The National Trust, assisted by local volunteers, is taking measures to prevent a small number of downhill mountain bike racers from damaging heath and woodland on and around Hydons Ball.
All countryside locations owned by the Trust are currently experiencing a big increase in visitor numbers during the Coronavirus lock-down and Hydons Ball is no exception. Walkers are urged to exercise only in their local area, to only use established footpaths and to avoid packed car parks and leaving litter. Horse riders are asked to only use bridle paths.
Additionally, a section of mountain bike enthusiasts who seek the thrill of riding down steep slopes at speed, creating their own trails, are damaging flora and fauna as well. Locally this is a problem on Hindhead Commons, the Devil’s Punchbowl and on Blackdown. Here in Hambledon a group of volunteers called the Friends of Hydons Ball have put up posters asking people not to create new paths and trails, or dig jumps and berms.
With the support of the NT, they have placed brash piles and dead tree trunks across unofficial paths. Matt Cusack, lead ranger for the area, said: “This is a national issue, but we are concerned about what has been happening on Hydons Ball and are grateful for the assistance of local volunteers.” Bikers trails, which utilise steep slopes, bumps, dips and jumps, have been blocked and brash placed in hollows and on mounds. Matt has felled several small scrub trees to create additional obstacles to downhill biking.
Downhill mountain biking is a major problem, he said, and the Surrey Hills has become a popular destination. “This is very damaging, but there are signs that the measures we are taking at Hydons Ball are achieving results. They seem to have moved on.”
Cross country mountain biking has increased in popularity, and although most riders confine their activity to suitable bridle paths, some are avid downhill racers. Various websites, YouTube videos and specialist publications, extoll the virtues of the Surrey Hills to indulge their passion and there are several locally-based downhill riders with an international reputation, and who have taken part in events across the globe.
Now confined by Covid restrictions, they are using the Surrey Hills. Matt said: “We know their names and I discovered that even our office in Staffordshire, where the lead team on this issue is based, were aware of these local Surrey riders and their activities. Their names have cropped up regularly. I am sure they are reasonable people but I ask them to think about what they are doing and to consider the following they may have, which encourages others to imitate what they do.”
Hambledon Parish Council is in contact with the National Trust over this issue and has offered any support it can give.
We all share a responsibility to respect our countryside and the wildlife habit it provides. Walkers should only use mapped public footpaths and those new to countryside walking are requested to wear appropriate clothing, be prepared to encounter mud, and not divert from paths to avoid it. Cyclists and horse riders have no legal right to use footpaths and should keep to the many local public bridleways.
If you do wish to cycle in the Surrey Hills responsibly, visit www.surreyhills.org/discover/cycle where descriptions and maps of suitable routes are available.