Opening the Out Doors
A hell of a lot more people have been out in the wilds on their bikes over the last year, say members of Ride Sheffield. And that’s a good thing, they add.
“Some land managers understand there’s a bit of a challenge with all these new people coming in, but see it as an opportunity too,” said John Horscroft.
“There are maybe some people coming in now who don’t understand the countryside as well as other people, but this is our chance to convince these new people that this countryside is a place you’ve got to love and look after, and to support the people who look after it.”
Over recent years, the mountain biking demographic has changed, said Pat Horscroft. Young thrill seekers of the past have grown up to be thoughtful diplomats, conservationists, and partnership developers.
“In the past, mountain bikers were seen as young men full of testosterone,” said Pat, who’s now in her mid 70s after riding the trails of Sheffield for over 15 years. “Now we’re just normal people.”
Si Bowns (Pat and John’s colleague from Ride Sheffield), says last year saw a big increase in people of all ages out on their mountain bikes.
“I’ve been amazed how busy it is, even in the recent atrocious weather,” he said.
Ride Sheffield members have worked with local landowners over many years to help foster a two way understanding, with new riders learning how to respect and take care of local countryside, and land managers realising that off road cyclists are likely to be their allies rather than wheeled vandals aiming to trash the local wildlife on every ride.
“There are some folk who just want a fast descent and don’t care where it is, but I think for the vast majority of riders it’s just about being outside in these beautiful places,” said Si.
One such place is Redmires, where Ride Sheffield have been working with landowners and land managers including Sheffield Council to set up an MTB trail from near Stanage Pole through the old conifer plantation down to Redmires reservoir.
A combination of donations from riders and local companies (including Cotic, Vulcan Engineering and Avanti Conveyors) raised £45,000 to get the trail built, but in December ongoing delays in the planning process led Ride Sheffield to announce a postponement for five years, with some of the funding going to rejuvenate trails at Greno Woods and Lady Canning’s. (They’re also hopeful of a £100,000 bid to the Santa Cruz Pay Dirt fund in California for work on trails and the ‘Be Nice, Say Hi’ respectful riding campaign.)
The new downhill trail would have run parallel to the existing Long Causeway bridleway, but hidden in the trees within Sheffield Council’s Redmires plantation. Most users would have ridden the new trail as an alternative descent as part of a longer day out, said John Horscroft.
But since the planned Redmires trail is within the Peak District, the National Park Authority raised concerns about the effect on wildlife and a potential increase in car traffic.
Storm Doris felled a belt of trees near the proposed trail, which encouraged rare nightjars to nest in the newly open part of the plantation. And this year, Redmires has seen a big influx of walkers, riders, runners and dog walkers taking their daily exercise in one of Sheffield’s wilder environments.
“From the start, we tried to do all this in the right way,” said John Horscroft.
“For example, we had a brilliant night up there with the Sheffield Bird Study Group, when the nightjars were there. We learned a lot from them about how wildlife had been effected by the rise in visitors, and we could explain that rather than having people riding all over the area, the whole point for us is that people want a purpose built trail, which would also reduce cyclists riding down the Long Causeway. It’s about learning from both sides.”
Ride Sheffield have pioneered this approach, John added, resulting in new and improved bridleways to ride, voluntary dig days to maintain bridleways for all users, alongside better understanding of conservation issues by riders on land managed by the Eastern Moors Partnership, the National Trust, Sheffield Council and Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.
“Almost everyone else we deal with gets where we’re coming from, and say how can we make that happen? But it feels like the National Park Authority default to a ‘no’ for this kind of idea,” said Si Bowns.
John Horscroft notes the financial pressure on the Peak District. “They’re the second busiest National Park in the world, and they get a grant smaller than some secondary schools. The Royal Opera House in London gets more than three times as much from the current government as the Peak Park.”
And surely all the new people discovering the outdoors during the pandemic could be great lobbyists for better funding, John added.
Crowds of new visitors really should be seen as an opportunity for conservationists and land managers, said Si Bowns.
“More people want to be outside, and simply saying we don’t have the capacity for that is not the answer,” he added.
“Once the door is opened, you can’t close it again. Nor should we.”