Advocacy groups seem to be a bit of a buzz word in mountain biking at the moment.
But who are they and what have they ever done for us?
You're maybe new to the sport or a seasoned veteran, riding the trails with absolutely no idea that there are people out there getting together on a regular basis holding meetings and organising maintenance crews to work on your behalf.
So to coin the phrase from Monty Python.
What Have Advocacy Groups Ever Done For Us?
Did you know that some of the access we currently enjoy is down to the work of these groups?
While you're out happily riding the trails, advocacy members are meeting with landowners, land managers and National Park Authorities.
These meetings go a long way to show the powers that be that we are a responsible group of individuals. This has a knock on effect of opening more trails in the future.
Groups regularly organise dig days, to help maintain the trails we ride.
Working closely with the National Park Rangers, Landowners and the associated authorities, maintenance schedules are drawn up and managed correctly.
Only then can an army of volunteers be called upon and work begin.
Work ranges from simply kicking out blocked drainage ditches (something that they encourage us to do if we pass a drain that is blocked) to unearthing and rebuilding drains and taming boggy sections of track. This helps to reaffirm lines that have grown wide due to people (walkers and bikers alike) avoiding the bogs.
Not only do they help maintain the trails but they also act as a voice of reason when trail maintenance is being taken too far by the local authorities.
But there's a catch
All this great work could all be in vain, due in part to the behaviour of a few bad apples.
Riding illegally on footpaths, unsanctioned trail creation and riding trails closed for maintenance doesn't go unnoticed by the powers that be and user groups who still see mountain bikers as a menace.
It's this kind of "I'll ride where I want" attitude that could easily jeopardise the opening up of more trails and could see recently gained access withdrawn in future.
It's not just mountain bikers
Climbers are coming under the spot light for all the wrong reasons at the moment.
This month's issue of Summit magazine (the BMC's publication) is full of articles and news on how to behave when outdoors.
Complaints from landowners include....
Walking on top of dry stone walls to avoid mud on the approach paths
The over use of chalk
and something new to me, night time bouldering by lantern light
Behaving in this way, no matter how few are doing it, is likely to result in the landowner refusing access. I'm not even talking small out of the way crags, but major well known iconic venues.
Luckily climbers have the British Mountaineering Council on their side, a massive organisation with full time access and conservation staff as well as regional groups of volunteers all working on behalf of climbers and hillwalkers.
As mountain bikers, we don't have anything like the BMC to support our access rights. What we do have are local well organised groups of bikers, all working voluntarily on our behalf.
The BMC have even taken up the baton and added the work to their Mend Our Mountains campaign, aiming to raise enough money to help rid Cut Gate of the ‘Bog of Doom’ (or the Notorious B.O.G.) which will hopefully see this iconic trail become rideable most of the year and not just the few dry weeks we get during a good summer.
So if you've read this far and want to know more check out the links below:
If you're reading this and you have a local advocacy group with a website which you would like adding to the list, please let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and happy riding.