DailyDispatchOnline

Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Ancient Welsh mountain byway threatened by resurfacing plans
Environment World News

Ancient Welsh mountain byway threatened by resurfacing plans

Winding its way through the Cambrian mountains in mid Wales, the Monks Trod byway was built to link two medieval abbeys and is now a wild and wonderful route for people seeking a little tranquility.

But the peace and quiet is being jeopardised by “foolhardy” plans by Powys county council to use hundreds of thousands of pounds from the UK government’s levelling up fund to resurface the byway, making it accessible to off-road motorcycles.

Many lovers of the Trod say it will ruin the meditative nature of the route, while conservationists are worried it will put precious flora and fauna on protected sites at risk and damage the fragile, peat-rich landscape the path traverses – an important carbon store.

“It’s a wonderful place of bird song and wind and not much more at the moment,” said Graham Taylor, chair of the Powys Local Access Forum. “A lot of people are very upset. Motorcycles will change the whole nature of this quiet and meditative route. It is widely acknowledged that walking, cycling and horse riding in the countryside stimulates mental and physical wellbeing. This proposal gets in the way of this.”

As a byway, the Trod provides long-established legal rights of use to all traffic including walkers, cyclists, horse riders – and motorcyclists. Over the last two decades, however, there has been a series of temporary orders banning motorcycles.

Taylor said the access forum was not anti-motorcycle and had been active in making sure that other routes in less sensitive areas were maintained and kept open, but he claimed much of the route was already in poor condition because of illegal use by motorcyclists ignoring the banning orders.

“There are huge rutted areas and significant flooding. Users trying to avoid these areas have strayed from the route and damaged the fragile environment and bird-nesting areas.” Birds such as curlew, red grouse and golden plover nest on the ground near the byway.

Taylor added: “The council has declared a climate emergency and is very much involved in a nature recovery plan. This proposal is not in line with this as the reintroduction of motorcycles would have an adverse effect on the fragile environment in and around this route. If the motorcycles come, you can be sure that the four-wheel drivers will follow.”

Describing Monks Trod as an “iconic medieval trackway”, the Cambrian Mountains Society expressed “intense shock and disapproval” at what it characterises as “paving” the route.

A section of muddy track stretching across moorlandView image in fullscreen

In a letter to the council, it wrote: “Far from moving to protect the delicate heritage and natural environment of the Monks Trod, Powys county council is proposing measures guaranteed to lead to its devastation and that of the surrounding incredibly fragile peatland environment.”

It said law-abiding bikers would stick the path, but added: “In truth many track bike riders do not keep to available tracks but use them as launching pads for scrambling over the surrounding hills, well knowing that policing of their access rights is scanty.

“The foolhardiness of this proposal is little short of breathtaking … a new track which will increase carbon emissions, air pollution and environmental degradation.”

Powys county council says it is incorrect to say the Trod is to be “paved”. “The surface proposed is compatible with protecting the features of the landscape. This will not be a sealed (tarmac) surface, it will simply be a drier causeway across the wettest areas, with stone where that is needed to create a more durable surface.”

It argues that the levelling up funding presented a “unique” opportunity to bring it the Trod to standard – and complement and extend an off-road cycling network.

The councillor Jackie Charlton, a cabinet member for a Greener Powys, said the council had been provisionally awarded £17.7m of levelling up funding. It had decided to use £1m to improve cycling links, part of which is proposed to go on Monks Trod. It is thought around £300,000 will be spent on the byway itself.

The Trail Riders Fellowship, a not-for-profit road conservation organisation that works to keep byways like Monks Trod open for motorcyclists and other users, said: “Cyclists and motorcyclists only have access to Monks Trod, where equestrians and pedestrians have a statutory right of access to the 70 square miles of surrounding land.”

It added: “Those that ride illegally will continue to do so whilst the responsible majority are persecuted. Greater enforcement of existing laws would deter illegal riding. Trail riding delivers significant financial benefits to the local economy and is a lifeline to many local businesses. Restricting access has a detrimental impact on these businesses.”

But others disagreed. Michael Bartholomew, the chair of the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement, said: “Monks Trod goes through a tranquil, ecologically sensitive, upland area. Powys can and should be doing all it can to protect it. Using levelling up funding to put a surface on the Trod so it can be used for off-roading by motorbikes would be a grievous misuse of public funds.”

And Andrew Fleming, a landscape archaeologist and former professor of archaeology at University of Wales Trinity St David, said he was appalled. “Powys council’s proposals encourage the trashing of a significant archaeological site, a route much loved by walkers who value the peace and quiet of the Cambrians.”

The cruciform shaped outline of abbey, surrounded by gravestones in the countryside.View image in fullscreen

The Trod linked the Cistercian houses of Strata Florida, west of Rhayader, and Abbey Cwmhir, near Llandrindod Wells, much of it constructed by the cut-and-fill technique. Some sections were paved or metalled.

Fleming said it was of historical importance as it is thought to date to a time when the Lord Rhys was battling Henry II. “I don’t see how this is remotely a good use of levelling up money. The need to provide muddy thrills for men from far away on motorbikes could be satisfied elsewhere.”

Source: theguardian.com