What are green lanes? Green lanes is another name for the ancient fell tracks of the Lake District, officially known as ‘unsealed unclassified roads’. Some of them can be traced back to Roman times; all are part of the fabric of our landscape. Once you leave the tarmac and the noise and fumes of motor vehicles behind, this is where you begin to experience the sights and sounds of the Lake District fells. For families with small children or anybody who doesn’t feel like climbing a mountain, these are ideal active travel routes. Green lanes were made for walkers, horses and horse-drawn carts, not for motor vehicles. This is important because powerful modern motor vehicles with their self-propelled pneumatic tyres have a much greater impact on the track surface than non-motorised forms of transport. We’re used to the deep ruts that motor vehicles inflict, but less familiar are the dust clouds that pneumatic tyres, as opposed to slow-moving iron-shod cartwheels, kick up.
How many green lanes are there in the Lake District? Altogether there are about 80 green lanes in the National Park with an overall length of about 75 miles (120 km).
How many Lake District green lanes are particularly vulnerable to motor vehicles? The LDNPA and Cumbria County Council have identified three categories of routes, two of them needing special attention: Red - Route has a lot of use, drivers proceed with great care and follow advice or signs explaining special controls in place. These routes are under the greatest pressure and there may be environmental issues plus the potential for misunderstanding or conflict with other users. Amber - Route has moderate use; drivers should proceed with special care - there may be a lot of other users or land management issues. It may not be passable in all weathers. · Green - Proceed with caution - the route is passable with motor vehicles at all times and there may be no management in place. There are at least 37 vulnerable routes in the Lake District National Park, 12 classified as ‘Red’ and 25 as ‘Amber’.
What’s wrong with recreational driving on green lanes? Shouldn’t the National Park welcome everybody? Of course the National Park should be there for everybody, but not for every activity, regardless of its impact on the landscape and on other people. There are three compelling reasons for banning green lane motoring in the Lake District: (1) Harm to natural beauty (as defined in the Defra Traffic Regualtion Order guidelines for National Parks); •Landscape quality i.e. the intactness of the landscape and the absence of incongruous elements; •Scenic quality i.e. appeal to the visual senses; •Relative wildness and remoteness, appearance of returning to nature; •Intrusiveness i.e. freedom from undue disturbance; •Natural heritage features; •Cultural heritage features; •Associations i.e. connections with particular people, artists, writers or events in history All TROs in the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District were made for the protection of natural beauty and amenity. The LDNPA only mentions natural beauty once, in the TRO for Gatescarth Pass in 2004. (2) Broken relationship with nature for the majority of visitors (i.e. non-motorised) as well as for residents. Expert analysis of responses to the LDNPA Tilberthwaite survey shows: •Tranquillity and beauty diminished •Stresses from city life introduced •Connection with nature disrupted •Cultural heritage threatened •Physical danger from motor vehicles on narrow sections •Feeling of apprehension before and while walking/cycling/horse riding on the route •Harm caused to the landscape, flora and fauna (3) Harmful environmental impact, exacerbated by climate change. This was highlighted in an appeal to the LDNPA by 45 environmental scientists. There is a solid body of scientific evidence for this impact, in particular: •Erosion •Sediment delivery to surrounding areas, intensified by climate change •Pollution - exhaust pollutants, noise and light •Overall impact on biodiversity
What is the legal status of green lanes? Most routes are Unclassified County Roads (UCRs) where public access rights for motor vehicles have not been established and are only assumed. We think the legal status should be clarified, particularly for the most vulnerable UCRs in the ‘Red’ category. Some green lanes are BOATs, Byways Open to All Traffic, with confirmed access rights for motor vehicles.
What about access for the disabled? Don’t they need motor vehicles to get onto green lanes? Sight-impaired, hearing-impaired, and learning-disabled people all use green lanes, on foot, along with people whose mobility is restricted and who cannot therefore climb over footpath stiles. Disabled horse riders, for whom safety is of paramount concern, and whose horses may be spooked by encounters with motor vehicles similarly need vehicle-free green lanes. Some disabled people who are able to ride bicycles, but who are nervous about riding on roads that carry motor traffic also find green lanes valuable. Blind people need the width of green lanes to accommodate their guide, who walks alongside: footpaths are commonly not wide enough for two. Non-motorised disabled users of green lane regularly encounter the damage and nuisance inflicted by vehicle users. Surfaces are churned up, making walking and riding a horse or bicycle difficult, or downright impossible. Vehicle noise and fumes degrade the tranquillity that non-motorised users value, and direct encounters with vehicles - especially for blind, deaf and non-agile users - are hazardous. When people who use conventional or electrically powered wheelchairs meet 4x4s or motorbikes on a narrow track this can be a real problem. Here is the view of Debbie North, government disability and access ambassador for the countryside, who uses an electric mobility scooter herself: “With the ongoing development of powered electric wheelchairs that are capable of travelling over rugged terrain, there is no need to hide behind the argument that motor vehicles on Green Lanes are the only way that people living with disabilities can access the countryside. This view, at best, has been made through ignorance. People of all abilities access green lanes and regularly encounter damage and nuisance inflicted by vehicle users. Vehicle noise and fumes degrade the tranquillity of the countryside.”
