People who drive off-road vehicles through Welsh forests are facing a crackdown by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the police.
The number of people taking trail bikes and 4x4s illegally on to footpaths, bridle paths and across open ground has been increasing.
This is not only dangerous but it also spoils the enjoyment of legitimate users of the forest as well as harming the environment and wastes taxpayers’ money to repair the damage.
Michael Cresswell, Coed y Cymoedd woodland manager for Natural Resources Wales, explained:
“Our forests and open access areas are great places for people to relax and enjoy nature and we want to make sure they can do so in peace, and so we are taking steps across the country to deter the activities of illegal off-roaders.”
In the Ceiriog valley, near Wrexham, illegal off-roading has become an increasing problem.
Here, NRW has joined forces with North Wales Police, the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Wrexham County Borough Council and other landowners such as the Nantyr estate, to restrict access in the Nantyr forest by replacing a boundary gate with a fence and horse stile and installing fencing on a nearby bridleway.
The Dyfi Forest has been targeted by illegal motorcyclists for four years but the problem has escalated in the last 12 months.
Among the issues affecting Dyfi are environmental, health and safety and financial aspects as well as damage to the forest infrastructure.
In addition, NRW has had to pay cleanup costs after illegal off-roaders from outside the area set up campsites in the forest which also adds to the risk of forest fires.
And there have been threats of violence to farmers and members of the public who challenged the illegal off-roaders.
NRW’s Dyfi forest area manager, Robert Williams, said:
“We have been working with Dyfed Powys and North Wales Police, landowners and local people to identify how, where and when off-road bikes are entering the forest.
“Our hard work is starting to pay off as North Wales Police have already issued 10 anti-social driving notices this year”
Sgt Rob Taylor of North Wales Police Rural Crime Team said:
“The damage that can be caused by off-roading is devastating and it can sometimes take quite a number of years for the areas to recover.
“A lot of these remote areas are highly protected and are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and to damage one is a criminal offence as well as significantly spoiling the area for the majority of the law abiding community.
“We will continue to work closely with NRW and take a proactive approach in deterring these acts and catching offenders.”
And the crackdown is continuing in south Wales.
Earlier this month NRW officers assisted South Wales Police in an operation to target off-roaders in the forests around Maesteg, Bridgend.
Five people were issued with warnings for anti-social driving offences and one motorbike was seized.
Michael Cresswell added:
“The operation was a great success not only from an enforcement point of view but also because we had the opportunity to speak with people using the forest to explain what we are doing and the importance of protecting our forests.
“Not only do illegal vehicles disturb the tranquillity of the forest but they also pose a danger to others and themselves, damage trees and paths, increase flood risk for local communities by damaging streams and drains and disturb plants and animals.”
And as the fight against illegal drivers has been stepped up, NRW also continues to welcome legitimate off-roaders and leads the Wales Off-Road Motorcycle Steering Group (WORMS) as well as working with off-roading groups such as Legal Forest Riders, Treadlightly and off-road clubs.
And NRW also works with the Motor Sports Association to support and manage events on its land, including the Wales Rally GB, the biggest single event to take place in Welsh forests, as well many other local rallies.