The Green Lanes Blog
15 November 2019
UNESCO sent its letter (read it here...) to the 'state party', i.e. the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on 8th October, the day the Rights of Way Committee made its decision. UNESCO and its advisory body made it clear they wanted the Rights of Way Committee to take their letter into account when making its decision:
“ICOMOS requests that these comments be passed on to the Rights of Way Committee in advance of the report being discussed.”
It didn’t happen. The UNESCO letter contains a detailed rebuttal of arguments in the LDNPA’s Committee Report - the document on which the Rights of Way Committee based its decision against Traffic Regulation Orders.
a) The impact of recreational motor vehicles is not limited to physical damage, but concerns the character and tranquillity of the landscape.
b) UNESCO and ICOMOS consider the LDNPA’s report advising the Rights of Way Committee to opt for ‘consensus management’ as inadequate.
c) The use of green lanes by recreational motor vehicles was not set out as a threat in the document bidding for World Heritage status.
d) The increase in 4x4 traffic is having an adverse impact on the World Heritage site.
e) Traffic Regulation Orders appear to be an appropriate tool to deal with the impact.
The LDNPA does not think any of this matters. Writing to the DCMS (and UNESCO) the Authority says that “the letter did not include any additional information or evidence relevant to the determination of the matter.”
This is clearly incorrect. Had the Committee had all this information, its decision might well have been different. Just ignoring it is risking the World Heritage status of the Lake District.
7 November 2019
"In this world of increasing awareness and concern about climate change and the urgent need to take action, how could anyone support the use of these vehicles on our Lake District green lanes?" Bill Birkett in Cumbria Magazine. Read his article here ....
1 November 2019
BBC Countryside Autumn Diaries (watch it here) this morning showed how locals feel about recreational motorbikes and 4x4s on the fell tracks near Little Langdale.
The writer, mountaineer and photographer Bill Birkett said on the programme: "We do not want 4x4 vehicles coming through our landscape polluting the air and tearing up the tracks. This is such an iconic and beautiful place, the kind of thing we want to preserve."
The CEO of the Friends of the Lake District, Douglas Chalmers reminded us that National Parks were all about getting people away from towns and mechanised lives - and recreational off-road vehicles "spoil the enjoyment of the Park for the vast majority of people."
At the same more and more drivers from abroad are seeking out the Lake District fell tracks for an adventure. A Dutch company is offering guided tours, using public and illegal routes, and convoys of Dutch 4x4s are now regularly seen in the area. To stop this we need TROs, not a partnership management group.
14 October 2019
Last Thursday Keswick Town Council voted unanimously to pass a vote of no confidence against the LDNPA, proving that the Authority's refusal to ban motor vehicles from fell tracks is not an isolated decision. Read the Guardian article here...
Zipwires, gondola cable cars and tarmac tracks are also part of its vision for the future of the National Park and World Heritage site.
9 October 2019
We are pretty disappointed with the way the meeting went. 20 minutes for the officer who produced a biased report based on shoddy research, with no right of reply, 10 minutes for the motorists and 10 minutes for supporters of a TRO: the National Trust , the Ramblers and us.
Five out of six Committee members supported the report's recommendation to set up a ‘partnership management group’ for the High Tilberthwaite track. As the LDNPA's report shows, this is exactly the kind of approach which was tried 20 years ago and which failed miserably to control the traffic and to protect the special character of this beautiful place.
And for the High Oxenfell track? To quote the LDNPA:
“For the High Oxen Fell Road (U5001), Option b (maintain the surface, but do nothing else) would suffice. Far fewer concerns have been raised about this road in all aspects.”
In other words, let the farmer at High Oxenfell cope with the through traffic of 4x4s and motor cycles – the National Park Authority could not care less.
This despite abundant evidence that the vehicles make the lives of farmers difficult and spoil the experience of other users who have come to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this area, as we said in our verbal statement to the Committee.
At the meeting the National Trust confirmed its support for a TRO:
We believe that MPV use is damaging and should be regulated by a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) at Tilberthwaite and High Oxen Fell.
