Don't think you can get away with illegal off-roading
Take a modest sized bit of wilderness full of tracks and paths and place it between some large and growing urban communities and you will have a recipe for conflict – especially when the internal combustion engine gets involved.
Such places might seem like a promised land to off-road loving motorcyclists and four-wheel-drive owners, but they are for the most part out of bounds and it is illegal to take vehicles across them – as four people have recently discovered in Somerset.
The Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty ranger service and Avon and Somerset Police have announced they are delighted that four recent prosecutions for illegal off-roading in the hills have been successful.
The say the convictions, which resulted in more than £1,000 worth of fines, send out a serious message to anyone who is caught illegally off-roading in the protected area – and they also point out that, under anti-social behaviour legislation, offending vehicles can be taken away and destroyed.
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AONB ranger Tim Russell says: "Damage sustained to sensitive habitats and public rights of way by illegal off-roading is particularly detrimental. Off-roading causes erosion, has an adverse affect on wildlife and greatly reduces the tranquillity of this beautiful and sensitive landscape."
Mr Russell said it had taken some years for the 2006 legislation – which removed RUPPs (roads used as public paths) off the official maps – to have an effect, but that now the message had been stepped up a gear.
"We had a lot of RUPPs on the Quantocks but it was an odd designation – it didn't mean anything," he said. "But the legislation changed and those tracks became restricted byways which meant you couldn't take mechanically propelled vehicles up there unless you had express landowner permission.
"That made the situation much clearer for us in dealing with motorbikes and four wheel drives at weekends – but some people have been trying to gradually come back, thinking they can get away with it. However, it is a criminal offence – simple as that."
Mr Russell went on: "Also police legislation changed and some anti-social behaviour laws came in – if vehicles are upsetting other people or even damaging the environment the drivers can be arrested and the vehicles can even be taken away and crushed.
"Some people think: 'We might not bump into a ranger or policeman'. Others think: 'I've had my enjoyment taken away – I don't care about the law, let them take me to court'. So these cases are a useful precedent for us because they're the first in a long time. The Quantocks is effectively a huge nature reserve and we have some of the highest levels of protection in Europe – we are not dealing with a bit of wasteland here. In fact, it's amazing it's survived so well against urban populations."