This week a report to be published by the Council for the Protection of Rural England will highlight mountain biking as one of the ways in which unrestricted countryside leisure and tourism are increasingly harming the environment.
The cyclists often use footpaths, although the law says they should be restricted to bridleways and byways. The broad, high-grip tyres they use are stripping out vegetation and leaving deep, muddy furrows. Walkers and ramblers complain that they are irritated and frightened by mountain bikes that pass them at speed. Some regard the bicycles as an inappropriate, unnatural leisure pursuit in cherished landscapes such as the 11 National Parks of England and Wales.
Mountain bikes now have about 60 per cent of the cycle market and some six million have been bought in Britain to date. Although many are sold to children and never leave the suburbs, they have become a common sight off- road deep in the countryside.
Yesterday the Department of the Environment said it was considering what could be done to tackle the issue. But those closer to the problems, such as National Park authorities and local councils maintaining footpaths, have little confidence that the Government will act swiftly.
'We've got to try and work through education and co-operation,' Steele Addison, chairman of the Association of National Parks, said.
The Lake District Park Authority, of which he is also chairman, is putting up signs asking mountain bikers to stay off footpaths and is asking firms that hire out the machines to ask their customers to be considerate.
Leading article, page 15