The cost of going off-piste

Words and pictures - Lauren Eaton, Green Lane Association Media and Comms Executive Officer

Most of us within the Land Rover world know what green laning is: driving unsurfaced public roads. What most of us do not do is deviate from the legal track. But what happens when the minority do?

Off-piste driving recently caused a 10 month multi-agency concern in Shropshire. A scenic lane adjacent to privately owned property was being targeted by those who wished to make the rather pleasant experience of driving Wootton Lane more of a challenge. Drivers had been cutting through farmer’s land or through a water course that supplies drinking water to local residents, into woodland owned by the National Trust, leaving devastation in their wake.

Back in March 2019 an on-site meeting included representatives from Shropshire County Council, The National Trust, a local councillor, neighbouring land owners, the local ranger and Green Lane Association representatives and executive officers – Stuart Pickering, Richard Price and Lauren Eaton. The damage was obvious to see - several illegal entrances had been created to access privately owned land and the consequences required urgent solutions.

As is often the case when off –piste driving occurs the initial reaction from land owners and the National Trust was to close the lane. This is unfortunately why we have lost so many of our vehicular rights of way; the bad apples in our own community create costly problems and we are no longer welcome.

It was clear from our initial inspection that the lane itself was in a good state of repair - no essential maintenance issues were found or raised on the legal route itself, but as the lane winds between farmland and meets a watercourse the damage soon became apparent - deep rutted tracks were visible leading off into neighbouring woodland and could be followed over half a mile through National Trust land and onto farm property. The idyllic location bore many scars of off piste activity - litter was strewn around the watercourse and tyres had been discarded along its banks. The local farmer, James, reported to us that he had been contacted on several occasions to assist in the recovery of vehicles that had become stuck while driving illegally off the byway. The question was how to prevent this from continually happening? Not only that but without changing the scenic nature of the lane, or causing further environmental impact to the watercourse?

The solution put forward and (at this point unofficially) agreed upon by all parties present was to block access to the off piste area from the lane using a number of concrete ‘Lego’ blocks. All parties went away for further discussions this time including representatives from Severn Trent, who manage the watercourse that makes up part of the BOAT, and the Environment Agency.

Fast forward to December and Wootton Lane had continued to see its fair share of continued off-piste activity. Several more 4x4s stuck in the deep mud in the woodland, one left burnt out in the watercourse, more litter left strewn around, and even an incident in which a motorcyclist was run over leaving the lane closed to everyone while police investigations took place. But finally all parties had agreed upon a solution that satisfied everyone, budgets had been discussed and signed off, including funding from the Green Lane Association, the police had re-opened the lane, and work could finally begin.

It look over a week for Shropshire Rights of Way Officer Tim Simmons and local farmers to remove the burnt out Land Rover, cut back into the banks of the watercourse, lay concrete blocks, back-fill and make tidy the previously scarred land. Passing places were cut into the high-sided lane and the material removed was used as back-fill or to grade any minor surface erosion – the green lane version of pot hole filling.

Wootton Lane is now off-piste proof, but at what cost? In total eight different agencies, authorities and organisations had to be involved in this project, plus local farmers, materials had to be bought, labour and plant hire paid for, and for what? A few minutes of muddy fun that if drivers were caught could land them a section 59 driving offence, fines, and potentially their vehicles being seized and crushed? Not to mention another potential lane closure!

Without user groups like the Green Lane Association, no one would speak for our community as 4x4 drivers during incidents like these and budgets would not be available to remedy the problem, leaving closures the more likely, or even the only option. In the case of Wootton Lane there was a budget shortfall that the Green Lane Association paid, the rest was given in the form of voluntary time and effort by their reps and execs - without it another lane could have been lost to us all forever.