A while back I mentioned that STACC would look at new mountain bike trails in Heartwood Forest. Mike and Doug from the STACC commitee met Louise Neicho, the Heartwood manager, at Heartwood on Monday to discuss cycle issues in the forest. Louise stated the Woodland Trust’s attitude to cycle access and provided some guidance on what could happen in the future.
The Woodland trust won't move on their current strategy for new multi-user routes- in short there won’t be any more routes beyond the existing signed statutory and permissive routes, and the conversion of the footpath running parallel to Wheathampstead road.
‘The Woodland Trust is not the Forestry Commission’ said Louise- this means that the Woodland Trust have neither the funding nor the strategy to provide mountain bike trails, but they do provide some permissive routes on site. We won’t have any new mountain bike trails at Heartwood in the near or mid future.
Preservation of the Ancient Woodlands – Langley Wood, Well Wood and Pudler’s Wood is a key part of the strategy for Heartwood. Bikes are not a big cause of erosion in the woods, but there is deep concern about the safety of bikes in a wood which is very busy with pedestrians. Some groups of mountain bikers were spotted in the Langley Wood this summer- one of these groups was verbally abusive to Louise after she had asked them not to ride in the wood.
STACC has contacted some local mountain bike groups who assure us that the woods are not part of any organised rides they do, but there are obviously other cyclists who ride there. STACC is trying to contact these people but they are difficult to contact since they’re not in clubs or groups we know about. STACC will work in partnership with the Woodland Trust to find different ways to spread the message through shops, the Sandridge Parish council magazine and Sandridge youth clubs.
The Ancient Woods may seem really attractive places to ride but given the large number of pedestrians and the ecology of the woods they are not suitable to ride, so PLEASE DON’T RIDE THERE! Riding in these areas puts riders in conflict with other users and limits what we can do in the future for bike riding at Heartwood.
Away from the woods, there are some signs on site saying that bridleways are closed for various reasons. The signs cause confusion since they imply that bridleways will appear at some stage - Louise will look at these and change or remove them as appropriate. The latest access map is below and shows that there is a reasonable (but not brilliantly linked) set of permissive trails which cyclists can use through and around Heartwood.
Mixing horse and cycle access is difficult. Horses moving quickly can be seen as a hazard to cyclists- particularly family groups- this is a factor behind the Trusts’ reluctance to open existing foothpaths up to bikes and horses. The other problem is surfacing- in wet weather horses’ hooves can churn up unsurfaced tracks, which can make the trails very muddy and hard to ride on. The horse/bike access conflict is a bit of an access schism as both groups are looking to increase the routes we can ride. The issue can only be solved if the Woodland Trust can find some way of dedicating routes to cyclists- this is difficult since the British Horse society is very active and effective on access and will question any route being open to cyclists without horse access.
So, that’s it on Heartwood for the moment. STACC is involved in the Heartwood Access forum where we will work for the good of cycling at Heartwood and we will explore what can be done within the Trust’s strategy to encourage access for all kinds of cyclist.