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Building illegal trails in Scotland

Like so many other folks during lockdown, Ben Cathro wanted to do something constructive when he realised that travelling to World Cups and racing bikes wasn't going to be happening.

Ben Cathro Credit Pinkbike

The yearning for a training track in the forest near to his home and the desire to produce content drove Ben to start a well publicised trail build. And this is where the story starts.

Ben, thought that due to historical verbal agreements there was implied permission to be able build in that area and went about his task with gusto.

What Ben didn’t realise was that what he was doing was illegal. He was building on FLS land without permission and to compound the issue, his track went over a medieval monument. He was in a bit of bother and we were able to get involved and help link Ben up with the local trails association and the FLS representative for that area to start discussions on what could be done.

Unauthorised trail building is a part of mountain biking culture - however as the sport grows and matures – if we don’t look at that culture and begin to discuss what is acceptable then we believe there could be risks for mountain biking in Scotland. We have witnessed it being a growing concern over the last few years.

We worked really hard when it was raised by Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates to the National Access Forum in 2017 to defend the type of trails being built and the benefits they bring to the mountain bike community. Working with those land managers and landowners, along with the MTB community, we produced the ‘Unauthorised Trail Guidance’ which was launched at the Scottish Mountain Bike Conference in 2018. This guidance is a tool to be used by trail builders and land owners/managers alike to open discussions on the subject and mitigate against any possible issues.

We (and Ben) felt that his example, would be a good thing to share far and wide, to bring exposure to this topic – for discussion, thoughts and sense checking.

There is so much positivity ahead, with investment in the sport at an all-time high, major events on the horizon and Scotland being increasingly viewed as an exemplar of what is going right for mountain biking, this is a good time to raise this.

Have a read of Ben’s article, watch the film, share and comment. Ben wanted this to be on Pinkbike to get the global exposure necessary and get as many folks as possible to read and watch.

We need trails in the right place, built and managed by the right people, with the right permission to sustainably grow our sport, allowing us to keep riding awesome existing trails and new trails across Scotland.

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