'Trespassing' bikers are seen 'in their droves'
Concern is growing about the increasing number of mountain bikers trespassing during the lockdown and not practising social distancing.
They have been accused of damaging land and ignoring “no cycling” signs, making it difficult for walkers to pass.
A farmer at Congleton Edge said this week that mountain bikers, some from the Potteries, had been seen “in their droves”, exasperating ongoing concerns that they were cycling through ancient woodland without permission.
Keith Whitworth, of Edge End Farm, contacted the Chronicle in response to a letter in Thursday's edition from Steve Dunn in which he described how three men mountain biking at Congleton Edge told him it was “none of his business” when he challenged them about cycling on a footpath that was forbidden for bicycles.
Mr Whitworth said the problem “had been going on for years” but had become “critical” since the lockdown as there were “significantly” more bikers and walkers using public paths as well as trespassing on private property.
He said that while there were bridleways in the area where cycling was permitted, such as one that led from the Edge to Nick O'th Hill and on to Biddulph, there are other routes that had signs saying “no cycling”. While cyclists were not only trespassing by using these paths, they could also be intimidating to walkers, especially older people, and were breaking social distancing rules.
He explained how mountain bikers had made an unofficial track through Willocks Wood, an ancient coppice first planted in the 1600s, and used it to join a public footpath.
Mr Whitworth, who cycles himself, said he had had to rebuild a dry stone wall that was knocked down to gain access. The wood is owned by the Cavenagh-Mainwaring family, of Whitmore Hall near Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Mr Whitworth helps to look after it as it adjoins his land.
Mr Whitworth said he had previously had a meeting with John Amies, a representative of Congleton Mountain Biking Club, who was seeking permission for cyclists to use the wood. Mr Whitworth checked with the owners who told him they did not want cyclists using the wood because of the mess they made.
Mr Whitworth told the Chronicle: “When the cyclists come through, they say they have had permission, but I tell them they haven't.”
He informed the Cavenagh-Mainwarings, who said they were going to write to Mr Amies saying that the cyclists definitely did not have permission to use the wood.
Mr Amies, liaison officer for Congleton Mountain Biking Club, described it as an “ongoing saga”.
He said the club had reached agreement with Mr Whitworth about two years ago not to use a lower path by the woods in exchange to use an ascending path that crossed his land, which he described was a roadway access to Willocks Wood, but that Mr Whitworth had since “reneged upon on that understanding”.
Mr Amies added he had never had direct contact with the wood's owners, saying: “We have kept to the path we agreed with Mr Whitworth, and we have stuck to that agreement.”
Mr Amies said: “None of the landowners along Congleton Edge had ever complained. It's other people who have complained. He just hates mountain bikers and it is out of date thinking.”
He claimed that in relation to footpaths, social distancing “goes by the board” and that people have to pass by “as best they can”.
Mr Whitworth said: “The cyclists are not interested in social distancing. They're coming up in their droves.
“Some of the young ones are nice but some others are very aggressive and ride their bikes at you, and for some older walkers can be a problem. Some of their language is not very good either. They think it's the place to go mountain biking but it's not.”
He said the track they had made in Willocks Wood had no base as it was just soil, and kept getting dug up.
“I'm all for younger people going out and getting on their bikes, but they cannot go on that section of wood,” Mr Whitworth added.
He said a wildlife camera that was positioned in the woods had also been stolen some time ago.
“There used to be deer and cuckoos there but they have gone now,” he said.