Legal: Which trails can I legally ride?

ABR’s legal eagle, Andrew Dalton, takes a look at the legality of trail riding in the UK

ABR’s legal eagle, Andrew Dalton, takes a look at the legality of trail riding in the UK

The law on green lanes is simple but messy. Your starting point is that a road marked as a byway open to all traffic Bywayon an Ordnance Survey map should be OK to ride, but life is never that simple. If you cannot read an Ordnance Survey map, maybe green laning or adventure biking should not be your thing, but if you can read a map, the fact that that the OS shows a byway is half the battle.

The next question is ‘is it a restricted byway?’

If it is marked as restricted nothing with a motor can go on it. The next test is does it have a traffic restriction order (TRO) showing no access to bikes or bikes and cars? A lot of green lanes are shut in the winter, some are for motorbikes only, and nothing else with a motor can use them.

Check out for a comprehensive list of green lanes around the UK and their status.

Bridleways and footpaths are strictly forbidden, as are common areas of land for use by motorised traffic, but the police have limited powers. Riding on bridleways, footpaths or common land is an offence under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act, but it is a non-endorsable offence carrying a maximum fine of £1,000. The police do have powers of seizure of vehicles for repeat offenders but notice has to be given under Section 58 of the Police Reform Act 2002.

The highways authority must mark out the route and status of byways and they must be marked with reasonable clarity. The test is whether or not a person unfamiliar with the area could route themselves around the byways without excessive difficulty.

The truth of the matter is that the police have no method of policing byways or bridleways, it is respect for the law which stops riders using the countryside illegally. The chances of being prosecuted, in reality, using an off-road route unlawfully with a mud-splattered number plate are about nil.

However, fall into the hands of an angry farmer with a shotgun and the consequences might be a lot graver than a fine of a few hundred pounds. In my experience and in the experience of others who have been confronted, confrontations can escalate very quickly.

Country dwellers know the police are almost ineffective on byway patrolling, so they may take their own somewhat liberal interpretation of the law of self-help and trespass.

If you fancy using the UK’s network of green lanes then join your local Trail Riders’ Fellowship – they will know where the legal lanes are and you will find other riders to ride with. I occasionally ride solo on easy lanes on my 99kg AJP 240 but on my 140kg Husqvarna I rarely ride alone – getting pinned down by your own bike if things go wrong is a real risk and byways are often quite deserted.