Students in the second year of their BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma are supporting the Dean Trail Volunteers to rebuild and restore mountain biking trails at Pedalabikeaway in the Forest of Dean.
They are currently digging out a route that will allow cyclists on one of the more technical Grade Three trails to avoid a steep drop if it is too challenging for them. This re-route will then allow for repair work to take place where cyclists currently seeking another way round have ‘eroded’ a track that could be hazardous and is damaging the surrounding ancient woodland.
The project is part of the students’ ‘Impact and Sustainability’ module but it will also enable them to achieve the John Muir award - an environmental award scheme focused on wild places. The award encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment, in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration.
Student Sam Loxton, said: “The alternative track we are building is still quite technical but it will mean bikers can avoid the really difficult gully if they want to.
“Climbing and mountain biking are my passion; that’s why I chose this course. I’m a climbing instructor in the summer and on weekends at Far Peak Climbing Centre just outside Northleach and I love being able to help people to enjoy activities outdoors and master new skills.
“We’re using all natural materials and digging everything by hand – helping the environment and the local economy by restoring these trails. That’s very rewarding.”
The Dean Trail Volunteers started up more than four years ago and, since then, they have raised more than £50,000 to help restore bike trails throughout the Forest of Dean.
Alan Grist, from Dean Trail Volunteers, said: “Professional companies charge an average of £40 a metre to rebuild these trails. Our workforce is entirely made up of volunteers and, on average, there are four of us digging every Saturday. So to have 20 students helping us is fantastic; we can get two months’ work done in a day.
“They are helping us to cut the track down to the sandstone, removing the slidy organic material so that bikers have a hard, strong, sandstone surface to ride on.”
Pedalabikeaway already works closely with Hartpury College, providing placements for Outdoor Adventure students as well as access to the tracks to develop their mountain biking skills.
It is managed by Gareth Sheppard – a former Great Britain mountain biker and coach – who linked up with Outdoor Adventure tutor, Hannah Christie, to co-ordinate the students’ support for the bike trails restoration project.
Hannah said: “This was the perfect opportunity for our students to apply what they have learnt in a practical setting and see the positive impact they can have on the environment and the community with this type of project.
“There’s a huge sense of achievement when they see the finished track that will be used by mountain bikers from the UK and abroad for competition and leisure.
“Some of our students come to Pedalabikeaway on work placement to learn about bike maintenance and work towards coaching qualifications so it’s great for us to be able to support their business in this way. One of those placement students, James Dickens, now works at the centre. We’re proud that 100% of our Outdoor Adventure students are employed when they finish their course and these placements are key to that.”
Outdoor Adventure student, Molly Ames, added: “We come here quite a lot for mountain biking, to hill climb and for survival activities, so it’s great to be able to give something back.”