Conflicts among forest visitors

The project for our first semester was about conflicts in relation to mountain bikers in woodland areas.

Starting point and problem:

There had been stories in the media recently about sabotage against mountain bike trails and spikes being placed which had the potential for harming bikers (and wildlife). We wanted to investigate whether there was an increased impact of mountain biking compared to other forms of use of woodland areas and wanted to know what could be done to reduce the conflicts.

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What we did:

We looked at studies and surveys done in this area to try to establish whether there was any ‘objective’ reason to be concerned about mountain bikers, which did not appear to be the case. The types of wear on trails were slightly different, but the bottomline was the same.

We interviewed interest organisations, woodland managers and different groups of forest users – equestrians, walkers, dog walkers, runners and of course mountain bikers to try to capture their experience with the problem and their ideas for a solution.

Underway, we learned that a lot of good things were already being done – trail separation for instance, and a code of conduct.

I also stumbled upon a nice survey which thought about the problem a bit differently – namely that it might not be the differences in user groups, but rather the differences in modes of focus that were at the core of the issue.

Conclusion:

There would be a need to continue to improve understanding and communication between different user groups. For instance via the use of role models. One of the problems identified was that some forest users found the shouting used by mountain bikers offensive or annoying, so we suggested that maybe a different warning sound could be made.

We also identified some problems with the legislation making it hard for woodland managers to control access to certain areas. Particularly, the problems in the Danish law seemed to be caused by outdated wording – in Denmark a ‘normal bike’ is allowed anywhere in the forest, but ‘normal’ now is very different from normal in the 90’s. This ambiguity does not help.

We concluded that knowledge, communication and intelligent design would help reduce conflicts. But also that it was unlikely that the problem would ever be completely solved – people with different interests would always have a potential for conflict.

 

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