Illegal biking under the spotlight

FEARS that the temporary absence of local quad bike tracks could cause damage to forest and mountain paths appear to be well founded after an upsurge of complaints.

Now Forestry Commission Scotland has teamed up with police forces from Dumfries & Galloway and Strathclyde to work with quad bikers riding in Galloway Forest Park.

Recently there has been a surge of complaints by the public about quad bikers in the Forest Park area who are causing damage to wildlife habitat and public recreation facilities, including the new 100,000 hill path on the Merrick, southern Scotland's highest hill.

According to the District Forester in Galloway, few of the riders realise the damage that is caused or know that it is illegal to ride a motorbike or quad bike on Forestry Commission Scotland land, or any other land without permission.

Whilst the Commission has promoted access on foot, cycle and horseback for many years, quads pose new issues.

Foresters and the Police are also keen that retailers selling the quad bikes understand that they have an important and responsible part to play in steering new buyers to areas where quad biking is allowed.

As a first step forward, the Commission and police have met with local quad bikers in Bellsbank in Ayrshire - and the initiative could be extended further, explained Keith Muir, District Forester in Galloway.

Mr Muir said: "The quad bikers in Bellsbank actually initiated this first meeting which is great news and clearly demonstrates they are taking a very responsible approach.

"It is obvious that they enjoy the Forest Park and don't wish to see it damaged in any way. We have all agreed to work together to find a long-term solution which benefits everybody."

Mr Muir is also keen to involve the retail sector in further discussions as he believes they do not fully understand the implications of sending new buyers of quad bikes off to ride in Galloway Forest Park.

He said: "We need an open dialogue with the retail sector too. We can't turn a blind eye to the growing number of quad bikers heading for the hills without a clue that they might be causing huge problems in sensitive environments.

"We expect that after Christmas we'll see another upsurge in quad bikes being taken out so we need to take action now and work together on it. If retailers take the same positive action as with the riders at Bellsbank then we are already half way there."

Forestry Commission Scotland and the Police are also concerned about the recent misuse of some of the mountain bothies in Galloway Forest Park.

They say this is a direct result of reckless youths breaking down barriers to permit their access in cars holding parties in the bothies and intimidating genuine walkers.

From now on, the police, Forestry Commission Scotland and mountain rescue aim to monitor to bothies very closely and take action to stop the abuse of the bothies.

Mr Muir said: "Hill walkers should feel they can totally enjoy getting out in the Galloway hills without being intimidated and we are not going to let it continue."

Recently quad biking and motocross was banned at the local club's track at Clark's Wood, near Minnigaff, Newton Stewart until March 2006, when noise level testing will be carried out.