Illegal off-road motorbikes are causing anger and frustration for people living across the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester.
Riders have damaged public property, left tracks across children’s playgrounds and football pitches and in some cases caused themselves serious injury and even death.
Police have been working hard to curb the problem but one senior officer says things have become worse since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown.
In some cases bikes are even being shipped in from Lancashire or Merseyside to be ridden in places like Stockport, Wigan and Rochdale.
Owning scrambler-style bikes and quads is not against the law if they are used to ride at licensed sites or on private property but it is when they are ridden on parks and public land.
Chief Inspector Gareth Firth is the man in charge of transport policing across the region and manages the Safer Roads Policing Team, which is called in to help with problem areas in Greater Manchester.
“It’s definitely fair to say that there has been an increase in off-road bike activity during the lockdown, both off-road and on the road as well,” he said.
“When I talk about off-road I mean in local parks and nature areas but also there’s the use of these bikes on the road as well, on carriageways and A-roads there’s been a marked increase.”
Authorities will first try to close off problem areas using fencing or boulders to block entrances. If riders continue to find their way through there will be further enforcement with new signs and patrols in place.
Finally, the police are called in and members of CI Firth’s team will flood an area, seizing any illegal bikes or vehicles used to transport them and chasing down people spotted breaking the law. A court order can then be given to allow the motorbikes to be crushed.
As well as the potential danger posed to people enjoying the outdoors, bikers are also putting their own safety at risk and there have been a number of crashes on roads or in tough to reach areas recently.
CI Firth pointed to an incident on Tuesday of this week, July 28, involving a young man who fell from his bike in Trafford.
After emergency services scrambled to reach him, the man was rushed to hospital but left fighting for his life because of the injuries.
“These bikes pose a serious risk,” CI Firth said.
“There was an incident in the middle of June in Leigh. a 34-year-old man and a seven-year-old boy sustained serious injuries riding a quad bike on a park.
“On June 15 in Atherton an off-road bike riding on the road illegally collided with a vehicle and a 29-year-old male rider died.
“It’s not just the damage and disturbance to local residents. There are unfortunately and horrendously incidents like that man who passed away.
“That rider from this week was left in a life-threatening condition and the young boy suffered significant serious injuries so that’s our concern.”
While the majority of these rides end without injury, they can cause damage to land and are a concern for walkers.
In one case earlier this year, a police community support officer had to be taken to hospital because a rider deliberately rode at him while he patrolled in a country park.
One of the riders deliberately drove at him before fleeing, police said at the time. The PCSO suffered arm and leg injuries although he has since made a full recovery.
The chief inspector added: “When I take my kids out for example for a walk around the local park and there’s a bike whizzing around, I quickly have to get them out of the way.
“If I’m concerned about that as a police officer then people who haven’t got my background are certainly going to be worried.”
One place which has had a particular problem with off-road bikers is Bickershaw Country Park in Leigh.
The former mine was transformed into a public park and nature reserve through the hard work of council staff and local volunteers.
But during the lockdown visits from bikers became a regular occurrence and residents, frustrated at hearing the loud growls of the vehicles and seeing the damage, turned to the police for help.
“In one weekend alone in May, right in the middle of lockdown, there were 21 reports relating to off-road bikes in just the Leigh area,” CI Firth said.
“Not only does that increase demand on police but it also takes those assets away from other areas. Not only is having a significant impact on areas of local beauty – we’ve seen instances where these bikes are damaging and destroying local areas – but it’s also taking some of our policing assets away from core policing.
“Nuisance and noise are the obvious problems but there’s also a fear aspect. There have also been incidents of serious injury or even worse.”
Dane Anderton is a councillor for the Leigh West ward, including Bickershaw Country Park.
He says problems have definitely become more serious during the lockdown and that he regularly receives calls about near misses involving walkers and bikers.
“I’ve had several residents contact me regularly by Facebook and in emails saying there was another near miss today. Maybe they were out with their dog and a bike came whizzing past,” he said.
“There are several access points to the area and it’s very well used by families and dog walkers because it’s got some really good paths in there.”
As well as being a popular spot for walkers, the park is home to a range of different species of wildlife, which were introduced to help naturalise the area after it was reclaimed.
But, Coun Anderton is concerned that the progress of the park project could be slowed by the problems with bikers.
“There’s a particular site which comes off Crankwood Road and it’s what’s called the Rucks, it’s the old pit soil from the mine,” he said.
“To an off-road biker I imagine that’s a very attractive site but at the same time it’s extremely dangerous, it was only a couple of weeks ago that we had a near fatality we a gentleman and a young boy. It was a major incident and it took over three hours to get up there.
“It’s a site for people to enjoy but not a place for people to come and disturb others or abuse what is the naturalisation of the environment.”