The Rights of Way Committee was unmoved and argued that “the National Park is there for everyone” – even for those whose activities diminish the enjoyment of the vast majority of users and blight the lives of farmers.
We have now set up a Lake District Green Lanes Alliance (LDGLA), similar to groups in the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District. Together, and with our supporters throughout the country we will continue to work for the protection of our fell tracks.
If you are interested in joining us, please let us know by emailing
5 October 2019
The writer, mountaineer and photographer Bill Birkett has spent much of his life in Little Langdale. This is what he said about 4x4s and motorbikes on our fell tracks:
“How could anyone who understands the fragile and special nature of the Lake District National Park and World Heritage Site not understand that it needs protection from the damaging self-interest of a few - a very few? To see it damaged in this way is a very singular and continuing sorrow.”
28 September 2019
Please join us on 8th October at 10 a.m. if you can, at the
Lake District National Park Authority
Kendal LA9 7RL
The decision will be made by the six Members of the Rights of Way Committee. The Members of National Park Authorities are independent of management. It is their duty to ensure that the National Park Authority fulfils its statutory national park purposes to the full and does so in a way that best reflects the special qualities of the area.
What are these statutory purposes?
to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and.
to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public.
So there should be no problem: conservation always comes first when there is a conflict between conservation and access. This is clearly set out in the Natural Environment Act 1995 – and should guide every single decision made by the Lake District National Park Authority.
The recommendation to the Committee made by LDNPA officers does not put conservation first. The "cooperative approach" it proposes has been in force for 20 years, while the influx of off-road vehicles has increased massively.
We need Traffic Regulation Orders on both tracks>
If you want to print out a "Protect our fell tracks" sign, here is a link.
22 September 2019
On 8th October the Rights of Way Committee of the National Park will decide on the future of our two green lanes. To provide a basis for their decision officials have now produced a report: a Summary Paper (11 pages), an Assessment Paper (77 pages) and a 1000-page Appendix.
The report reaches a truly scandalous recommendation: the two routes should stay open for 4x4s and motorbikes. It says so against the clear policy of the National Trust as the landowner, against the wishes of local farmers and residents, and of over 300,000 people who signed a petition and want to see a ban on off-road vehicles, against the stance of the Friends of the Lake District, mountaineering clubs and the Ramblers.
Contradicting its own evidence
Most bizarrely, the recommendation also ignores the National Park’s own evidence. Hidden away on page 5 Appendix 4.2 we see that 84% of non-motorised users want a ban on motor vehicles on both routes through TROs and 86% think there is an impact on the special qualities of the National Park. In the report itself there is complete silence about these important findings.
Appendix 4.2.3 shows the report’s dismissive handling of comments from respondents. On page 3 we find this comment:
As I have said, on my last walk along the route I encountered no recreational vehicles, for they were prohibited by the temporary order [i.e. during and after repairs]. This was a blessing. I have had extensive experience of encounters with non-essential motors on other routes, and know that the encounters have invariably been disagreeable. I go to national parks to get away from motor vehicles, not to meet them on otherwise quiet rural tracks. The NPA's insistence that the route is a road, essentially no different from the tarmacadamed roads elsewhere in the Park is pure sophistry. Tracks that came into existence to serve quarries, but which have borne no quarry traffic for many years, and which have become quiet tracks, used by non-motorised visitors, and local farmers, should be recognised, and protected as such.
This is dismissed by the LDNPA with the following remark:
Evidence relates to different roads. Not this one.
Many comments reflect a deep sense of loss to activities that degrade the National Park’s special qualities, and in particular all aspects of tranquillity, visual as well as aural. All these comments are brushed aside by the LDNPA.
For most visitors, both routes are places to get away from motor vehicles and the stresses of urban life. Many respondents refer to the traumatic quality of the intrusion by motor vehicles, not just for one particular walk but for the prospect of meeting 4x4s or motorbikes on any future walks.
