TRF:Hi James, thanks for taking time to talk to the TRF today. Perhaps we could start with a bit about yourself and your position in managing public access to Salisbury Plain?
James:Sure. I’m based on Salisbury Plain, where I work for the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) Defence Infrastructure Organisation. I sit within the Environmental Support and Compliance Team, managing the Access and Recreation Advisory Team (ART) alongside, amongst others, Ecologists, Archaeologists and Foresters. As a small team of three ART covers the UK MOD estate, supporting provision of a safe place to train and in turn ensuring we fulfil the MOD policy presumption in favour of public access where it is compatible with operational and military requirements, public safety, security, conservation and the interests of tenants. We advise in areas such as public rights of way law, access management techniques and interpretation and information production. Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) is but one site among many although as you will appreciate, due to its size and importance, it does receive a lot of attention.
TRF:Salisbury Plain is quite a unique environment and a popular destination for those wanting to ride ‘off tarmac’. For the benefit of people who haven’t yet visited, please could you describe the Plain, its history, and purpose?
James:SPTA is a very unique environment. The military have been here since the late 1880s and, at over 94,000 acres – that’s about the size of the Isle of Wight – it is the UK's largest training area. It is the breadth of training available that makes it important; live firing, armoured manoeuvres, training in built-up areas and the opportunity to use airspace both day and night; and this list is by no means definitive. Many of these types of military operations cannot be properly practised anywhere else in the country.
TRF:The TRF promote the responsible use of Green Roads, several of which can be found on Salisbury Plain. Unfortunately problems are being caused by the public accessing areas that should be off limits. What’s the danger in this from your point of view? Why shouldn’t people be able to go ‘just where they want?’
James:As I’ve illustrated, SPTA is an essential environment for all manner of military training and it is used extensively. The legacy of a century’s use makes for a dangerous environment. It is estimated that across Larkhill Range Danger Area there are at least 250,000 items of unexploded ordnance. Given the millions of rounds that have been fired into the range, this is a conservative estimate. Just because something has sat unnoticed in a bush for decades does not make it safe and it may still pose a risk to inquisitive fingers.
TRF:If these problems continue, what do you think the future holds for public access to Salisbury Plain?
TRF:Does this mean that recreational vehicles are not welcome on Salisbury Plain?
James:Fundamentally it's about achieving the right balance of use across SPTA. The MOD will continue to be custodians of this important environment for many years to come and so it is essential we continue to manage the balance between the priority military use, protecting the environment, looking after our tenants and providing managed public access where it is rational to do so. We fully recognise that there are a large number of legal users who stick to public rights of way and permissive tracks, pay due regard to the bylaws and SPTA Good Practice Guide and who work with us in trying to maintain a safe place to train. Given the presence of numerous public byways, access for legal, road worthy motor vehicles will never be precluded. The MOD are very appreciative of the support that TRF have given in promoting and endorsing legal, appropriate use and good practice and I hope that we will continue to work together to educate and deter those who do not.
TRF:Thanks for your time James.