Around the year 2000, the Footpath Committee of West Riding Area took up the issue of the malign impact that 4×4 vehicles and motorbikes have on the green lanes that are such a distinctive, beautiful feature of the Yorkshire Dales landscape. Green lanes were being ruined, and the peace and quiet that people seek when they go to the countryside was being spoiled. This concern, together with support from the Yorkshire Dales Society, led to the formation in 2002 of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance. The Alliance took as its territory the Dales National Park and the adjacent Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It was known that every corner of West Riding Area was suffering its own local problems with unwelcome vehicles, but the Alliance thought it would make a start in the Dales.
Twelve years on, what has been achieved? First, we must pay tribute to the Dales National Park Authority. They were well aware of what was happening to their green lanes: our campaign to have all green lanes closed to non-essential motor vehicles coincided with their own careful programme of measures to get the problem under control. The result is that ten of the most beautiful green lanes in the Dales are now protected by Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs). Mastiles Lane – perhaps the most famous of all green lanes – had been trashed into a rutted, waterlogged quagmire before the imposition of the TRO, and now it is a delight to walk upon once again (see photos).
Progress in the Nidderdale AONB has been much slower. The superb green lane that runs northwards from Middlesmoor via Scar House and Deadman’s Hill into Coverdale has been a disgrace for decades. It is now worse than ever. North Yorkshire County Council have never got hold of the problem properly: they resist the conclusion that this remote and beautiful track is no place for recreational 4X4s and motorbikes.
From the outset, the Alliance realised that although local campaigns such as ours are essential, the solution lies with Parliament. A tremendous breakthrough came in 2006, when Parliament after skilful lobbying by the national green lanes group and the Ramblers, passed the Natural Environments and Rural Communities (NERC) Act. This stopped the hitherto virtually limitless expansion of green lanes open to recreational vehicles. The next time you are walking down a quiet track that is on the map as a footpath or bridleway but from its width and general character looks as if it once was a route for horses and carts, give thanks to NERC. Without it, vehicle user groups could have claimed the track as a vehicular byway, and you’d be ploughing through the ruts and dodging strings of motorbikes and 4X4s.
NERC didn’t solve all the problems though. There are about 3000 miles of track in England and Wales called “Unsealed Unclassified County Roads”. They are marked on the OS maps with lines of green dots, signifying “Other Routes With Public Access” (ORPAs). The rights on ORPAs are unclear, but in the absence of clarity, vehicle users ride and drive along them with impunity.
What now needs to be done to complete the work that NERC started? Locally, public inquiries have to be contested wherever vehicular rights are claimed. Highway authorities have to be persuaded to impose TROs on the vulnerable ruined tracks they administer. But, nationally, Parliament must be persuaded that non-essential motor vehicles have no place deep in the countryside away from the tarmac, and that green lanes should be classified as Restricted Byways – routes only open to walkers, cyclists, equestrians and essential motor vehicles. The fight to save our green lanes goes on. You can find out more about the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, including membership, at ydgla.co.uk.
Our AGM is at Bolton Abbey Village Hall on Saturday 29th April 2017. New members will be made very welcome.
Chairman, Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance.