Green Lane Clearing For Beginners

It was at one of our Devon TRF’s monthly meetings where TRF member Bonny Collingborn brought to everyone’s attention a lane local to her that was so badly overgrown that it was in a real danger of falling into disuse! Having ridden this lane a few times I’d personal experience of the state it was getting into and had some scratch marks to prove it! As Bonny wasn’t on the Devon TRF forum I offered to help organise a day for clearing the lane; so a quick post on the forum in the Lane Clearing section with a request for help, a date to tackle this lane accompanied by a map to show where to meet and my fingers firmly crossed for offers of help… one thing I knew was that this lane was not going to be easy to clear with just a few people!

The next job was to contact Devon Rights of Way where the local Officer in Charge was very helpful and informed me that they were aware of the problem and had contacted the owners of both sides of the lane six months previously. The officer said he would make contact with the owners again and let me know of the outcome. In the meantime offers of help were coming in on the forum, which was a relief; there is more hawthorn & blackthorn in this lane than any other lane I could think of! The ROW Officer called back to say the owners had contacted a number of contractors but could not find anyone local to them with a hedge cutting tractor (they are massive machines these days) small enough to drive down this old lane. The ROW officer and the lane owners were in agreement in allowing our lane clearing group to clear the lane on the agreed day. I was then given strict instructions by the Officer on what we could and could not do and told explicitly that no powered machinery could be used, unless an individual had been on a P3 training course that would allow them to use a hedge trimmer… so for us it was hand tools only!
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Bonny shows how it's done

The weather was perfect on the morning for our lane clearing although I admit I felt slightly apprehensive when I set off not knowing what was in store, I needn’t have worried. I arrived early only to find Devon’s TRF lane clearing Officer (Guru) Ian Collins and his father already working away on the lane! It’s a very well-known saying that “actions speak louder than words” well by that saying Ian Collins and his incredible father should be considered deafening… they are both full on 100% all action; they just get on with it! Over the years they have cleared a truly huge mileage of green lanes, no one comes close to these two in terms of effort and they are an absolute credit to the TRF. We were soon to be joined by more and more TRF members, all with various gardening tools and we all set about our task with cheerful gusto. Over the years Ian has devised a successful lane clearing strategy; no one stays at the front for too long so that people from behind move past up to the front to share the effort, otherwise the lead group starts to flag as the frontline is always the hardest part of the lane to clear. By now there were thirteen of us all working away, I have to say I fully expected to be clearing this difficult lane for 5-6 hours but we were working so well as a team that we had this very badly overgrown lane cleared in only 2 ½ hours!

Although it was hard work, everyone was buzzing having done a very worthwhile job with the added benefit of putting something back into the hobby that we all care passionately about. The majority of helpers arrived on their bikes so made good use of the rest of the day by going out for rides in various directions. Many hours later when a couple of members arrived back at the lane and were shocked to find Bonny Collingborn still working away and tidying up the lane, just bear in mind that this was after having run a full marathon only the day before, I kid you not!

We should be proud that this lane has for now been saved from becoming completely unusable. It was only ten years previous this old lane in Milton Abbot, a UCR known locally as Market Lane, had a ‘keep out’ sign and locked gates at one end to stop members of the public from using it. It was at a Devon County Council ROW committee hearing where walkers, horse riders, cyclists and trail riders stood together and combined with historical mapping presented compelling evidence to keep this lane open. It would appear that the future maintenance of this lane now remains in the hands of user groups such as the TRF to keep it open and accessible for all to use and enjoy. It is my honest belief that there is no other “National” user group of Green Lanes that has the willingness or the capability to look after lanes like this for all users other than The Trail Riders Fellowship. The TRF has a long and distinguished history of keeping lanes clear although for the most part in a silent but pragmatic ‘get on with it’ type of way, maybe it’s time we started to blow our own trumpet more than we do? After all it has always been about “Protecting Green Lanes” right from the very start.

A big thank you to everyone who helped out.