These guidelines have been written for clubs, groups or individual mountain bikers who have identified a site or area which they wish to develop as an informal MTB facility. These may include:
- jump spots
- dual slalom
- short self built routes
- north shore constructions
Why shouldn’t we just build and not ask for permission?
OK, you may decide to chance it, but IMBA reckons this is not a good idea.
Our experience is that while landowners may not like the idea of MTB use – they are usually realistic enough to know that it is difficult to stop your activity, and so will generally prefer to work with you as the lesser of two evils. Some though, may be very difficult to work with – so unless you are going to engage in guerrilla warfare (which we don’t recommend), then you may have to look for an alternative site.
Building a trail or site takes a lot of effort, and there is nothing worse than spending months of work developing a site only to find that it has been discovered and ‘dozed by the landowner. So get permission first – not always easy, but worth it in the long run.
Steps to Follow
Step 1: Contact the landowner.
So, you’ve found a site which you want to develop – or perhaps have started to develop, and now want to ‘legitimize’. You now need to contact the landowner.
If it’s on Forestry Commission land, then this should be easy. Go to: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/HCOU-4U4HZV and click on the district you require. This will provide you with contact details to enable you to reach the forester with responsibility for recreation.
On all other land, you may have to do some detective work. If it’s in woodland, then look for signs at the entrance to the access track – you may find details here. Otherwise, you’ll have to ask local householders, or at any local pub, shop, post office or farm.
Probably the best first approach should be by telephone. This allows you to build a rapport with the landowner / land manager, leading to agreeing to meet and discuss your proposals. It would then be wise to write and confirm the details of your conversation.
Step 2. Preparation for your meeting with the landowner.
Have a clear idea of what you would ideally like – but also think about the minimum necessary to make your project viable. It is essential to think through the likely landowner objections in advance and to have prepared a response through trying to understand his likely concerns.
You will also need to decide on who is going to be your group leader, who will be the main point of contact with the landowners – and with group members.
Likely Landowner Concerns:
- Concern 1: Privacy.All land is owned by someone – and private landowners often tend to be less sympathetic than public bodies towards any “illegal” activity on their land. So you are more likely to develop a successful site / route on land owned by local authorities, utilities, major forestry companies or even the National Trust. However, you can never predict what reactions you will get – so ask, and you may be pleasantly surprised with the answer you get back.Many landowners will be extremely reluctant to share their land with anyone – particularly if it does not provide an income source. A good way of understanding this would be to consider your reaction if people came uninvited to play or picnic in your garden.
Suggested solutions:This is a difficult argument to counter – and may require you to persuade the landowner that what you are offering is the least worst option. He will realize that a continual inspection / destruction regime will be expensive and time consuming operation to carry out.
- Concern 2: Public liability and the risk of being sued for injuries.This will be a major concern to the landowner as he has a duty of care to all those on his land – even to trespassers. This duty of care increases once he acknowledges your presence, as he can then be considered to have “invited” you onto his land.They will almost certainly have insurance, but it may not cover what you are doing, so there may be extra insurance costs for them to bear – not something which will please them.
Recent High Court rulings suggest that they probably shouldn’t have to worry to much about you and your group injuring yourselves, and then suing, as there is a well established principle of “user beware” which in the past has enabled rather more hazardous activities such as rock climbing and caving to take place on an “own risk” basis – with little chance of participants successfully suing the landowner if they fall off or get injured.
Suggested solutions: A formal risk assessment will be essential here, to identify the hazards, and then to find solutions to minimize or preferably eliminate the potential for these hazards leading to injury.
There will be particular concern regarding liability for any injury caused to walkers and others not taking part in your activity. Much of this risk may be reduced by the use of suitable warning signs placed by your group on the entry points into the area and on paths in the vicinity of the site / trail.
In addition, use of your jumpsite / downhill features by riders not part of your group may lead to injury for which you and the landowner may be regarded as partly responsible.
You may have to enter a management agreement with the owner, in which your group accepts some responsibility for the management of activities on the site. This may have insurance implications. It is also important that the hazards associated with all built features should be obvious to any less skilled mountainbikers who may injure themselves through finding themselves on a feature well beyond their ability to ride.
- Concern 3: Unregulated Expansion. Often there is a feeling that if an activity is allowed on a controlled basis, that the use may spiral out of control, and become difficult to manage, or that some riders will be tempted to expand the sites by straying into “virgin” areas of land.Suggested solutions: You may need to agree to limit the numbers using the site, and to avoid publicizing the site on the Internet or through the usual grapevine of on line forums, cycle shops and newsletters.
It may also be necessary to agree to the use of a designated area only, and use natural barriers such as scrub or fallen branches to deter riders from moving out of the agreed area.
- Concern 4: Damage to trees or crops.Felling trees and clearing crops or undergrowth by your group will certainly not be appreciated by the landowner, who may well see this activity having an effect on his future profits! He will also be working in the area from time to time to undertake tree management, including weeding, thinning unwanted trees, harvesting and restocking, and may be concerned that your construction and riding activities will get in the way of his operations.Suggested solution: It will be necessary to agree that the site will be unavailable for use by cyclists when forestry operations are being undertaken. A communication process between the landowner / land manager and the group leader, and between the group leader and the group will need to be arranged.
