Bikers and council in beauty spot clash
Ben Kendall With its miles of flatland and distinct lack of hills, Norfolk has never been renowned as a location for mountain sports.But for more than 50 years there has been one spot in the heart of the county where hundreds of off-road riders have been able to hone their skills - until the bulldozers moved in last week, pulling the ground out from under their wheels.
With its miles of flatland and distinct lack of hills, Norfolk has never been renowned as a location for mountain sports.
But for more than 50 years there has been one spot in the heart of the county where hundreds of off-road riders have been able to hone their skills - until the bulldozers moved in last week, pulling the ground out from under their wheels.
The debate centres on the Ringland Hills beauty spot outside Norwich. In one corner is Ringland Parish Council which ordered the work after becoming increasingly frustrated about the ecological damage and threat to safety caused by mountain bikers.
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In the other stands a group of enthusiasts who say the reaction was disproportionate and that more could have been done to broker a compromise.
Yesterday councillor Chris Ames said the parish hopes the £1,100 work to remove the tracks and ramps built by bikers will help restore the hills to their natural state, providing an area which can be used by all.
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He added: “We have tried to work with the mountain bikers and there are some responsible riders who have come to our meetings and tried to negotiate. But it became clear that while they were happy to work with us they could not control the many others who aren't prepared to co-operate.
“The council is responsible for health and safety on the hills and if a member of the public was hurt by somebody on a bike we would have to foot the bill - we cannot insure against the kind of danger they represent.
“We also had an ecological report carried out which studied the earthworks dug by the bikers and the trees and roots damaged by them. It found that it was so severe there is no prospect of natural regeneration.
“It is true that the area hasn't been managed properly in the past but now we want to put that right and bring about some real improvements.”
An online petition has been started on the government's iPetitions website. So far it has collected more than 100 signatures protesting against the council's “unnecessary destruction” of the site.
Until the council's work was carried out the hills had been home to a network of tracks and ramps built by bikers over the years. What councillors refer to as a “bomb site” they call a “bowl” used for practising techniques.
One biker, Rebecca Vaughan, 29, from Norwich, said: “There is photographic evidence of Ringland Hills being used by mountain bikers as far back as 1959. The area has been neglected for years with burnt out cars being dumped and rubbish left - you certainly can't call it a beauty spot.
“I can understand if the council wants to open up the hills for other people. But bikers and walkers can live side by side; whenever we come across walkers they are always fascinated by what we do.
“Why can't we set up a safe area for bikers that is clearly marked so people aren't placed in any danger? There must be a solution which means we can carry on using the hills.
“And to say we caused ecological damage is ridiculous as the bulldozing they've carried out to get rid of us has caused far more damage.”
Another campaigner Lee Powell said the decision flew in the face of attempts to encourage young people to be more active.
“I truly believe that the council have made the wrong decision on this issue,” he added.
“In an age where the media are attempting to encourage the youth to maintain a healthy lifestyle of eating and exercise, these types of actions by the council are demeaning to the whole process. This is a very great loss to the local community.”