Applications to be exempted from the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, which was introduced two years ago, have been rejected in an Appeal Court hearing.
The decision could spell the end for businesses such as Wheddon Cross-based Barle Valley Safaris, run by Alison Simms and Duncan Waller, and Discovery Safaris, of Porlock, owned by Richard Growden.
Safari companies attract thousands of people to Exmoor every year and contribute to the important tourism spend on which the area’s economy is hugely dependent.
The Bill was intended to stop off-roading by a minority of people who were recklessly damaging the country’s National Parks and other areas by banning motor vehicles from rights of way classified as Roads Used as Public Paths (RUPPs).
However, legitimate safari businesses have been caught up by it and now a legal mix-up has left them facing an uncertain future.
Barle Valley Safaris was one of many businesses across the country which applied for temporary permission to continue using RUPPs while permanent applications were being processed by local councils.
Unfortunately, the Appeal Court ruled all such applications were invalid because the applicants had not supplied actual maps of the routes they used.
Mr Waller said people had been advised they could submit copies of routes which could be referenced against maps held by county councils – but the advice was flawed and the court ruled original maps should have been supplied.
Exmoor National Park Authority has supported the safari businesses and said it has no objection to them using the moor’s 40 miles of RUPPs.
Now, Mr Waller has launched an appeal for help to continue the battle to be exempted from the legislation.
Mr Waller said: “We are at our wits end with it all. We are being punished for the problems caused by a very small minority of people.
“Most people who come up here are very responsible. Most of our customers are elderly or disabled or families.
“We only go between 5 mph and 10 mph, we want people to see the moor, not give them a white-knuckle ride.
“We are very conscious of looking after the environment.
“We are in a dreadful position now where we cannot use the tracks we were before, which means we cannot take people into the moor.
“We can only really use the road now, and that defeats the point.
“Our trips showed people the parts they would not normally be able to reach.”
Barle Valley Safaris can be contacted by emailing email@example.com or calling 01643 851386 or visiting the website http://www.exmoorwildlifesafaris.co.uk/.
Discovery Safaris can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01643 863444 or visiting the website http://www.discoverysafaris.com/.
- Our photographs show (TOP) Richard Growden, of Discovery Safaris, off-roading near Winsford, photo by Graham Haw; and (BELOW) a Barle Valley Safaris trip across Exmoor, photo submitted.