Mountain bike enthusiasts are objecting to new Forest Service proposals which they say will effectively ban them from riding in forests.
The mountain bikers say that plans to restrict access rights to daylight hours would leave many people working normal office hours unable to use forests.
They are also concerned about a proposed by-law to ban cycling outside designated areas.
A spokesman for Irish mountain biking website Trailbadger. com said: “The new by-laws basically say what you can and can’t do in forests. A ‘Ten Commandments’ of sorts.
“The right of access excludes between sunset and sunrise.
“If you are an office worker like myself, when I arrive home from work at 6pm during say November, it means I can’t go for a walk with the kids and I won’t be able to go for an early morning run either.”
He added: “Dozens of Northern Ireland forests are being used for mountain biking.
“The roads are too dangerous to use. From kids to pensioners, the sport is exploding.
“Ultimately we are looking for these parts of the by-laws to be scrapped in their current form.
“We want access to the forest to be relaxed and for the Forest Service to facilitate our activity rather than clamp down on it.”
Ian McIntyre, from Chain Reaction Cycles in Doagh, said “access is an issue”.
“We have a club and organise downhill races, so we have to work closely with Forestry,” he said.
“Lots of the riders would love to be able to ride trails legally without an event taking place.
“Most cyclists want access all-year around.
“We are hopeful things are changing. There are purpose-built trails being built in Kilbroney and Forestry and local councils are starting to see the benefits of access.
“There have been insurance issues regarding sharing the paths and designation for walkers. It’s not been easy.” Mr McIntyre said the local economy is losing out because of the restrictions on cyclists here.
He added: “We have lots of cyclists travelling to Scottish cycle centres and some purpose-built centres down south. This is all lost revenue for Northern Ireland.”
Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Forest Service is working with a range of stakeholders and partners in expanding cycling opportunities.
She said Forest Service strongly advocates the use of forests for social, recreational and healthy leisure pursuits.
The Sinn Fein minister added: “The Forest Service has proposed daylight access hours on grounds of health and safety and the practicalities of on-the-ground management and enforcement.
“Indeed, such opening and closing times are a widespread feature of by-laws for urban and country parks. The Forest Service already facilitates cycling in its forests — for example, family cycle trails at Castlewellan Forest Park, Gosford Forest Park and Castle Archdale Forest.
“At the same time we are conscious of having a duty of care to the broad spectrum of users and visitors of all ages and interests.
“We want to manage the recreational use of forestry land in a way that ensures the enjoyment and wellbeing of everyone, and our proposed approach is to achieve this through permitting cycling in suitable designated areas — including our existing trails.
“This is certainly not a blanket prohibition and we will listen carefully to stakeholders’ views emerging from the consultation, before making any decisions.”
Mountain biking activists are objecting to two proposals detailed in the The Forestry Land By-laws (Northern Ireland) 2011.
The first is the “right of access” granted in the act would be “excluded between sunset and sunrise”.
The second is that “a person shall not ride a cycle other than in an area designated for cycling”.
The public consultation on the proposed Forest Service by-laws ends on June 23.
For further information visit www.dardni.gov.uk/forestservice