The report tackles the issue of tranquillity by inventing its own evidence, not tainted by any empirical measurements, as it freely admits (Summary Report 14.8.11). And it comes to the conclusion that this area is not an oasis of peace and quiet at all. It is in fact a kind of post-industrial landscape, where mining and quarrying would apparently have caused greater noise and air pollution than motor vehicles today.
And the argument that this is the very place that inspired writers and artists such as Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter and therefore needs to be protected? Rubbish, says the report (Summary Report 126.96.36.199):
‘There is no actual evidence of artistic inspiration being reduced or stifled by the presence of MPVs on these roads.’
And the report notes, with a degree of incredulity, that most walkers do not regard the noise made by farmers as intrusive, but rather as intrinsic to the Lake District, unlike the noise made by leisure vehicles. The report finds this a ‘difficult concept to understand.’ (14.8.21 of the Summary Report) It comments:
‘It would be difficult to prohibit traffic based on noise, when other traffic generating similar noise is allowed to remain.’
Every single TRO in the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District does exactly that, flatly contradicting this statement.
And on the tarmac roads in the area the report has this to say (in the same paragraph as above):
‘It would also be difficult to prohibit recreational vehicles on these two roads, when the increase in road traffic generating the same noise [???] on the surrounding roads such as Wrynose and Side Gates is unabated, and when the traffic on those roads is far greater.’
Not only would it not be difficult to do this, it is all the more necessary to safeguard areas of tranquillity the busier tarmac roads are.
The LDNPA’s report is based on unprofessional, poor quality, biased surveys. Any responsible organisation would immediately have redesigned a survey with a dropout rate of over 50% after the first page; not so the LDNPA. (Read a more detailed comment on the surveys here.) But even this limited evidence points to the need for a TRO, not the solution presented as new by the report.
Just as serious is the report’s dismissal of evidence from farmers. No mention at all of farming in the Summary Report, and in the Assessment Report (p. 51) we find this awkward statement: ‘It is difficult to know the precise impact of MPV [i.e. motor vehicle] usage on the two farms concerned.’ And a page later it concludes that the ‘agro-pastoral tradition … is not being negatively affected by recreational MPV usage…’
But the Appendix tells us exactly what the impact on farming is. In 3.9.1 and 3.9.2 the farmers at High Tilberthwaite and High Oxenfell explain how they have had to change their working practices. Examples include not being able to work on the farm at weekends and the noise and presence of motor vehicles disturbing sheep on the fells. The Secretary of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association describes vividly (Appendix 10 page 3) how during a visit to High Tilberthwaite she witnessed the disruption to farm work caused by recreational motor vehicles. And she stresses the tragedy of a farmer having to leave his farm after decades of skilful work in developing an outstanding flock of Herdwicks.
‘A collaborative approach’
So what exactly does the report recommend, after all the evidence points to TROs as the solution? It says a partnership management group should be set up to pursue a collaborative approach, as if this was a new idea, and as if this was not the very proposal contained in the off-roaders’ comment on the ICOMOS review (Appendix 6.7).
It is bad enough for the LDNPA to reproduce uncritically, and without labelling it as such, a paper by a spokesman for the motoring organisations. But then to present the off-roaders’ ideas as a new solution assumes that nobody remembers what happened over the last 20 years. Consensus management, in the shape of the Hierarchy of Trail Routes (HoTR), has been in place since 2000 and has not prevented a 5-fold increase of 4x4s on the Tilberthwaite route, it probably even contributed to the rise.
The HoTR is still being advertised, on road signs and the Cumbria County Council website, as the management scheme in force now. But it is clear that consensus management has not protected and cannot protect the beauty and tranquillity of this part of the National Park, because it cannot control the number of off-road vehicles.
This also becomes clear in the minutes of the Trail Management Advisory Group which oversaw the HoTR until 2006. The off-roaders admit that they have tried unsuccessfully to get the cooperation of commercial operators and other motorists. And the LDNPA representative agrees that the HoTR is simply not working on some routes, particularly on the High Tilberthwaite track.
