Trails and Wear

Human activity changes the world around us and it should come as no surprise mountain biking has an impact on the planet.

One day the army might want their land back…mud carried off the land is a microcosm of erosion

The good news is comparative studies put mountain biking in the light touch category. Thats not to say others are bad, it’s just we tend to ride in single file and leave narrow tracks. There are a few studies available for download, including this one.

One significant factor is the soil and terrain. Our blessing of light sandy soils equals excellent drainage and year-round riding or walking on the military lands. Try going for a walk or ride on chalk or clay after heavy rain and a swift lesson in geology will be delivered in the form of sticky, heavy mud clinging to your boots or bike. And it won’t wash off in a hurry.

DIO may resent casual recreational access but the real irritation isn’t Section 2 of the byelaws, it’s the underlying geology that rinses clean by just whispering “hosepipe” at the end of a ride. Given the choice who wouldn’t want to go for a winter walk or ride on well drained terrain?

Erosion – But How Much?

But for all the positives of MTB we will have witnessed a trail that is changing by erosion. Rainfall patterns are changing too and short, heavy downpours will run off faster and use gullies to drain…taking with it loose soil. The steeper the slope and straighter trail the greater the runoff and erosion.

Beacon Hill has been subject to erosion. We fully expect DIO to hold up trail erosion as a good reason to ban every cyclist on every trail…and their track record of using rational evidence to set policy will present a compelling but mostly false narrative leaving the decision makers with a view that Caesars Camp will cease to exist as a hill all thanks to MTB if nothing is done.

So what could we do to counter any emotive or egocentric policy setting?

Here at TAG we always fall back on evidence…and there are ways and means of precisely measuring changes caused by erosion with precise surveying tools (thank you to our friends at One Point Basingstoke), a decent camera or drone and some very clever software.

The technique is called photogrammetry and its used for everything from preserving evidence at serious road collisions to documenting shipwrecks.

So we have selected a couple of trails and scanned them in 3D. Click on the link to take a look:

In 3~6 months we can repeat the process and measure the differences. Early results have hinted at some erosion on one trail but its volume is measured as less than a half a wheel barrow load over 6 months. A small group of riders who care (and who don’t?) would have the trail restored in an hour…

This approach will deliver hard evidence that can then be used for two things:

  • Counter any subjective reasoning proposed by DIO to ban mountain biking
  • Tell us how fast the trails are wearing and plan to repair or divert as required.

Objective evidence is one of the principles of Standards in Public Life. It goes without saying we are more than happy to discuss using the best evidence and mitigation of trail damage with DIO, should they choose to engage.

Causing Harm/Closing Trails

There are a couple of trails that are causing concern and our riding is damaging some precious prehistoric remains.

In July 2021 DIO SE received a report entitled “Scheduled Monument Quinquennial Condition Assessment Surveys, Aldershot Training Area, Hampshire”.

For a 15 page report it mentions mountain biking or cycling no fewer than 17 times, and its not always positive. The main concerns over trail damage are occurring on some of the archeology at Caesars Camp, and we do agree there are some changes needed.

At this point we must point out a few things:

  • Its highly likely public money was spent on this report
  • Lt Col Bishop (Commanding Officer) and staff are likely to have sight of the report
  • It took a Freedom of Information request confirm the report’s existence
  • It took a second request to be provided with a copy

At no point in the 6 months between publication and the FOI request has DIO approached TAG to discuss any concerns regarding MTB damage.

We can draw our own conclusions as to why DIO have sat on the report and continued to bear witness to trail damage. Maybe it’s because one area where walkers and cyclists are blamed for damage is exactly the same area where TSMs like to drive their pickups?

The report author didn’t witness a TSM on patrol, but we have some photos showing vehicle tracks damaging the monument, if needed.

If DIO had raised the report with TAG we could have worked together last year to take action to close the trails and prevent more damage. Three trails that cross the ditch and bank are causing erosion to the 2500 year old fort and to prevent damage all we need do is choose not to ride these short sections of trail.

The vegetation will recover and help stabilise the soil. This will prevent further erosion and limit additional damage.

The green area represents the scheduled monument of Caesars Camp. The red trails show the locations of the trails causing harm. All are causing erosion and we need to let the vegetation recover to protect the 2500 year old fort

So this blog post really is an appeal to everyone asking that we individually and collectively stop riding over the ditch and bank of the Iron Age fort at Caesars Camp. It’s a precious piece of our cultural heritage protected by law (its scheduled by English Heritage) and we can do the responsible thing by applying “Do no harm” principles as much as possible.

What we cannot and must not do is repeat DIO’s “do nothing and watch them fail” approach as this hands good reason to anyone who wants to ban MTB to call for exactly that.

In total the trails doing the harm are a mere 327 metres in length. When compared to what else is available in the area – a whopping 109.88 kms for Long Valley and Caesars Camp combined – then its not a major loss.

We have prepared an overview of the trails:

Tracks and trails at Long Valley and Caesars Camp

Update 13th February – a ride yesterday added another 10kms of trails – total distance is now 118.9kms for both areas.

It’s not quite complete but a very good guide as to what is there. You can download a copy here:

TAG are quietly confident the local community cares about the lands. No one is setting out to deliberately cause harm, but once known and identified we can all do the right thing and the thing right and ride elsewhere letting Caesars Camp ditch and bank heal.