A “wonderful” facility for a niche motorsport must be allowed to reopen fully, enthusiasts have urged the Bath and North East Somerset Council.

Trial riding sees special motorbikes — often with no seats — navigating around woodland courses, requiring riders to rely on balance, skill with their gears, and control of the bike. Since the 1970s, enthusiasts have been riding at Fry’s Bottom Woods near Clutton in North East Somerset.

But in June 2022 Bath and North East Somerset Council sent an enforcement notice to the wood’s owner, telling him to put a stop to the activity as there was no planning permission. Owner Steve Willcox — a former member of the Council who sat on its planning committee — said he knew the rules and it should be permitted as it had been used for trial bikes for over 10 years.

But he only began keeping records of bookings in 2013 and so had been unable to prove this to the Council. Since the enforcement notice, the wood has been limited to only opening for bikes on 14 days per year.

Now Mr Willcox has submitted a planning application to open the woods back up to riders five days a week. Mr Willcox said: “The green belt is for agriculture, forestry, sport and recreation. And this is sport and recreation.”

He added that the sport was not about racing. He said: “It’s all about control of the bike: balance and control and mental ability to see where you are going and you have got to edge around it using your gears.”

Riders have rallied around Mr Willcox and rushed to show their support, with 136 supporting comments being lodged on the application within the first week. Many questioned why the Council had issued the enforcement notice in the first place.

Martin Everett wrote: “I think there is a misunderstanding between the use of noisy scramblers and quiet trials bikes. Trials bikes are low speed and only used on tick over whilst negotiating obstacles — which is the whole idea and fun of off road trialling.

“Steve runs the place like a well oiled machine and will have no unruly groups on site.”

Heath Brindley said he had been coming to the “wonderful” place for at least ten years. He said: “It has been instrumental in allowing me to encourage others, including many youngsters, to not only take up the sport of motorcycle trials but to learn maintenance and correct technique and mind-set.

“It has allowed many people to spend time out in the countryside, and because it is a quiet and slow form of motor sport the wildlife exists alongside us. The use of the paths and tracks actually encourages a better mix of plants and animals and it’s not uncommon to find yourself watching deer, fox, and buzzards etc whilst undertaking our sport.”

Daniel Myers added: “Fry’s Bottom Woods means so much to the trials community and sport. This is the only place to ride and practice in the area and without it we will have nowhere to practise. It would be a great shame not to have a safe place for my son to learn when he’s old enough.”

Last year, Fry’s Bottom allowed bikes one day per month in order to give people somewhere safe and legal to take part in their sport while remaining within the limit of only opening for 14 days. This year, Mr Willcox has been holding two days for bikes per month as he hopes to have a decision on the planning application by July.

But the limit has been difficult for some. Submitting a comment in support of the application, Alex Stevens said he used to be a regular visitor and the place had been a “godsend” for his mental and physical health.

But he said: “Since it has reverted to the 14 day rule I have tried to attend but have missed many of the days due to other commitments. Having much more freedom to access the forest would be a massive benefit to the trials community and industry in the area.”

For those who can make it, it means a lot of people want to use the woods at once. Fifty people can easily turn up for one of the few days it is open.

Under the new plans, the site would only allow a small number of people to come at any one time. Mr Willcox hopes to get permission for the site to open from 9am-7pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Numbers would be limited to 15 at any one time on weekdays, 25 on Saturdays, and 20 on Sundays.

Mr Stevens added: “Of all motorsports, trials is so low key and low impact that it seems unreal that there could be an objection to a bunch of middle aged men pottering about on bikes, having fun, building a community, and getting exercise for both the body and mind. Plus trials is accessible to all ages from the very young to the very old, so everyone can benefit.”

In another supporting comment, Kevin Byrne said: “This place is a sanctuary for many people like myself who need an escape from everyday life and technology.

“There is a great social group who use this place and it really broke my heart when it closed.

“It’s great that we can use it two days a month now but it would be brilliant if it could return to normal.”

You can view and comment on the plans here: https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/webforms/planning/details.html?refval=23%2F04785%2FFUL#details_Section