That the public body entrusted with the protection of our National Park should publish this report for the Rights of Way Committee is deeply troubling. Why should a National Park Authority want to ignore, and systematically ignore, the evidence for a TRO and seek to discredit the motives of those who oppose motor vehicles? Why would it want to belittle the disruption caused on the sheep farms, with very real consequences for the lives of the sheep farmers?
Maybe the answer lies in an academic paper published in 2011 in the journal Leisure Studies, which tries to answer the question: why were there different outcomes for powerboats on Lake Windermere and off-road vehicles on green lanes? Why was powerboating effectively banned, and off-roading given the go-ahead? The author, M. Collins, concludes that the motoring organisations have managed to co-opt the LDNPA, so that their perspective is now the LDNPA’s perspective.
Only the Members of the Rights of Way Committee can prove by their decision on 8th October that this is not the case.
9 September 2019
The Observer today has a pretty accurate report about the precarious situation of our green lanes. Local people describe how these tracks have become magnets for thrill-seeking off-road enthusiasts, and how the National Park is not only turning a blind eye, but now actively encouraging them.
25 August 2019
4x4s and motorbikes driven for fun on green lanes are not acceptable – that is what the LDNPA said in 2003 in a draft management plan:
“The use of recreational vehicles in the countryside is an emotive issue for many people who have concerns about the associated noise, pollution, erosion, and the conflicts with other users and local residents.
The National Park Authority, together with several other organisations and individuals, views the activity as inappropriate in the Lake District National Park. It conflicts, for example, with the concept of quiet enjoyment, a special quality of the National Park.”
In the Daily Telegraph of 27th September 2003 Richard Simpson wrote:
Bob Cartwright is corporate operations director at the LDNPA. When I asked him about the nature and severity of the "intrusion'' caused by 4x4s on green lanes he described it as "nearer to low-flying jets, and it really jars with the experience you're having''. Then there's that "risk of damage'' argument, and once again Cartwright makes his case very directly: "One vehicle can cause the damage of 500 pairs of feet.''
So why were these plans abandoned? An article in the Westmorland Gazette on 15th August 2003 gives a clue:
“This week Land Access and Recreation Association (LARA) branded the proposed ban a “betrayal” of an eight-year partnership between the park, motorbike and 4x4 drivers and questioned which sport would be next to be hit by national park policy.
The breakdown in relations could mean the end of The Hierarchy of Trail Routes experiment – a joint management plan which both drivers and park bosses have acknowledged as a success.“
Under this pressure the National Park seems to have backtracked. Let’s hope that in 2019 the LDNPA shows more resolve.
14 August 2019
In the article in The Times yesterday Stephen Ratcliffe, the Director of Sustainable Development of the LDNPA, is quoted as saying “applying TROs is a last resort for us, following guidance from government.”
Last resort? After 20 years of protests? In December 2000 the Chairman of the Langdales Society wrote in the Langdale Valley News that with the introduction of the Hierarchy of Trails Routes (consensus management)
‘the LDNPA have not just advertised the fact that ‘green roads’ are in fact legitimate highways; they have not just given permission for certain types of vehicles to use these tracks; they have positively issued a challenge which has been taken up by entrepreneurs.’
And the national guidance to which the Director of Sustainable Development refers says nothing about ‘last resort’. It does say that other options have to be tried first, but that is exactly what the LDNPA have been doing, mainly with the Hierarchy of Trail Routes scheme.
The national guidance clearly states the purpose of TROs: ‘to control the excessive or inappropriate use of mechanically propelled vehicles away from the ordinary roads network.’ It also says:
‘The Government considers that in many cases a level of recreational vehicular use that may be acceptable in other areas will be inappropriate within National Parks and incompatible with their purposes.’
The message in the ICOMOS report is simple: you are a National Park. That status gives you specific responsibilities to protect the special qualities of the place you are looking after.
You are also a World Heritage Site, and your responsibilities as a National Park Authority coincide directly with those to protect the World Heritage Site.
You have the tools to this, so please use them.
11 August 2019
This is a significant development: the UNESCO advisory body ICOMOS has asked the LDNPA to ban 4x4s on green lanes in the Lake District. The ICOMOS report focuses on 4x4s, but all the arguments also apply to motorbikes.
ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) says that the continuing use of unsurfaced roads by 4x4s has a detrimental impact on the Lake District’s OUV – its Outstanding Universal Value which gained the Lake District its World Heritage status.
The qualities particularly affected by the off-road traffic are tranquillity and beauty, the integrity of the landscape, sheep farming and the heritage of the conservation movement, in particular Beatrix Potter’s.
The report says that the National Park Authority has the tool to remedy this problem in the form of Traffic Regulation Orders, and points to the contrast between the Lake District (no TROs since 2006) and the Yorkshire Dales (12 TROs) and the Peak District (6 TROs), concluding that “there appears to be no reason why such measures cannot be introduced in the Lake District.
ICOMOS finds that the tests for TROs coincide directly with the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value “and thus there is an acknowledged and defined baseline of value for the qualities of the landscape that does not exist in other National Parks.”
In October the Rights of Way Committee will consider putting TROs on the High Tilberthwaite and High Oxenfell routes. This would be a good time to show that the LDNPA are serious about protecting the World Heritage Site.
8 August 2019
For 20 years the LDNPA has made a bold claim: it has found an innovative solution to the problem of off-road vehicles on unsealed roads. What is this solution, central to the LDNPA’s green lane policies? Management and containment through partnership working (LDNPA statement 18 October 2017).
This scheme, the Hierarchy of Trail Routes, was initiated by off-road motorists (see Geoff Wilson and David Robinson’s article in Countryside Recreation, Summer 2005) and devised by them in conjunction with the National Park. It was officially introduced in 2001, after a 2-year trial.
But in the section on High Tilberthwaite and High Oxenfell on the LDNPA website this policy of consensus management is not even mentioned, nor in a 23-page briefing note which people had to read before they could fill in a very long online survey.
Why? The strong suspicion is that the National Park wants to nudge people into choosing ‘consensus management’ as their preferred option, because consensus sounds good and is better than confrontation. And if you want ‘consensus management’ to appear in a positive light, you’d better not mention that in this case it has come with some pretty disastrous consequences.
Right from the start Parish Councils warned that putting up signs advertising the Hierarchy of Trail Routes would lead to an increase in traffic - and they were right. On the track from High Tilberthwaite to Little Langdale the number of 4x4s increased over 5-fold between 2004 and 2018, to 163 a month. Residents voiced their complaints, in letters to the Westmorland Gazette, in local meetings with LDNPA representatives and in the Langdale Valley newsletter.
Residents also wrote to the National Park; and the National Trust warned that the “use of the route has increased and their tenant at High Tilberthwaite is impacted by the amount of vehicles coming through his farm yard.”
‘Consensus management’ turns out to be based only on the consensus between the National Park and off-road enthusiasts, who are, unbelievably, also responsible for monitoring the ‘sustainability’ of the routes.
It’s high time to look at another consensus: that of residents, farmers, walkers, cyclists, horse-riders, the National Trust, the Friends of the Lake District, the Wainwright Society, the Fell and Rock Climbing Club, the Fylde Mountaineering Club and the Yorkshire Ramblers - and of over 300,000 people who signed the petition asking for a TRO. These beautiful fell tracks should not be used for a fun drive in your 4x4 or on your motorbike.
19th July 2019
Is Michael Gove listening to us, at last? In May 2018 he asked Julian Glover to lead a review of National Parks, and the review team has now come up with a preliminary report. There are a number of important recommendations, but one in particular will be welcomed by anyone who has experience of the Lake District National Park’s record in protecting natural beauty.
"We think in particular the current system of governance for National Parks should be reformed. Time after time we have heard and seen that boards are too big, do not do a good job in setting a strategic direction and ambition, and are unrepresentative of both society and, at times, of the things parks should be leading on, such as natural beauty, climate change, and diversity."
So the LDNPA should be taking the lead in the protection of natural beauty and the special qualities of the Lake District. Instead it needs to be cajoled into action when our landscape is being degraded by off-road motorists invading some of the most beautiful tracks in the country.
