My brain just imlpoded trying to read that. Far too early for such complex ****.I'd like to continue this dormant topic, I find it really interesting reading peoples thoughts from one rider to another. PLEASE DON'T GO ACT ON MY THOUGHTS, THIS IS WHAT I THINK AND NOT THE OFFICIAL STAND POINT!
Illegal trail building, essentially cutting a trail into private land/common land (as it is around where I live) has been going on for years. Here is how I categorise the problem:
1) Cutting a new trail into private land (owned by a farmer/individual/company) without landowners consent is trespassing and can land you in trouble, I would seek permission. Building trails here is, in my book, totally against the law and ILLEGAL.
2) Cutting a trail into land owned by the national trust/forestry commission etc. is illegal, as they fall under category (1); However modifications to current paths: ie. adding to a current trail/path/bridleway falls under this 'patchy' area. This will be mentioned in (4)
3) Modifying/Cutting a trail into common land/woods/heathland where there is high activity from cyclists/dog walkers/runners/ramblers etc is, in my opinion, OK. As long as the current environment isn't drastically changed or the local voice (normally local councillors/residents assoc.) do not have any use for the land or plan to protect a certain species of animal/plant then properly planning and constructing a trail should not be tagged as illegal.
Often this land may not be looked after with rough boggy tracks, bad drainage and those annoying bramble bushes or nettle patches. Generally these places get habitat notices to protect them from property developers and the like.
4) Modifying a footpath/bridleway is from where I see it a beneficial way to create single track trail. These trails should be made from the existing natural features and avoid cutting down bushes or branches of trees to create that sweet experience. As the woods/heathland/hills are for everyone to enjoy, I do not see how creating a low profile, low impact berm can damage the environment. Other benefits of this 'illegal' (as it may be classed as now) trail building include clearing rocks/removing organic matter like leaves and sticks/smoothing of trails to allow for a fast running trail. As nothing grows on these paths except dog **** and boggy conditions, trial building improves the quality of the paths!
As long as the trail will not deteriorate the current path by means of a jump or low lying hole collecting water/sitting in the centre of a public right of way then nothing essentially changes. Except: camber and initial appearance until it weathers which has low impact.
Making a berm'd corner or a small jump/drop off from wood and a landing can also be done, as long as it is constructed considering its durability (to bike park standards), as loose wood cannot come free and ruin some one’s life so considerate path modifications should improve the existing path network making it more mountain bike friendly.
After all a maintained piece of single track makes a safer path to walk down. H&S won't want people falling over stray stones...
A short story of my experience
Locally in public woodlands very close to me, dirt BMX riders built some jumps (2-6ft in height) and it ruined the hidden part of woodland as kids later found it and often add to it, in process leaving litter (crisps/soft drinks).
Older teenagers often head over there with spades (I used to be included in this years ago) as they are the ones who are actively interested in repairing and adding to the jumps. No footpaths cross the trail as it is weaved in between trees so it just lays hidden from the obligatory nosey, whistle blowing public member who objects to almost every change.
Health and Safety is a joke when it comes to this sort of trail building because it falls on the side that everyone is stupid and has to have common sense explained to them. People fall over curb stones and over doorways so when it comes to walking in the woods why do people get upset about falling over a stick, stone, leaf? or a bump of soil, or a rabbit hole. These less obvious issues are more dangerous to the 'public' than a berm or jump parallel to the footpath. Unless someones ignorance gets them injured then yes, they are dangerous... if your stupid enough to try ride it. Would you ride off your garage roof?
As to the construction of 'illegal trails' (which all new non-official trails are categorized as), they should only be built by fitting into criteria the following criteria under certain conditions:
(1) No building unless authorized
(2) Only minor modification to current paths without obstructing them or creating obstacles like jumps or pump tracks. These include berms around tight corners where dirt from bikes is often pushed to a side or where off camber corners would benefit from work. There are plenty of examples but common sense generally applies. Think of it as footpath modifications and not mountain bike trail. This way if there is alarm about what you are doing on NT/FC land it’s for the general public not just 'selfish' riders.
(3) Generally following (2) criteria and the exception that a well places tabletop of bump in a trail can make a great feature without impacting walkers. When making jumps/other testing features think about the durability of what is made and make them from mineral soil without digging vast deep pitfalls in the process. Cutting benches into the ground and contouring lowers impacts whilst making a trail have negligible impact and a long life.
(4) Basically this step is a general step and should not include jumps. It can include berms but keep them to an adequate size and not 4ft high where you're trail dictates a 1-2ft berm. Think about erosion and run off, giving a slight slope to benches cut into normally high gradient paths. Also avoid using wood and if so, don’t cut down trees or secure north-shore onto living trees as this kills them and totally ruins the riding community’s image.
For all of the above it is wise to not build in a sensitive area (SSSI)/(AONB) or a protected habitat unless your making slight modification to a path as previously mentioned.
Example of a trail
If a NEW trail is cut into land be it legal or illegal along a distance of 1km through woodland (say) and is 0.4m wide, the area concerned is 400m^2. Over a woodland of 1km x 1km which has an area of 1,000,000m^2 (SLIGHT 0.04% impact). I find it incredible how people (not giving examples) can get angry about habitat destruction of a well cut trail. Yes it does remove small amounts of organic soil, moving small amounts a short distance. The habitat will simply repair itself after as little as a season if untouched.
If a path/bridleway is MODIFIED along a distance of 1km through woodland (say) and is added modifications are 0m wide as the existing footprint is all that's needed for the trail, the area concerned is 0m^2 of damage. Over a woodland of 1km x 1km which has an area of 1,000,000m^2 there is NO impact. Impact is only visual; there will be more benefits in terms of durability and accessibility.
Be responsible for all your actions and avoid tearing up the countryside and woods leaving erosion nightmares for years. It’s our environment so don’t destroy it!