Illegal off-road bikers are warned of heavy fines
In recent months there has been an increase in off-road motorcycling on the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, an internationally important conservation site designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area.
Dr Sam Bridgewater, Nature Conservation Manager of the owners Clinton Devon Estates said: “We have reported the details of the motorcyclists to the police. The Pebblebed Heaths is a sensitive and much-loved conservation site enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of walkers each year.
“There are no rights of way across the heaths for motorised vehicles, and riding off-road on the site is illegal. It is damaging to the site, and upsetting for other users. We will continue to seek to prosecute those who don’t abide by the law, and request that all motorcyclists please use the legal routes that are available to them elsewhere.”
Exmouth police’s rural neighbourhood team are currently dealing with the incident, and a second one in which motorcycles were seen being ridden over the ancient earthworks of WoodburyCastle, a protected Scheduled Monument.
PSCO Donna Baker said: “The police take this type of offence very seriously and work closely with Clinton Devon Estates, Natural England and English Heritage to protect the land from damage by motorised vehicles. It is an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 for anyone to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle across the Heaths.
“In addition, the Police Reform Act 2002 gives the police the power to seize vehicles that are being driven in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to others. These powers will be used by the police to deal robustly with offenders.”
Steve Panks, Natural England’s Lead Adviser for Land Management South and East Devon Team, added: “East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI is of national importance for its heathland, grasslands, mires and fens, breeding birds, and dragonflies and damselflies. Off-roading vehicles have the potential to damage and disturb these sensitive interests. Many of these features are also of international importance.
“Unlawful vehicle activity on SSSIs is a criminal offence which can result in a fine in the magistrates’ court of up to £20,000 or to an unlimited fine in the crown court. NaturalEnglandalso has a range of civil sanctions available to us, introduced by The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act (2008).
“In 2014 Natural England prosecuted two off-roaders for recklessly damaging blanket bog on Leek Moors SSSI in theMidlands. They were fined and ordered to pay costs totalling £1,483.”
Woodbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort, and a pottery fragment found at the site has been dated to between 600 and 500 BC, although archaeological evidence suggests humans were living there much earlier.
Charlotte Russell, Heritage at Risk Projects Officer for English Heritage, said: “WoodburyCastleis aScheduledMonumentprotected because of its national importance as a pre-eminent archaeological site. It is a criminal offence to damage Scheduled Monuments”
“In the last decade, major repairs were carried out and improved access provided. But making the site more accessible has brought additional concerns for its preservation, particularly where unauthorised mountain bikes, horse riders or vehicles have accessed the site.”
“English Heritage is pleased to support the efforts of the Estate, local people and the police to prevent unauthorised access and antisocial behaviour that cause damage. We wish to protect the site and its rare preserved archaeological information about the origins of settlement inEast Devonso that future generations can continue to enjoy it.”
Dr Bridgewater said that in addition to damaging wildlife, heritage and the environment, off-road motorcycling on the Heaths posed an annoyance and danger to other people such as walkers, cyclists and horse-riders.
“One of the most frequent complaints I receive from visitors to the Heaths relates to illegal motorcycle activity, with Woodbury Common, Colaton Raleigh Common and Mutter’s Moor particular hotspots for the activity. The public have been very good at reporting activity to us when they see it. We would like to thank them for their efforts and encourage them to keep reporting similar incidents to us. We will always follow up reports with the police and other authorities.”
People who see motorbikes being ridden on the Heaths are being urged to note the registration number, time and location, and call Dr Bridgewater at Clinton Devon Estates on 01395 44143, or the police on 101.