- Concern 5: Effects on game shooting. You may feel that rearing pheasants, grouse and other game birds before going out and shooting them is an odd sort of pastime – but many landowners derive considerable income from these activities. Their gamekeepers are often pretty tough characters – you meddle with them at your peril…The predominant activity in lowland woodlands is likely to be pheasant shooting, with possible implications for pheasant rearing in addition to the actual days of the shoots.
Suggested solution:Find out if the area is used for shooting. Some landowners may restrict access during sensitive times of the year. These are normally end July to end September near any rearing pens, and October to end January for the days of the shoots, when it may be necessary to agree not to ride. Riding may need to be restricted to daylight hours only in order to avoid disturbing roosting birds which may then roost on the ground and become an easy victim for the local foxes.
- Concern 6: Conflict with walkers or horseriders. Walkers and horseriders may use public footpaths or bridleways on or near to the site, or non statutory paths that are used on a permissive or casual basis.Suggested solutions: Locate your jumpsite in areas that avoid using or crossing paths. If the site cannot avoids all such paths then ensure the sightlines are really good so that riders can see walkers, and walker can see riders. When designing a trail network, avoid using paths which are popular with walkers or horseriders.
- Concern 7: Nature conservation and effects on local plant and wildlife. Many landowners have a keen interest in the local ecology on their land, and may have agreements with local Nature Trusts or be members of subsidized grant-aided environmental schemes. These agreements could be put in jeopardy by your project – so it’s best to know in advance about any wildlife or plant features which could be affected by your build.Some sites with rare or protected plant, insect and animal species may not be suitable for a mountainbike site, as UK and European legislation can protect these species with regulations with hefty penalties for infringement. In particular, these may include streams and marshy areas which support fragile aquatic habitats, but can also include apparently innocuous sites where rare species exist. For example, the Laggan Wolfrax trail site in Scotland moved several miles from the original site because a Capercaillie decided to nest nearby!
However, you may also find that local nimby activists will use spurious environmental arguments to try and keep you away. Unfortunately local Nature Trusts and the like are often infiltrated by nimbys, and may strenuously oppose your project – even where no ecological damage is likely.
Suggested solution: Discussions with the landowner will reveal any such ecological conflicts. In addition, discussions with your local council ecologist or organizations such as English Nature (soon to be Natural England) may provide information which could help you to counter any nimbyish complaints from local residents. This information should help you to avoid choosing sensitive sites – or perhaps allow you to negotiate use of the site at times of the year when adverse effects on birds, plants, insects or animals would be minimized or eliminated. You may also have to restrict your activity to a clearly defined area, and take steps to avoid riders straying outside the boundaries.
Step 3. Agree site rules and/or agreements
The landowner is very likely to require an understanding with the group. This may take the form of some informally agreed rules, particularly if your group has no formal structure and has a fluid “membership”. It is very likely, though, that there will be a desire to agree a more formal written agreement. Rules / agreements may include some or all of the following:
- Area of the site: definition of the boundary
- Warning signs around the edge of the site
- Type of construction that is acceptable / unacceptable
- Location of pits and jumps
- Inspection & monitoring procedure by landowner and group leaders
- Safety rules, including the use of helmets or body protection
- Requirement for third party liability insurance cover for your club or riders using the site
- Accident reporting procedure
- Use and provision of material or machines for jumps construction
- Procedure for dealing with conflicts or hassle with others
- Avoidance of litter
- No dogs rule
Step 4. Jumpsite / Downhill Construction
Work in such a way as to avoid the need for the landowner to consider destroying your jumps and structures. Make life easier for yourself and protect your hard work by building in such a way that the landowner liability will be minimized through following the construction guidelines below regarding type of material and course layout/location.
Type of material
|Likely to be Acceptable:||Possibly Acceptable:||Unacceptable:|
|Earth construction||Clean “pallet” wood||Metal|
|Fine road building material||Rock||Sharp edged or rotten wood|
Course layout & location
|Open layout with good sightlines||Sites used by walkers or horseriders|
|Obvious jumps and hollows||Sites easily found by other MTB users|
|Graded edges to pits||Crossing tracks, paths or walks|
|Good visibility of routes and jumps||Poor visibility at exits to other trails|
|Easily seen by walkers/equestrians||Hidden, sharp edged or very deep pits or jumps|
|Defined border to the area used||Trees or stumps next to landing points|
|Good visibility at exits||Jagged broken branches|
|Provision of “chicken runs”||Double jumps – can be very hazardous|
- Get your club or group to affiliate to IMBA-UK to join the network of other enthusiasts who will have already met the same difficulties – and found ways of resolving them.
- Get a copy of the IMBA Freeride Guide: price £3 from the IMBA UK web shop.
- Invest in a copy of the IMBA trailbuilding bible “Trail Solutions”.
- For guidelines about northshore, look up: http://www.nsmba.bc.ca
- Forestry Commission document Challenging Bike Areas. Guidance for Management (June 2002).