind Save our Spaces the document will be published shortly and allow the public to reach their own conclusions. 

Based on this we are very hesitant to believe DIO meet all of the seven principles for public bodies, as set out in the Nolan Report – more on this very soon.

We are also keenly aware of just how hostile DIO are towards recreation today. A byelaw that enhances and enables the loss of recreational space will see the takeover and loss of space complete.

What can we do? DIO do seem to ignore politicians but we know they do not like being held to scrutiny

Please write to your MP and make it absolutely clear you do not support any attempt to remove casual recreational access when the lands are not in use for military training.

As ever you can use the following link:

Write to your MP – Raise your concerns

Denied Access – Fencing and DIO

One aspect of the military lands we cherish is the freedom to roam when they are not in use for military training. The responses to the byelaws survey show this is a widely held view and that casual access is seen as a valuable resource for mental and physical health by the local community.

This value is eroded when access restrictions such as fences or total exclusion are imposed especially when the lands remain empty and unused by the military. 

We have pressed both DIO and MOD to explain what powers they are exercising to erect fences to limit and block access when the lands are not in use. To date we have not received a satisfactory answer and they are now refusing to engage further.

DIO refer these barriers to access as “Deterrent Fences“. They work 24/7 365 days a year deterring responsible recreation at all times irrespective of wether the land is being used for training, or not. These fences are the polar opposite of the often repeated political mantra stating there is “no intention to further restrict public access”.

To date over £250,000 of public money has been spend on recreational deterrent at Long Valley alone.

The Legal View

Recently TAG received a piece of pro bono legal advice from a top law firm. They were asked to examine the Aldershot byelaws, in particular Section 2 (recreational when not being used for military training) and were asked what powers this gave DIO to block access.

It’s legally technical but DIO do have the power to restrict access but only when the lands are subject to extended and heavy use for military training, typically on a 24hrs a day/7 days a week /365 days a year basis. 

In areas such as Keogh and Gibraltar Barracks fencing for security makes sense. These areas are indeed subject to year-long use.

For the remainder of the training estate the legality of fencing and restrictions are less clear. There are no areas subject to heavy use with Long Valley, Ash Ranges and Porridge Pots seeing extended periods where the military are absent, yet the gates remain locked. In Long Valley the lack of gates along the southern, northern and western boundaries  are causing access difficulties irrespective of use. Here deterrent fences extend for 2.25 and 1 mile respectively, blocking access (and exit) at all times.

We know the courts and judges don’t generally think that the legislature includes meaningless words in statutes. We can conclude from “when not being used for military purposes” that these words are intended to convey purpose and intent and would not be added without good reason – to protect access.

Powers Exceeded

Simply, there is no other reason – apart from military use – that can close access and the lands must be subject to heavy use to fully justify fences or complete loss of access.

We believe DIO have overstepped their powers and that erecting fences and loss of access when not in use for military training are incompatible with the moral and legal intent of the byelaws. 

How much DANGER is present if the lands are empty? A quick answer is “not much” yet DIO persist in blocking access for extended periods when the lands are not in use.

Nor do we believe it’s the first time DIO have shown disregard for the law, with a claim for breach of copyright and issues with data protection legislation expected to start soon.

In the short term we will continue to press the case with DIO. Over the last three years we have seen loss of access when the lands are empty and we are approaching the first anniversary of the closure of Ash Ranges. We believe it is high time these errors are corrected.

The Long View

This raises longer-term concerns.

Last year TAG called for byelaws that were fit for purpose and offered protection against loss of recreational access. It now appears protection has been inherent, yet seemingly ignored by DIO.

Can an organisation that blocks access without good reason, and on the face of it disregard the law, be considered fit for purpose to deliver and work within byelaws that preserves and protects recreational access? 

Long Valley at sunset with gates locked and the space unused. Here fencing blocks access 24/7 for 2.25 and 1 mile respectively. Access must be preserved so please take a moment and write to you MP asking for additional gates.

Over the years DIO has been increasingly hostile to casual recreation, going the extra mile to make access as difficult as possible with fencing and car park closures making it clear that the contents of the byelaw consultation will need very careful review. 

