Action underway to move cycling away from protected sites

Wirral Council has promised to work with local mountain bike enthusiasts to identify suitable locations for them to enjoy their hobby and hone their skills.

The vow comes after members of the public have taken to building their own ‘courses’ at local protected beauty spots.

Unfortunately, cycling is not permitted at all on places like Thurstaston Hill or Thurstaston Common due to parts of the land being designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England and other areas designated as local nature reserves.

This means that the authorities in Wirral have a legal responsibility to protect and conserve these areas – and the habitat and wildlife it contains.

Thurstaston Common is underlain by Triassic sandstone and the varied habitats include wet and dry heaths, acidic marshy grassland and deciduous woodland with birch and oak. Birds that breed here include sparrowhawk, tawny owl, great spotted woodpecker, lesser spotted woodpecker, Eurasian jay, redpoll and linnet.

The ‘track’ which cyclists have built at Thurstaston and other protected sites involved them digging up some of the land, causing damage that is in breach of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act for England and Wales. It has also caused an unsafe environment for all visitors, but particularly the cyclists using these tracks.

This is why Wirral Council is calling upon this activity to stop with immediate effect so the land can be repaired and restored. Officers from a number of departments within the council will be on site regularly, engaging with those looking to take part in these activities.

Cllr Liz Grey, Chair of the Environment and Climate Emergency Committee on Wirral Council, said: “We are extremely blessed to have so many special areas of unique, natural beauty on our doorstep – there are 12 Sites of Special Scientific Interest in Wirral in total, and many more designated nature reserves.

“It is fantastic that residents and visitors alike want to enjoy them and indeed our sites regularly attract people from all over the world to come over and analyse the rare habitat and species that are found here.

“But while we want as many people as possible to enjoy Wirral at its finest, in some areas we have to prevent certain activities in order to protect nature. That is the case at Thurstaston Common and other sites, such as Caldy Hill and Heswall Dales.

“We recognise the benefits of cycling and we recognise the importance to people’s health and mental wellbeing to be outdoors exercising, particularly in the current climate. It is easy to see why these areas are attractive to people who love the sport of trail biking, but it just cannot be sanctioned in nature reserves or SSSIs.” 

Staff from Parks and Countryside and Sports Development will be looking to work with cyclists to identify potential alternative sites for off-road cycling in the borough, including the kind of trail riding that people had tried to establish at Thurstaston. Working together, this might be provided in a safer and regulated way.

There is already a range of cycle routes along Wirral’s network of bridleways, where off-road riding is permitted. You can find out more about the public rights of way and paths suitable for off-road cycle tracks on the council’s website. 

Photo by Jure Širić