THIS letter is a reply to the letter from Nigel Beaumont (Examiner, February 1) who claims to represent the motorcycling clubs of the Isle of Man, ‘Room for everyone if we all stick to the rules’.
Interestingly, Mr Beaumont calls me a ‘self-styled environmental campaingner’, for what effect, I am not sure. I do support six international charities and environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth UK, the UK Woodland Trust, Save the Children and Action Aid, some for the past 20 or more years.
With a keen need and interest in open spaces and wildlife, I started to walk the hills along the old footpaths when I first settled in the island 22 years ago. I have noted during this time that there has been a marked deterioration in the quality of these paths and tracks over the past 20 years.
Footpaths that were once covered in grass and were easy walking have been ‘grooved-out’ into multiple deep ruts and one ancient footpath in one place reduced to steep-sided rock gully.
Other places have been reduced to a morass of churned up mud that become impassable after heavy rain, or multiple grooves 10 or more in number going off for quarter of a mile across the heath. It quickly became apparent that this was not walkers, or horse riders, or fell runners or mountain bikes, or even hares and rabbits that was doing this damage, but groups of motorbike riders going along these tracks, and very often as is apparent by the damage left behind, off to one side because the track bacame too muddy or grooved-out and difficult to ride a motorbike along it.
Now you are far more likely to come across bikers in the hills than walkers, as the numbers gaining access to the hills seems to increase every year.
One of the worst places that I have come across is The Millenium Way between Sky Hill and Snaefell. This now has ruts up to two feet deep carved into its surface caused by the tyres of bikes and vehicles. Two years ago I watched a motocross biker trying to ride his bike along part of this near Sky Hill. After he had come off his bike about five times he gave up. He managed eventually to turn his bike around with extreme difficulty by dragging the front wheel around the back wheel after he had managed to lift both wheels out of the rut that they were in, and then pushed it back with considerable difficulty to where he had started.
In his letter Mr Beaumont proclaims that ‘we live in a diverse society where people have a variety of interests, and where we need to tolerate others, even where their choice of leisure activity may differ from our own’. At which point in this statement does he say that motorbikes have a right then to carve up an ancient roadway so that it becomes unusable by anyone?
He goes on to quote from the Council of Ministers report received by Tynwald in June 2006: ‘On Practical Measures to Reduce Damage to Upland Areas by Vehicles’. From para 1.4 he quotes: ‘A variety of recreational user groups are entitled to use and enjoy the upland greenway roads, assuming that their activity involves legal and responsible behaviour.’
So is it responsible behaviour then to damage greenways and tracks with multiple ruts to the point where you can no longer walk along them? And when you have done this, to go off into the heath alongside and start carving out new paths that damage the delicate heathland on either side of the original track?
Mr Beaumont goes on to say that ‘. . . confronting people engaged in a perfectly legal activity, somewhere they have every right to be, is perhaps not conducive to mutual tolerance and respect’. This was in response to the fact that when I asked a group of about 20 or more bikers who were riding up and down the Monks Pathway in the summer of 2010 and grooving out the track by continually going up and down it, I asked them whether they were aware or even concerned at the amount of damage that they were doing to this pathway which appears on ancient maps of the island?
One of their number then turned around and told me to ‘F off’ and mind my own ‘effing’ business because they weren’t breaking any law. So beware of confronting these people as to what they are doing because sometimes they do turn nasty and very defensive.
As Mr Beaumont has obviously read and quotes from the 2006 Council of Ministers report on upland damage, he will also have read the opening paragraph to this report (para 1.1): ‘It [ie. the damage] is caused primarily by motorcycles following these old highways over hill land. Where the greenway roads become too churned up and boggy in places, vehicles deviate from the route, widening the track.’
In speaking on behalf of the IoM ACU and motorcycling clubs of the island, he would appear to be trying to defend what is clearly indefensible, by alleging that he has every right to ride upon and damage these tracks simply because he is in the island and they are there. I think that it is time for him to realise that it is a privilege and not a right to be able to ride these tracks, and a privilege that should not be abused.
What he also doesn’t seem to accept and appreciate is that these tracks are usually made from compacted earth and stones, and so are easily damaged.
But they have been there for centuries and many for thousands of years since people started to live upon the island. They have survived all this time relatively intact.
If they are subjected to another 20 years of continual assault by motorbike riders, what state will they be left in then?