Once we swing a leg over a top tube in England, we don't actually have much of it! As mountain bikers we have access to just 22% of the Public Right Of Way (PROW) network in England, predominantly bridleways and byways, with the addition of the welcome permitted ways of the trail centre.
This bothers me a little, predominantly because I can't see any good reason why we shouldn't be able to go on our mountain bikes to the same places we can go on foot. Sure, there are paths in areas so environmentally sensitive they probably ought not to be explored on foot, but the other commonly touted arguments are usually down to perception rather than reality.
In Scotland the situation since the 9th Feb, 2005 has been rather different, with cyclists having legal access to almost all open areas under an 'Access Code'.
I think the situation in England could be changed for the better. Health and fitness is still up there on the political agenda (mainly because it cuts the health service bill!), sport and cycling also have a high profile. The current The Times 'Cities fit for cycling' campaign is doing very well, with a parliamentary debate moving things along nicely (interestingly the opposition party embraced all 8 points, to the government's 7 http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3329890.ece) and demonstrating the 'draw' of cycling. The petition currently running on the government website asking for increased access for mountain bikers http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/3508 has just 3623 signatories. It needs to get to 100,000 to get a similar parliamentary debate.
If we don't fight our corner and sign the petitions to improve our sport in the uk, in all its forms, then we may find things heading in the opposite direction. The Country Landowners Association (CLA) have just released a report on their view on the PROW network http://www.cla.org.uk/policy_docs/Access15060212.pdf, and it makes for disturbing reading. Taken at a glance the document calls for common sense, simpler rules, well maintained and signed access - objectives I will certainly hold up as being extremely worthy. However, reading into the detail reveals the unsurprising reality; that the CLA is actually interested in reducing access (where there is the slightest plausible excuse); preventing new rights of way being established; and moving towards permissive access (i.e. where the landowner decides where you can, or can't, go). This new document moves, as if a pre-emptive strike, against the accord they held until recently with organisations such as the Ramblers Association http://www.ramblers.org.uk/news/Latest+news/The+wrong+way+forward. It is narrow-minded, thinking only of the interests of the Landowning minority, and should be recognised as the restriction of our rights which it would represent.
It should also be recognised, however, that the government's 'red tape review' is currently riding rough shod across many of the measures which have been put in place to ensure our countryside and special environmental areas are protected, without thought of our right to enjoy them. Lets not let our limited access rights be next...