One of Sheffield’s sporting greats has backed a campaign to save threatened mountain bike trails in the woods where he forged his skills.
Former world champion Steve Peat has joined more than 22,000 people in signing a petition to protect the threatened trails at Wharncliffe Woods.
The unofficial routes were created by volunteers but the Forestry Commission, which owns the land, plans to remove some as it claims they are dangerous and damaging to wildlife.
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Peat, who is a triple World Cup champion and nine-time British champion, said: “Wharncliffe has been my training ground for many years and I certainly feel like it forged my skills and prepared me to go and take on the world. I’m sure I wouldn’t have become the rider I am without it or enjoyed the success I have on the international stage.
“There is a great mix of trails that people of all levels can ride and have fun on. It will be a massive shame to lose any of these, especially after the work that’s been put in by the trail builders.”
James Pettitt, who started the petition, describes the trails as an ‘important cultural hub’ which he says attracts thousands of riders.
He and the advocacy group Ride Sheffield accept that some work may be needed to remedy the trails in question but they say this could be done with the landowner’s cooperation and it would be a huge shame to lose them altogether.
The first trails at Wharncliffe are understood to date back to the 1980s but the more recent ones, which the Forestry Commission plans to demolish, were created in the last five years and are the most challenging of the dozens of trails there.
The Forestry Commission says it has supported mountain biking activities at Wharncliffe for many years and will continue to do so by keeping the majority of the existing trails.
But in a statement it said a small number are ‘inappropriate’ and it had a ‘duty of care to remove trails that we consider are a risk’.
It claims the trails in question are ‘inherently dangerous’ to inexperienced riders and that their construction has created numerous hazards including deep holes where soil has been dug to build the features.
It also argues that the work has destroyed an area of ancient woodland, damaging trees and obliterating plants, which has caused ‘great upset’ to other visitors.
John Horscroft, from Ride Sheffield, says the land in question is a pine plantation and it is ‘patently untrue’ to call it ancient woodland.
He accepts that some of the building may have ‘gone too far’ but believes the Forestry Commission should be willing to engage with the mountain biking community in an attempt to reach a compromise.
He claims the Forestry Commission has supported mountain biking on other sites across the country but has only ever ‘tolerated’ it at Wharncliffe – in contrast to the support shown by Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, which owns the neighbouring Greno Woods, where there are also popular biking trails.
“Steve Peat cut his teeth at Wharncliffe and there’s a whole new generation developing their skills there today, some of whom are competing at international level,” he said.
“This is a sporting city and we need to look after the resources we have even if they’re somewhat unofficial, but the Forestry Commission isn’t really engaging with the mountain biking community here.
“Maybe things have got a little out of hand here with the new trails but its response is out of all proportion to what’s happened.”
You can view the petition here.