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Green Lanes


There's currently stirring locally against the use of "green lanes" by 4x4s and other motor vehicles. Vicky Ford's blog1 is a good example. As a occasional green laner and a walker I think I'm in the unusual position of being able to see both sides of this one.

First some background for new readers. All vehicles, including 4x4s and motorbikes, have a right to drive down rights of way (RoW) called byways. These are part of the ancient road network which, for historical reasons, were never upgraded into the roads we have today. They still exist as rights of way, and indeed some of them are metalled in parts, but most of them are tracks.

There is a problem with byways. They often get cut up in the winter time and end up as a boggy mess. "Green laners" are the ones getting the blame for this.

The reality is a little more complicated. You only have to walk a byway and look at what's doing the damage to realise that every user is cutting it up, not just 4x4s and motorbikes.

For a start there's the tractors: they cut deeper ruts than anything else. Often when you see pictures of the damage allegedly done by 4x4s the ruts are far too deep to be 4x4s - they would get completely stuck in those conditions - it's tractors causing the problem. But fair dos, they need to use the byways to get to their fields.

Then there's the horses. The damage horses do to byways and bridleways (the next level of RoW down) in the winter can really be quite impressive. It even affects footpaths too, to which they have no explicit right of way but may have permission from the landowner. As a walker I find the damage left by horses in the winter far more of a problem than vehicles of any kind as it's far more wide ranging. We've even seen a sign from a stables on a bridleway asking horse riders to not use the bridleway over the winter as they're making such a mess (the sign was clearly being ignored by the way).

And then there's the walkers. On some RoW, especially footpaths, there are clearly too many of us using it in the winter and we're cutting those up too.

So we're all cutting up our RoW in the winter time, not just 4x4s.

There is a difference though. Responsible 4x4 drivers don't green lane in the winter, and in some counties, Essex for example, they close the byways to 4x4s in the winter which seems very sensible to me.

But I can't see any other class of countryside user accepting those sort of constraints on their use of the countryside, despite them doing just as much damage ...

  1. As an aside click on the second picture. The byway they're on is actually very dry but that's not what made me smile. All of them are in wellies except for our MP Jim Paice. Now he was a farmer before he became an MP so you'd think he would always have a pair of wellies in the boot of his car but he's wearing a pair of brown brogues. So either this bit of lane is actually fine or he's lost touch with his roots. I suspect the former.

Tags: local politics, walks Written 26/02/08

Previous comments about this article:

On 26/02/08 at 12:47pm Vicky Ford wrote:

Thanks Paul - and you are right - the issue is responsible use of the green lane. And sadly the 18 4x4s that had gone down this lane over last weekend had not helped!

As for the wellies comment I had collered Jim in between two other meetings so hence the lack of Wellies. He and I have walked the countryside near here in the past in Wellies.

On 26/02/08 at 8:12pm Paul wrote:

That's really not on. The Land Access Rights Association code of conduct recommends groups of around four vehicles. It also says you should not be driving on lanes when "they risk being damaged beyond a point of natural recovery when the weather improves". That's why responsible green laners stay off green lanes in the winter.

This sort of behaviour drives me mad as it tars everyone with the same brush and gives ammunition to those who want to ban vehicles all year around.

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