Last year we reported how the byelaws would be used to create Controlled Areas where no-one would be permitted to go unless DIO said so. These restrictions were deemed necessary by DIO and we quote them directly:
“…the need to balance the sometime conflicting requirements of enhanced public access with the conservation piece.“
Its unclear what is really meant by enhanced when the current byelaws make it clear access is permitted at all times when not in use? It is also unclear why such draconian restrictions are really needed when the 2600 acres of Pirbright Ranges – a 24/7 no-go area – is already off limits.
We have also seen a recent spate of trail building at Tunnel Hill. This has reportedly been assessed as “criminal damage”.
But TAG see the issues as less clear-cut and the summary might read financial benefits beat principles hands down.. The following post picks into each and examines how DIO themselves treat the lands.
The Conservation Piece
Firstly, we set out what this piece isn’t about. We are not examining how the army use the lands as military training is the primary reason to exist as open space. The army are pretty good custodians and those chemical toilets we see are there to reduce the nutrient load (poo and wee if you are under 7) on the heathland.
The heathland is a rare and important habitat. Well drained sandy soils with low nutrients are what make up most of the military training estate. The underlying geology is very poor agricultural land which is why the army found a huge open space to train at Aldershot in 1854. The area is so special it has an organisation devoted to caring for it – The Thames Basin Partnership – and DIO are listed as a partner.
Three designations protect the lands:
- Site of Specific Scientific Interest – SSSI
- Special Protected Area – SPA
- Priority Habitat – Lowland Heath
The SPA designation is important at this time of year. Ground nesting birds (GNBs in MTB-speak) use the open spaces of the heath to nurture and raise their young. We can all do our bit to help by following the guidance. TAG certainly recognise the value GNBs bring for their presence helps prevent development.
We were surprised to find a filmset plonked on top of the heather at Tunnel Hill. Checking the wildlife designation maps the set is set in an area covered by SSSI, SPA and Priority Habitat.
Worse still, the set is being constructed right at the start of GNB season.
Filming and filmsets earn hard cash. Everyone needs to earn a crust but it’s galling to read DIO wish to block recreational access for conservation reasons whilst allowing commercial activity to do the opposite of what conservation really needs.
Rumour has it George Clooney is directing a film and I bet the birds will appreciate the star studded presence on the common. Or maybe not.
Hypocrisy? We certainly think so. But it gets worse…lets have a look at the trail digging issue.
Shift the Dirt
Before we go into this one…we need to stress the issues of digging trail features cause:
Taking a shovel onto the land with the idea of digging a new jump or building a berm without the landowners permission is going put the sport we love in a very bad light.
A little light trail maintenance that reduces harm and reduces landowner risk isn’t going to trigger a visit by the trail flattening crew but a new gulley jump or step up does not fit into TAG’s code of conduct.
The recent trail building at Tunnel Hill have stepped over the line and deep into creating a problem for the wider MTB community. We hear MOD police taped off the area whilst muttering “criminal damage” and the flattening crew have already paid a visit removing the trail.
But hold on a minute. Are MTB the only users of the lands who shift a bit of dirt?
Setting aside the army again (training primacy rules) we are aware of land users who shift a lot of dirt.
And before anyone thinks we are bashing another user group…rest assured we are not…
Every year the Natterjack Enduro is run in one of the local areas. Last year it was Weavers Down near Bordon and for a couple of years it was run in Long Valley.
When it comes to moving soil these boys and girls can shift more dirt in one lap than the local digging community can move in a year.
The course of the enduro will persist for a long time. The route of the 2018 enduro can still be seen and ridden in Long Valley but watching some of the UK and European champions on our own doorstep comes highly recommended.
But hang on…isn’t there a difference between random trail building and authorised and paid for events?
Yes, very much so.
But seeing the issue of trail building labelled “criminal damage” is particularly galling for TAG volunteers who worked on the DIO-solicited digging area proposals…please read on…
In 2019 Mark Ludlow (Security and
Access) and Lt Cdr Bishop (Commanding Officer) both expressed an interest in seeing digging conducted in a managed way…TAG were tasked with pulling together a proposal for two potential areas…research was done…digger community fellows approached for their views…areas scoped and a report written and delivered.
And then silence.
Not even an acknowledgement of receipt or the report’s existence. The cost to TAG was volunteer time and we remain at a loss to understand how civil servants could treat taxpayers with such contempt.
Had the report been enacted we are confident the lands and our community would be in a different place.
And before anyone runs around repeating the oft heard “cycling is against the byelaws” as a defence for DIO’s behaviour please remember the 2019 agreement between TAG and DIO legitimising cycling on the lands is a very real thing no matter what DIO might be asserting in private.
There is a Parliamentary Ombudsman complaint on DIO’s failures to engage in good faith with the local community working its way through the process. We will report back once we hear its findings.
Back to the issue of enduros and trail diggers shifting the soil…
To reiterate the point…in no way are we opposed to the land being used for an enduro. TAG believes the lands should be accessible to all, including organised motorsport.
But we do not appreciate hypocrisy… double standards are deeply objectionable and TAG firmly believes the Seven Principles of Public Life are considered optional by DIO staff.
Follow the Money
In TAG’s view it seems DIO will give a green light to landscape the grounds or build a film set on top of an SSSI/SPA as long as their palms are crossed with silver.
Recreational access is generally very low impact in these areas but because no one pays then the working presumption is DIO sees the local community as a financial and legal liability?
So to help DIO show there is a financial return on recreational access TAG have a simple proposal.
TAG will pay for everyone’s access and hand over the cash to make everything right and proper.
TAG are suggesting the rate be fixed in perpetuity at just £1 per year.
This token gesture covers the entire community and helps everyone fit into the money talks model of access DIO seem to be endorsing.
TAG will see if the lands can be booked for 12 months on that basis, but we won’t hold our breath.
However, we will be raising the issue of double standards and DIO’s behaviour with our local MPs. We would urge you to do likewise and the usual WriteToThem link makes the process simple and straightforward.