We fully respect the needs of the army and understand their training always must take priority…no one would want to disrupt those who serve…but as the byelaw makes clear when the lands are empty they must be easy to access and permit recreation for all, not just those who are willing to climb a fence.

Time for Action

If fences and loss of access have impacted you do please take a moment to write to your MP and raise your concerns. This issue is currently on the political agenda and your voice will count. Writing adds to the numbers seeking accountability and helps us press politicians for accountability and the changes we seek.

You use this link to quickly pen an email to your MP:

Write To Them

Simply explain the value of access and what it means…and ask why DIO are permitted block access at all times even if the lands are not in use…and when the byelaws says otherwise.

Stopped On The Lands – Guidance On What To Do


Since March this year we have received persistent reports from riders who have been stopped by Landmarc or DIO representatives to be told either “cycling is against the byelaws” or “cycling is only permitted on made up tracks”. 

This policy is at odds to the jointly agreed statement issued by TAG and Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) in July 2019 (see this link to our Facebook Page post).

TAG had not been informed of this change in policy that requires cyclists sticking to the fire roads, nor advised that staff have been instructed to stop cyclists.

Furthermore, no amendments have been requested by DIO either prior to publication or since and so TAG consider the original agreement remains relevant.


We have challenged this recent change in policy and its purpose. Various reasons have been given – mostly due to wildlife legislation protecting the lands – but as wildlife laws apply equally to all public use of the lands we cannot consider them reasonable justification to single out cyclists for special treatment.

In spite of requests seeking evidence no documentation has supplied leaving us to conclude the policy is flawed, baseless and without good reason. Other recreational users – walkers, joggers and even horse riders – are not subject to restrictions, so why are cyclists treated as a special case?

We view the timing and introduction of this policy as a potential act of ‘softening up’ the community, preparing them for what new byelaws may or may not permit. If true, this makes a mockery of the forthcoming consultation and draws its legitimacy into question.

We have not been alone in being singled out for special treatment. In 2014 Landmarc/DIO was targeting Farnham Ramblers for organising group walks. With strong national representation the Ramblers prevailed and ended up with a broad agreement with DIO – you can read about it here:


We see the jointly agreed TAG/DIO statement as closely aligned with the Ramblers agreement.

So what are we to do if stopped riding on the lands?

This simple checklist is based on the Ramblers example and is intended to promote reasonable and consistent engagement with DIO and Landmarc representatives:

  • First step is to establish who has stopped your ride. Politely ask for some identity and whom they are representing. Under the current byelaws any person who is not MOD police, a serving officer or NCO must be authorised in writing and asking to see this is not unreasonable. If the individual refuses, politely disengage and continue your ride.
  • Establish why you are being stopped;
    1. If the reason is due to nearby military training then be prepared to change your plans and alter your route if necessary. Ask for advice; seek alternative unused areas and vacate any training area where training is underway using a route that reduces the risks of disturbing troops.
    2. If the reason is given “cycling is against the byelaws” or “you must stick to the made up roads” then politely remind the person that DIO and TAG published a joint statement in July 2019 legitmising responsible cycling on the lands and that the statement made no reference to using made up tracks.
  • If the person remains adamant and insists you leave the lands or must stick to the fire roads then make a note of the location, date and time in addition to the name of the individual. Comply with the request and afterwards please contact TAG and let us know the details.
  • If the situation becomes in any way uncomfortable disengage with the individual and leave the area. Report the occurrence to MOD control room on 01420 483 405 and provide date, time and location of the incident. Afterwards contact TAG and let us know too.

At all times follow the TAG Code of Conduct. Remember we are ambassadors for our sport and we should always uphold high standards of respect for the lands and those who train on them. 


The individuals on the ground will have been tasked by their chain of command and are following a direct order – we have no cause for complaint with them and have some sympathy for anyone simply doing their job and being placed in what may be an uncomfortable situation. At all times maintaining a high level mutual respect will do much to maintain good relations between all concerned so remain polite irrespective of any provocation.

Rest assured we will remain engaged with DOI and we will keep everyone up to date if there are further changes. In the meantime please remember, our collective grievance lays solely at the feet of the individual(s) responsible for what remains an irrational, unreasonable and discriminatory policy towards cyclists.