A WELSH MP hopes to introduce legislation to target the illegal use of off-road vehicles amid concerns over anti-social behaviour and damage to the countryside.

Chris Evans, Labour MP for Islwyn, will raise the issue in Parliament with the intention of securing stricter regulation of vehicles such as scrambler bikes.

“They are a huge problem right across the countryside, across the South Wales valleys, the North of England anywhere where there are mountains or large areas of countryside,” said Mr Evans.

He will raise the issue in the new session of Parliament after the Queen’s Speech, when he plans to introduce a 10-minute rule bill.

Though such a bill has little chance of becoming law, the MP hopes it will help gather support from other MPs and an amendment on off-road vehicles could be added to a police or criminal justice bill.

Trial bikes and off-road vehicles such as quad bikes must be taxed and insured to be driven on the roads in the UK, including on unsurfaced or unclassified tracks known as ‘green lanes’.

They can be used on private land, with the owner’s permission, without a driving licence and without the need to tax or register the vehicle. Only bikes of a certain minimum standard are allowed on the roads, including ‘green lanes’.

But Evans says these rules are being ignored and require a tightening of existing legislation.

“Scramblers don’t even need a registration plate. We need to make it more difficult to own these vehicles and they have got to be registered and insured. Every sale of an off-road bike should have to be registered.”

Evans hopes his proposals will also make enforcement more effective: “The police can’t go chasing scramblers in a police car.”

The MP thinks legislation, and stricter penalties, are necessary as problems are caused by people who insist on riding outside of permitted areas.

“There are private areas, there is one in Rhondda Cynon Taf, but a lot of people want to go off-road and take their bikes wherever they want to. It’s a nuisance and selfish behaviour.”

The MP added: “There needs to be stricter legislation. I think it will win a huge amount of support, not just from Islwyn. It’s a national issue and impacts any MP with countryside in their constituency.”

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A petition, gathered by residents living in Abercarn, in Caerphilly County Borough, where riders use the forestry despite there being no permission for off-roading, will also be presented to the UK government by Evans.

The petition says as well as concerns at damage the vehicles do to the countryside, tearing up turf, which isn’t given a chance to recover, people using the forestry for walking and cycling and permitted activities such as horse riding have been threatened by scramblers and off-roaders.

 “The issue goes back years and years and even my predecessor had to deal with this, it is a real problem and a real plague in the Valleys.

“They rip up the countryside, there are also issues of anti-social behaviour and noise.”

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said off-roading is illegal on the Welsh Government’s woodland estate, which it manages including the forestry at Abercarn, but off-roaders still use many of its sites and particularly in the South Wales valleys.

It works with the police and supports regular patrols that are staged, using intelligence from local people, to take place at the most popular times for off-roading and it encourages anyone that sees people driving illegally on the sites to report it to the police.

NRW has also installed boundary fencing and squeeze gates to prevent vehicle access but these have often been cut down or damaged by people intent on getting past.

Peter Cloke, NRW’s land management team leader, said it is concerned at the impact on habitat and wildlife as well as reports of threatening behaviour.

He said: “Illegal off-roading is causing considerable damage to the tracks and footpaths in our forests, stopping people from enjoying their local countryside.

“We’ve heard from people who say they’ve felt intimidated during their daily exercise during lockdown.

“It can have far reaching consequences for the environment, damaging trees, streams and disturbing sensitive habitats for our wildlife. And it also brings an unwanted cost to the public purse in repairing damaged fencing where people have forced entry, money that could be better spent elsewhere.”

Welsh police forces already run a number of high-profile operations to target illegal off-roading.

Ahead of the Easter weekend, North Wales Police warned it would be patrolling “known hot spots” due to concerns at the impact on ground nesting birds. In February the force warned it would use powers to seize vehicles after tyre tracks gouged the hillside at Moel Unben on the Conwy-Denbighshire border.

Also in February officers from Dyfed-Powys Police, South Wales Police and Gwent Police worked with wardens from the Brecon Beacons National Park to target off roaders including at Trefil Quarry.

The Green Lane Association represents all users of “vehicular rights of way” and said it would support compulsory registration of scrambler bikes along with tougher penalties for illegal off-roading.

But Lauren Eaton, the association’s Wales and north of England coordinator, warned calls to further reduce the number of tracks where off-roading is permitted would backfire.

While Ms Eaton said it recognised there are off-roaders who blatantly ignore regulations a 2006 change in the law denied vehicles the automatic use of rights of way where a historic use had been established such as use by a horse and cart.

Eaton said: “A lack of places to drive or ride off tarmac is an issue in some areas. In 2006, UK wide, over 50 per cent of unsurfaced public roads were wiped off the map overnight by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act. Access to these roads has continued to fall.

“We now have access to only around three per cent of the rights of way network across the UK, but calls to reduce it even further are constant and very loud. Unfortunately this pushes people to places they should not legally be. Closure only ever prohibits legal use and is never a solution to illegal use.”

The association encourages people to consult Ordnance Survey maps, local authority websites and with clubs and other users to check if off-roading is permitted at a particular location but said a lack of enforcement meant many do not bother.

“We do make every effort to continually educate all users, but can be met with an unwillingness to listen by some. This comes back to enforcement. ‘Who is going to stop me?’ is a common retort because so few end up being prosecuted at all or to an extent that would be a deterrent, for a first offence the fine is only £50.”

Eaton said many of the association’s members use vehicles as they are disabled and can otherwise no longer access the countryside.

NRW said it advises anyone thinking of buying an off-road motorbike or quad bike to consider what legal provision is available in their area to ride it.