Off-roaders churn up resentment

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A BAND of quad bikers, blamed for churning up some of the most idyllic moorland in Yorkshire, has enraged local people by demanding that the council should repair the damage.

Quad biking is one of the fastest-growing country sports, and the number of enthusiasts in the Yorkshire Dales has grown tenfold in the past five years. However, they have upset every section of the rural community. They are accused of scaring grouse, leaving farm gates open and destroying some of the best walking territory in Britain.

North Yorkshire District Council is so concerned it is set to ban all vehicles from a moorland "road" between Nidderdale and Coverdale. But locals have been astonished to learn that the Vauxhall Off-Road Club, which uses it, is not only fighting the plan but has also demanded that North Yorkshire repair the track under its road maintenance obligations.

Last night, no one from the club was available for comment, but off-road motor-sports enthusiasts insist they give a valuable boost to the rural economy.

North Yorkshire council has already drawn up a traffic regulation barring vehicles from the five-mile track near Ripon. The move would effectively turn the route, an attractive "green road", into a public footpath and bridleway, allowing vehicle access only to landowners.

"The path has been badly damaged by erosion and a lot of use by 4-by- 4 vehicles," said Alan Burns, the authority's highways maintenance manager. "We've had problems and so the councillors decided to take this step. This is a problem that has grown in recent years as the popularity of off-road driving has increased. Some paths where there is stone underneath can take this sort of treatment but if you're driving over peat, as is the case here, it causes real damage."

The council says it does not have the money to maintain the path for vehicle users. "The county council is willing to consider any offer of assistance that might enable this to be resolved to everybody's satisfaction, but we have had no offers of money or labour and materials and the off- roaders must bear in mind that this area is extremely remote and the labour costs would be high," Mr Burns said.

A cross between a large-wheeled go-cart and a motorbike, quads sell for around pounds 1,000 and are proving a strong draw for teenagers and young adults with money to spare. Off-road enthusiasts have provoked so much controversy that the Lake District National Park is also threatening to ban them, amid fears that some of its remoter tracks and bridleways have been badly scarred.

In an attempt to tackle the growing tension between hikers and bikers, the Lakes authorities have just appointed the country's first dedicated trails management officer. He took up his post last week and the park has made clear it is prepared to impose a 10mph speed limit or ban quad bikes and off-road vehicles altogether.

The worst-affected tracks in the Lake District include a route from Grizedale Forest Park to Nibthwaite, Walna Scar to Coniston and Tilberthwaite to Little Langdale. Vehicular access over Bethcar Moor may also be barred through the winter.

To close unclassified roads to traffic, the national park must apply to Cumbria County Council, which has the statutory power to impose an order.