The National Trail:-

One of the often overlooked achievements of the post-War Attlee Government was the creation of our system of countryside access.  The 1947 Hobhouse Committee of Parliament, on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside, led to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 (1949 Act).   Amongst the Act’s provisions was the creation of long-distance paths, one of those envisioned being The Ridgeway route from Cambridge to Seaton in Devon.  However, it was not until July 1972 that a much-shortened version of The Ridgeway, between Avebury and Ivinghoe Beacon, was approved, and the new National Trail was officially opened on 29th September 1973.

The Off-Road Problem:-

It soon became clear that the recreational use of motor vehicles was becoming a major problem for The Ridgeway, despite its National Trail status.  The rapid, post-War growth in the numbers of off-road motor bikes and 4x4s, often driven or ridden aggressively to enjoy the challenge of unsealed surfaces, soon created difficulties for other users, particularly on the western half of the Trail, where The Ridgeway’s origins  as an ancient highway meant that it was classified as a Byway Open to All Traffic.  The surface of the Trail was severely damaged in many places, becoming a sea of mud in the winter and then dangerously rutted as it dried in the summer.  Precious archaeological sites were damaged and other users were disturbed by engine noise.

Foundation of the Association:-

Increasing numbers of local residents and users determined to oppose the abuse. Denis Grant King, teacher, artist, and amateur Wiltshire archaeologist, led the struggle to return peace to The Ridgeway and other green-ways, and from 1972 convened the Ridgeway Conservation Conference (RCC), supported by many organisations and individuals. For ten years the RCC co-ordinated the opposition efforts, but it lacked a grass-roots organisation. The Friends of the Ridgeway (FoR) was formally constituted on 6th March, 1983, as its successor, with Patrick Cormack MP as President, and under the Chairmanship of Maurice Mendoza CVO, a former Director of Ancient Monuments.  Nigel Forward, a retired senior Civil Servant, was Secretary.  FoR worked to build up its membership, and to lobby for more effective legislative and regulatory protection.  Attempts in 1986 to introduce a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) under the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act were overturned at a Public Enquiry in 1992, in favour of an ineffective Code of Voluntary Restraint, but some seasonal TROs were achieved later.

GLEAM and GLPG:-

  The Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement (GLEAM) – [www.gleam-uk.org] was founded in April 1995 by David Gardiner and Elizabeth Still, to co-ordinate the opposition to the off-roaders across the country, and to mobilise opinion against the rape of our green lanes.  FoR was amongst the first of GLEAM’s members, and GLEAM’s national spread and the expertise and sterling efforts of its founders and its Honorary Adviser, Graham Plumbe, proved invaluable in the campaign.  An off-shoot of GLEAM, The Green Lanes Protection Group (GLPG), an association of organisations opposing off-road use of green lanes, led by David Gardiner and by FoR’s Chairman, Ian Ritchie, has proved an effective lobbyist for legislative change.

Legislation:-

Problems mainly arose from the unsatisfactory definition by the !949 Act of “Roads used as a Public Path”, or RUPPs, since this did not determine vehicular rights.  The 1968 Countryside Act introduced the further class of “Byway Open to All Traffic” or BOATs, but also failed to define this classification.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 introduced a revised test based on proof of existing vehicular rights; but this also failed to address the problem satisfactorily, since it left complainants with the almost impossible task of proving no past vehicular use. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000, abandoned the unsatisfactory RUPP definition, in favour of the new form of “Restricted Byway”, but allowed drivers using such routes to claim the defence of prior vehicular rights, which could be established by pre-motor traffic; in other words, previous use by a horse and cart could justify use by an articulated motor truck!  This remaining problem was addressed, hopefully finally, by ss 66-72 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, 2006, which effectively extinguishes future claims to BOAT status.  Once existing claims for this designation have been settled, the main legal issues should have been laid to rest.

The Present Position:-

.  Most of The Ridgeway sections in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire, previously classified as BOATs, have now been reclassified as Restricted Byways and therefore banned to motor vehicles. There are now only about 3 miles of the trail that are open to motor vehicles all the year round.  A further section of 14 miles in Wiltshire is still the subject of a TRO and has motor vehicle rights for 5 months each summer. We will continue to campaign for a complete ban on all non-essential motor vehicles along the whole of The Ridgeway, but we are pleased with the progress  made.