What can the LDNPA do to curb recreational driving on green lanes? In 2007 National Parks were given new powers to exclude motor vehicles from green lanes through Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs). They can make these Orders on the following grounds, specified in the 1984 Road Traffic Regulations Act: a. for avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using the road or any other road or for preventing the likelihood of any such danger arising, (s1(1)(a) RTRA84); b. for preventing damage to the road or to any building on or near the road, (s1(1)(b) RTRA84); c. for facilitating the passage on the road or any other road of any class of traffic (including pedestrians), (s1(1)(c) RTRA84); d. for preventing the use of the road by vehicular traffic of a kind which, or its use by vehicular traffic in a manner which is unsuitable having regard to the existing character of the road or adjoining property, (s1(1)(d) RTRA84); e. (without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (d) above) for preserving the character of the road in a case where it is specially suitable for use by persons on horseback or on foot, (s1(1)(e) RTRA84); f. for preserving or improving the amenities of the area through which the road runs, (s1(1)(f) RTRA84); g. for any of the purposes specified in paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (1) of section 87 of the Environment Act 1995 (air quality) (s1(1)(g) RTRA84); h. the purpose of conserving or enhancing the natural beauty of the area, or of affording better opportunities for the public to enjoy the amenities of the area, or recreation or the study of nature in the area. (s22 (2) RTRA84). This includes conserving its flora, fauna and geological and physiographical features (s22 (5) RTRA84).
What has the Lake District National Park Authority done to curb recreational driving on green lanes? In 2003 the LDNPA came up with a policy which would have prohibited recreational driving on green lanes. In the words of the LDNPA’s then corporate operations director Bob Cartwright the Authority hoped that “a ban would foster an environment where off-roading would become socially unacceptable”. Off-road organisations were not happy with this approach. They withdrew their cooperation with the National Park on green lane issues, and the LDNPA did a U-turn, abandoning its proposed ban. Over the last 20 years the LNDPA has relied on a voluntary restraint scheme, the Hierarchy of Trail Routes. The scheme has not prevented a substantial increase in the number of 4x4s and motorbikes on the routes for which we have data, nor has it done anything to mitigate the environmental impact. Effectively, the scheme has put motorcyclists and 4x4 drivers in charge of green lanes management. At the beginning of 2022 the LDNPA published a “position statement on unsealed roads”. It says that “where there is unequivocal evidence that motorised vehicle use of a specific unsealed road poses harm to OUV [Outstanding Universal Value]* of the WHS [World Heritage Site], or special qualities of the National Park, then we will seek the introduction of an appropriate TRO to address the defined threat in accordance with DEFRA guidance and the tests required under Highways Act legislation.” We think that the LDNPA now needs a green lanes strategy which goes back to basics and puts conservation first. It also needs to have regard to the impacts on the amenity of non-motorised users, not just on OUV and the special qualities of the National Park * It is the Outstanding Universal Value that gained the Lake District its World Heritage status in 2017. UNESCO’s advisory body ICOMOS advised the LDNPA in 2019 to “consider the banning of the use of 4x4 vehicles on green roads within the World Heritage property.” (see the question on UNESCO below)
How does that compare to other national parks? In the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District the National Park Authorities have so far used the new powers handed to them in 2007 to impose TROs on 17 routes, seven in the Peaks and 10 in the Dales. For all of them the conservation or enhancement of natural beauty was the main reason. By contrast, the LDNPA has not introduced a single TRO since 2007. The LDNPA says that there are four TROs in the National Park, all introduced before 2007. But one of these (High Nibthwaite to Parkamoor) is no longer in force, and only one of the remaining three (Gatescarth Pass) mentions the conservation or enhancement of natural beauty. The permit system at Gatescarth Pass is also the only TRO made by the LDNPA, the other two were made by Cumbria County Council. We think that the Lake District deserves better.
The Lake District is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Has UNESCO said anything about recreational motor vehicles on green lanes? UNESCO and its advisory body ICOMOS have issued two technical reviews on the subject. The May 2019 document says: “ICOMOS advises that the State Party consider the banning of the use of 4x4 vehicles on green roads within the World Heritage property. It is understood that there is already a tool in place in the form of a TRO that is precisely tailored to this need.” And on the two green lanes near Little Langdale: “In ICOMOS’s view the issue is that the increase in 4x4 traffic on these two green roads is having an adverse impact on what the World Heritage property and on what the National Park are trying to sustain. Tools are needed to deal with this impact.” The ICOMOS report highlights grounds d), e) and h) under the TRO legislation as particularly relevant for TROs in the Lake District.(see above: What can the LDNPA do to curb recreational driving on green lanes?)
Your petition for the protection of the Lake District’s World Heritage status now has over 388,000 signatures. Is this not just a PR exercise? No. Our petition shows that many people in the UK and beyond care about protecting the landscape of the Lake District. Even people who have never been here think of the Lakes and as an important public good that should be safeguarded. And because of its World Heritage status, the Lake District has become a public good well beyond the UK.