Recently, the Tweed Valley Trails Association signed a landmark agreement with the Forestry and Land Service to become stewards of their trails.
Pete caught up with Chris Ball and Neil Carnegie, two of a core group pushing for trail advocacy in the Tweed Valley to find out what the score is with Tweed Valley Trails Association, how the agreement came about and what the future holds.
You can read that agreement on the Tweed Valley Trails Association website here.
What is the TVTA?
The TVTA is the Tweed Valley Trail Association, a registered charity set up to act as a voice for the riding community and crucially, to take on the sizeable job of managing and developing the unofficial trail network here in the tweed valley on behalf of the riders.
Who are the Tweed Valley Trails Association and what do they do?
A small group of passionate locals who understand the importance of the trail network to their home and want to give it a bright and secure future. We’re quite a mix of people, with everything from event organisers, bike shop folk, guides, club members and local riders and builders on the board. All of us have full time jobs outside of the organisation and everyone is pitching in for free.
Right now the core group is three trustees, a board of eight and a bunch of committed, subsidiary helpers and volunteers. We are just opening up membership options soon and plan to be as accessible as possible to anyone interested.
If you live here in the Tweed Valley, use or simply care about the riding here then we would love for anyone to get involved in whatever way works for them.
How did this agreement come about? Why now?
For some years now there has been growing people pressure on the rapidly expanding unofficial trail network here with greatly increasing use, both from individual visitors, locals, and commercial bodies/events.
Our main local land manager, Forestry and Land Scotland simply hasn’t got the resources to manage the extensive network and so the trails have been simply tolerated but never officially acknowledged.
While we’ve been lucky to have such a tolerant FLS policy locally, the ever increasing number of trails and users has started to reach a point where just turning a blind eye is ceasing to be a practical option and some kind of management is needed before the whole thing reaches a tipping point leading to clash or closures.
We hope to provide the solution, by taking on the inspection and maintenance of the network to give the trails a sustainable future, improve the riding and ease the liability risk for the land manager. We have to give massive thanks here to Katie Jarvis, Tim Oliver and Sallie Bailey within FLS for having the vision to make the leap of faith and sign the agreement that lets us take this on and start making a difference.
As things stand now, the Tweed Valley probably has the greatest concentration of quality trails of any area in Scotland (if not the UK) and we are determined to make sure they have a bright future continuing to grow in quality, rather than the uncertain fate they would face un-managed.
How have you managed rider needs against landowner/user conflict?
There hasn’t been direct landowner conflict as such locally but the continuing growth of the trail network (it’s over 100km now) has been making the landowner more and more nervous of liability issues from it. Without the ability to keep track of or maintain the unofficial trails the local land managers are quite reasonably nervous that they might be held to account for an accident caused by a “dangerous” feature on their land.
By inspecting and maintaining the trails and keeping records we’re going to be doing due diligence and giving the landowner a degree of liability protection they’ve never had before and local riders the chance to contribute directly to the quality and future of their own riding. We hope that by getting everyone involved and communicating we can head off conflicts before they escalate and create a culture where riders and landowners can work together instead of against each other. Time will tell…
What pressure does this add to Tweed Valley Trails Association?
Hopefully not too much. At present there is minimal conflict between the various user groups in our area. FLS can definitely see the potential of the trail network as a recreational resource so now the ball is very much in the court of ourselves and the riding community to manage and develop it and create something that works for everybody.
I’m sure compromises are going to have to be made along the way when it comes to sharing the forests with other users but hopefully we can get the various groups working together instead of against each other. There is a lot of space out there, enough for everyone we think.
How does the amount of traffic these trails see cause challenges for the Forestry and Land Service?
Well, it makes it very hard for them to credibly claim they don’t know the trails are being used. It’s probably in large part because of the level of traffic that we now have the agreement in place that we do. A few lightly used trails in the woods can be left alone but when the unofficial riding is seeing more use and events than most of the trail centres then it’s a different situation.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Time. It’s been a slow process. We started down this path in 2015 and it’s been a long slow journey to set up as a charity and then to gradually convince FLS that we are competent, sticking around and help them to have enough confidence in us to finally sign this landmark agreement to work on their land.
It may not look like we have done much so far from the outside but there has been a huge amount of work behind the scenes to get to this point. There have been times where all of us have wondered if we would ever get the go ahead but that just makes us all the more motivated to make the most of this chance to make a positive difference to our area now that we have.
Have you had to overcome any major obstacles to get to this point?
The biggest obstacle has been finding enough free time amongst us all as volunteers And with all of us learning the ropes of how a fully functioning and registered charity works, what we need to do legally, instal best practice from the beginning and wait while the National Access Forum (NAF) and DMBinS published their now very good guidance on how to manage wild trails in Scotland it’s been a long time too.
All of that coupled with the needs of the FLS to make sure our groundbreaking agreement was secure, stable and worked for everyone and set the right precedent. It’s been a lot of paperwork and waiting, which impacts the motivation of the group a little, but it’s ultimately all so worth it as we begin getting spades in the dirt.
Where next for TVTA? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
Start digging trail for people to use. Our pilot project is to renovate three existing off piste trails and build a new multi-user path to allow access to the upper reaches of Caberston (the Golfy) creating a loop in combination with the re-worked descents.
We’ll be advertising for volunteers for the dig days via social channels and our mailing list and we definitely hope and think that that once riders are given a chance to start building on their own trails and making a personal difference to the their area that momentum to support these will quickly build.
For the contracted work and machine built paths, we’ll be looking at fundraising and donations and our outlook is that as we successfully start to manage the trail network and complete projects we’ll grow a reputation and make it easier for everyone from individuals to events and bike companies to have a way to give back financially to the trail network we all depend on. We’d like to see the project trails formally adopted and signposted after we’re done, but it’s one step at a time for now.
It’s hard to know how quickly we might grow now that we are able to get going on the ground but we’d love to get everyone connected to the riding here involved. Whether it’s hands on tools, time, money or just support anything people can do to help is just going to go straight back into the trails so the more people get involved the more they can steer the direction of our work and the more we can all achieve. Our only real limit at this stage is the pace of our work so exciting times ahead.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
Ed and Graeme at DMBinS for hours of help behind the scenes.
Everyone involved from Forest and Land Scotland.
Our long-suffering board members.
All the Valley builders for making the insanely good trail network which brought us into existence in the first place.