Cycling in harmony with nature and people

Devon’s mountain bikers have been working with conservationists to encourage fellow cyclists to be more respectful of nature, wildlife and people when they visit the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths (EDPH).

The Heaths near Exeter are recognised as one of Europe’s most important conservations sites, covering around 1,100 hectares of linked heaths from Woodbury Common to the Jurassic Coast.  With over 3,000 different species of flora and fauna, the EDPH is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), a Special Protected Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

‘Love to ride, love the heath’ is the headline message of the new Pebblebed Bike Code which has been developed by experts from the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, in partnership with the RSPB, Devon Wildlife Trust and the South East Devon Habitat Regulations Partnership with input from the local mountain bike community.

The code has been described by Cathy Debenham, mountain bike guide at Bike Guide Devon, as a “common sense way mountain bikers can do their bit for nature”.

“Mountain bikers in East Devon are blessed to have such a wonderful place to ride on their doorstep,” she says. “The commons have fun trails and wonderful views, but the area is more than a playground that we should all treat with respect – we all have the responsibility not to trash it.

“The code will also help the different users of the commons understand their rights and responsibilities and will hopefully foster understanding about its conservation value – if mountain bikers don’t know it is a habitat for rare birds and wildlife, they are less likely to understand why they shouldn’t be building ramps and jumps there or making their own lines through the heathland. Everyone who uses the heaths has the opportunity to be custodians of this precious landscape.”

British Cycling coach Chris Blasdale, who runs Execel at Cycling, and has been mountain biking on the heaths for 20 years, said: “The heaths have a vast number of trails that aren’t too technical so it’s a fantastic place for mountain bikers. We’re lucky to have such unrestricted access on the heaths, but it’s important to be respectful of the landscape and other users – it’s important to look out for one another.”

The code has six elements:

  1. Slow down and give way to walkers and horse riders, and give a friendly greeting
  2. Follow the trails and avoid widening paths or creating new lines through the undergrowth, to protect the landscape and wildlife
  3. Take care of yourself and the trails which can be sensitive to damage, particularly during wet weather
  4. Always shut the gates and be mindful of livestock, follow signs and report any problems
  5. Don’t modify trails or build jumps
  6. Obtain the required licence for organised cycling events

The Pebblebed Bike Code is one of a series of codes of conduct that are being launched on the heaths. The Pebblebed Dog Code was launched in the spring and the Pebblebed Horse Code is due to be introduced in the near future.

The South East Devon Habitat Regulations Partnership, which is supporting the launch of the new code, was established by East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council and Teignbridge District Council to protect the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, in addition to two other internationally important conservation sites, the Exe Estuary and Dawlish Warren, for future generations.

“Today’s riders play an important role in the future of their sport as well as the condition of the heaths and the much-loved trails,” adds Kim Strawbridge, Pebblebed Heaths Site Manager. “By following the code, mountain bikers can be sure they are sharing this space in a positive way with wildlife and other people.”