"All Land is Private"- Business Park warden

So there I was, a rainy April Saturday morning, comprehensively failing to work with a self-timer and a mini tripod in a bid to get some trail shots for MiTB. The venue- some scrubby land, a few feet back from the towpath I'd been riding until I found my "secret trails".

The irony is that they're not secret and they're not mine. Somebody, sometime (a while ago judging by the overgrown state) shaped a couple of steep drops and a small jump. That's it. Nature helped out by linking it all in a kind of figure-of-eight shape and the result is these "amazing trails".

I've seen peoples' jump spots in mags and videos and frankly, they make 'my' trails look pretty pathetic. But believe me, to a biker who moved from a town with a wonderful forest two minutes ride away, to a town so devoid of hills it makes Amsterdam look like the Alps, they were pretty special.

In my old place, I loved the variety- hills, singletrack, jumps, drops; I felt pretty priveleged to have access to all this riding in one forest. When I moved, the best I could find was a flat, fast straight path by the river. With some singletrack, which was flat, slow and straight. Good for fitness, lovely to look at. But it's not proper mountain biking to me. When I accidentally came across 'my trails' I nearly wept- it was like a microcosm of my old forest in a loop about a tenth of a mile. A 1:100 scale model of my old riding haven. Finally, some real dirty fun without having to drive anywhere.

I'd only passed my test a few months before so I didn't even have that option for nearly three years. Anyone else without a car (including at least everyone under 17) will know the feeling. That's why I was so happy to find this biking nirvana in the heart of town.

And that's why what happened next on that rainy Saturday sucked so much. I fiddled with the camera, scampered up the drop and frantically grabbed my bike- desperate to beat the 10-second self timer as it counted down. Hoping to launch into a spectacular action shot of me flying down the bank I turned toward the lens to see something I didn't expect.

The man was standing there, looking at me. Maybe in his late forties/early fifties, he was dressed like Xmillion security guards in his navy sweater/tie combo. In the same instant it took to register him came the immortal words that must send shivers up the spine of every Street rider making the most of some railings in a concrete jungle full of dinosaurs:

"YOU CAN'T DO THAT HERE".

I've never really ridden 'Street'. I like trials, though I'm pretty bad and my bike's just too big for it, but I always went for logs over park benches. Grass banks over wall-rides. But now I feel some empathy with them. Feeling persecuted like an outlaw when you're just trying to have fun on your bike, not trying to hurt anyone or anything.

"I didn't realise this land was private" I responded. I didn't want a fight, I couldn't judge his mood and he had a rather menacing looking turf cutter in his hand. Still, I didn't want to just ride away from my spot without knowing why.

"ALL LAND IS PRIVATE" came the reply. The statement washed over me for a second. There may be some truth to it, you certainly can't assume you can ride somewhere because there's nothing stopping you, but hundreds of people walk by this place every day, it's just a few feet from the path. How can that few feet make all the difference when there is no physical boundary, no signs, no reason to believe it's anything but open land?

"I'M THE PARK WARDEN. THIS LAND BELONGS TO THEM"
He pointed at the building in the distance. It belonged to a global computer company. The company were responsible for the huge business park wher the building stood which brought jobs and prosperity to many in this area.

"THIS IS A NATURE RESERVE BUT THE KIDS ON BIKES HAVE CUT DOWN ALL THESE BUSHES AND DAMAGED THE BANKS".

Oh, I forgot to say- in order to provide all this prosperity they built over acres of countryside, forcing hundreds of species to move from their habitats and increasing polluting emissions in the area. Shafting nature would seem right up their street wouldn't it? Far from it. To balance the wholsale destruction of ecology in the area they developed a beautiful nature reserve in the grounds of their complex. It's a haven for birds, water fowl and all sorts of creatures and is a really nice place. But I'm afraid nature will always be the best landscape gardener and it looked a lot bigger and a hell of a lot nicer before they got involved.

Given that they have put so much money and effort into the nature reserve, I was intrigued to learn that this piece of scrub land was a one too. I wonder, is every green bit of the map owned by them a 'nature reserve'? Could this be a handy justification for kicking anyone off their land that they don't want there? Who knows, and anyway, it doesn't matter if it is an excuse because they don't need one- it's their land and if they don't want you there it's tough.

It's true that there must be animals and birds that live around the trails. Just as there are animals and birds living off every bridleway in the UK. I would never advocate destruction of natural habitat to enable us to ride there. I consider myself 'nature neutral'- I will fit in with the countryside and not the other way round. But what these 'kids on bikes' have done, does it even register when compared to what this and many other huge corporations have done to once beautiful green areas? I can see no evidence of chopping down, The whole area is awash with bushes and foliage and I can see nothing in the run-off from the banks that looks like roots. Whatever they did to it, It didn't have much impact on the wildlife.

The banks- well they have been shaped. The only obvious difference to me is the lack of grass. I can't see the need for cutting into the banks, but I also can't see that it could possibly have caused devastation to the surrounding ecosystem. It certainly pales into insignificance compared to several million tonnes of concrete.

I got the impression the park warden was being honest. He's not the face of a giant corporation, I think you have to appreciate nature to do his job. But would he do this to someone walking their dog?

Would he buffalo. If big companies want to put something back into the community, above and beyond the contractual obligations that came with the planning permission, how about somewhere for local kids to ride their bikes? You've given us miles more tarmac, how about liberating some dirt for us to ride on? We don't have forests in in my town, we have business parks. They create jobs, feeding our children with one hand and robbing them of space to be free with the other.

Maybe "ALL LAND IS PRIVATE" is a little dogmatic. So here's some more dogma:

ALL PROPERTY IS THEFT.

It's not true either, but when I can't ride this dirt on my doorstep and have to drive fifteen miles instead, I can't help feeling a little robbed.

The shutter clicked, and the final photo was taken. Not quite the all action image I had planned, it showed my feet and a lot of dusty bank. I may go back, but if I never visit my trails again that photo will be a fitting reminder of an opportunity missed.

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