On Sunday (11 September) Wiltshire Police teamed up with the MOD for Operation Aston.
Op Aston aims to tackle illegal activity on Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA), including off roaders in areas not permitted to the public and people contravening the by-laws. The operation deals with illegal activity occurring on the day, but also acts as future deterrent helping to educate people about how to safely and lawfully enjoy Salisbury Plain.
Throughout the operation, which was jointly run by Wiltshire Police and the MOD as members of the Wiltshire Rural crime partnership, officers stopped over 20 vehicles.
Four motorcycles were seized for being driven with no insurance, three fixed penalty notices were issued for vehicles being driven off road without landowner permission with the drivers issued section 59 warnings for antisocial or inconsiderate driving.
Wiltshire Police’s Rural Crime Team, the Special Constabulary, Community Policing Team officers and representatives from the MOD based at Salisbury Plain Training Area covered large areas on the plain in 11 vehicles for the Operation. Salisbury Plain at 94,000 acres is the same size as the Isle of White, covering a ninth of Wiltshire.
Rural Crime Officer Emily Thomas said: “Plenty of people enjoy Salisbury Plain responsibly. My advice would be to plan your day out carefully. Ensure you have access to a map and stick to the areas open to the public.
“Make sure you know what it means if the red flag is flying and know where you are not permitted to be, permissive byways can suddenly be out of bounds during training and operations.
“If you are planning to drive or ride on the Plain, remember motor vehicles are still limited to by-ways open to all traffic. Using an unofficial track or leaving the permitted by-ways could see you receive a Section 59 warning notice, or a £50 ticket for driving on an area other than a road.
“Public footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways are not for use by motorised vehicles.
“It is wrong to think just because you are out in the middle of nowhere that the usual rules for driving a car on a normal ‘A road’ no longer exist. The same rules regarding tax, insurance and a valid MOT still apply. Be considerate of others on the Plain and travel at a quiet and unobtrusive pace. