British Cycling has called on the Government to open up countryside paths to cyclists in England and Wales in a bid to encourage more people to travel by two wheels.
In a letter to the environment secretary, the organisation states its belief that that many people will ‘simply not consider cycling’ unless they can do so on a traffic-free route.
At present, it is illegal for people on bikes to access the majority of the countryside in England and Wales. Cyclists have access to less than a third of the 140,000 miles of public paths.
There is also little access to the three million acres of Open Access Land or the 2,800 miles of newly created coastal access.
However, cyclists in Scotland have more freedom when it comes to using paths to cycle on – something the letter says should be adopted across England and Wales.
British Cycling points to the Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003, which it says has proven that responsible access by people on bikes is sustainable, manageable and highly beneficial to tourism, health and the economy.
A YouGov poll, commissioned by British Cycling, suggests that almost two-thirds of people do not know that they are not allowed to cycle on the majority of public paths in the countryside. The majority of people questioned also believe they should be allowed to cycle on them.
British Cycling’s chief executive, Ian Drake, said: “England and Wales is packed with outstanding countryside on millions of people’s doorsteps but, due to outdated and confusing rights of way legislation, much of it is only open to you if you choose to walk.
“We know that many people will simply not consider cycling unless they can do it on a traffic-free route. While national and local government work on putting cycle lanes in place across our towns and cities, countryside paths are fantastic, free alternatives that could be enjoyed responsibly by mountain bikers and families alike.
“At a time when obesity levels and air pollution in our cities is at an all-time high, we call on the government to act to make sure that the massive opportunity to get active in the countryside is not wasted.”
The campaign is also supported by the British Horse Society (BHS) which is keen to see the initiative extended to cover horse riders.
Earlier this year, the BHS launched its ‘Dead Slow’ campaign which urges drivers to slow down to 15mph when they meet a horse and rider on the road.
The BHS points out that while 2.7 million people ride horses in the UK, at present under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, horse riders have access to only one-fifth of the 112,000 miles of public paths, leaving them with ‘very limited space to exercise horses outside of the yard’.
In contrast, in Scotland the Scottish Land Reform Act gives horse riders the right to use any public land, giving riders the same access as walkers.
A spokesperson for BHS said: “Britain’s roads have never been busier. Sadly, 36 horse riders, mostly women, have been killed riding out on our roads in the past five years.