The National Trust’s submission to the Glover review put it well: “We believe that National Parks and AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are not currently delivering on their duty in relation to nature”.
11 July 2019
Who is in charge of green lanes in the Lake District? The Hierarchy of Trail Routes is the voluntary restraint scheme supposed to regulate the traffic of recreational off-road vehicles. It was devised by off-roaders and the National Park. New notices proclaiming that the tracks can be used by 4x4s and motorbikes are signed by the National Park and LARA, the umbrella organisation for motoring groups.
The notice asks motorists not to drive in groups of more than four 4x4s and six motorbikes. But this is often ignored and can’t be enforced. There is no overall daily limit for vehicles.
The views of residents, walkers, cyclists and horse riders are clearly not important enough to be taken into account.
Cumbria County Council’s website reveals who assesses the routes, from the most vulnerable to the more robust ones. Try and answer this multiple choice question:
Regular monitoring of vulnerable green lanes
in the Lake District is done by
a) The National Park
b) The National Trust
c) Cumbria County Council
d) The off-road motorists
The answer is d).
So the Hierarchy of Trail Routes has put 4x4
drivers and motorcyclists in charge of conservation.
29 June 2019
The World Heritage Committee meeting in Baku from 30th June to 10th July is being urged to act fast against the threat to World Heritage Sites posed by climate change.
World Heritage Watch, an NGO working for the protection of World Heritage Sites, is asking the Committee to address the problem urgently. The vulnerability of sites such as Venice is obvious, but what about the Lake District, and in particular the problem of soil erosion?
There is little doubt that motor vehicles, and that means above all 4WDs and motorbikes, are a major cause of soil erosion on unsurfaced tracks, particularly in the initial stages. But water exacerbates this damage, washing away already loosened particles.
The floods of 2015 and 2018 are a reminder that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. So there is now a pressing need to eliminate at least the one factor over which we have control: erosion by recreational motor vehicles.
A wider consideration, equally urgent, is the reduction of vehicle emissions and CO2. In its Travel Vision the Lake District National Park says:
The Lake District Travel Vision aims to reduce reliance on the car in order to:
Create a more enjoyable, relaxing and healthier visitor experience
Reduce impacts of traffic on communities and the landscape
Reduce carbon emissions
Great. But these fine words need translating into practice.
Adam Markham of the Union of Concerned Scientists has written a blog about the Climate Threat Change to World Heritage. You can read it here.
20 June 2019
How does our National Park assess on which green lanes recreational 4x4s and motorbikes should be allowed? The LDNPA uses a rather strange form of words: 'Although we would prefer it if people did not take vehicles on these routes, it is accepted it is a legal activity...' That sounds like end of story, and it has been LDNPA policy for 20 years. Not much we can do, since it's perfectly legal. But National Park Authorities were given TRO powers to curb precisely this kind of legal traffic. Illegal traffic is a matter for the police.
In 2006 Cumbria County Council took over the management of the Hierarchy of Trail Routes (the voluntary restraint scheme for off-road motorists). This means, according to the CCC website, that 'volunteers mainly from the Cumbria Trail Riders Fellowship [TRF] and the Green Lanes Association continue to monitor more than 220 unsurfaced routes to assess suitability and sustainability.' So off-road motorists, not the National Park Authority, monitor the green lanes. A bizarre state of affairs for a National Park Authority that is supposed to 'conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.'
The contrast to the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District could not be more pronounced: in the Yorkshire Dales 10 TRO's were imposed since 2006, in the the Peak District 7 in the last five years alone. And every single one of these Traffic Regulation Orders is based on the preservation of beauty and tranquillity.
Is the Lake District is so much less worthy of protection than other National Parks?
20 June 2019
We are not alone. walkinghighlands reports that efforts are underway in the Scottish Parliament to control the spread of vehicle tracks in the Highlands. Campaigners worry about the encroachment of motor vehicles into wild landscapes - through an expansion of new tracks that don't look very different from the repaired High Tilberthwaite track.