The MoD has now issued a ban on cycling off the bridleways on Hankley Common following an incident involving 15 cyclists and a Landmarc warden:
"From: DIO Ops South
Sent: 04 April 2013 13:37
Subject: Cycling on the DTE Estate
We have received a report this morning that despite one of our Land Wardens asking a group of 20 cyclists to move onto other tracks - particularly as SSE were cutting trees in the vicinity – this warning was ignored.
As a result of this, we can confirm that the default position now applies and that all cyclists must abide by the Byelaws. That is to say, cyclists should stick purely to bridleways and any other public rights of way to which cyclists are entitled to use. No other tracks should be used."
Cyclists involved in this incident and a walker who witnessed it state that there was no tree cutting going on in the area at the time. The tracks that the cyclists were asked to move to were said to be steep, sandy and unsuitable for cycling.
In 2012 Col. Dicky Bishop gave limited permission for cyclists to use some permissive tracks as well as bridleways on Hankley Common in these words:
"The MoD had no objection to 'made-up' permissive paths being used by cyclists, but the use of sand tracks (other than rights-of-way) was not normally permitted, partly for conservation reasons."
Since then efforts have been made to find out just what was meant by "made up" paths. Unfortunately one Landmarc warden has interpreted this in the strictest possible way and has challenged cyclists on tracks that appeared perfectly suitable for their use, so that it has been difficult to tell just where they can go.
This year an Elstead Councillor attended a meeting with the MoD and reported their response on Cycling:
"I explained that cycling groups needed to know why it would not be possible for them to be able to use all the tracks on Hankley which were currently used by MoD vehicles. The answer I was given was that Hankley was not primarily a recreation area – its main function was military training. To open up all vehicular routes to cyclists would seriously compromise training operations. Furthermore, the MoD would not be able to ensure the safety of cyclists using the tracks, given the current and expected intensity of training in the areas concerned. There was also the question of liability and duty of care – would the MoD be responsible if cyclists injured themselves on poorly maintained permissive tracks?
Lt Col Bishop again made it clear that the MoD’s default position was that cyclists should be confined to using the bridleways and that the concession on the use of ‘made up tracks’ was limited essentially to hardened surfaces which could be used by normal vehicular traffic (not 4WDs). It was up to the Parish Councils and cycling groups to try and identify the boundaries of this concession in ways which would enable effective training to continue in a manner which was safe for both troops and cyclists. I am afraid I do not detect any flexibility in the MoD position on this point, particularly in the light of the information on future troop deployment and their concerns about the increased presence of mountain bikers on the permissive pedestrian routes."
ADVICE TO CYCLISTS
Given these rules and the known active application of them by the Landmarc Warden, cyclists should do their best to follow them to avoid the sort of problem that has now arisen.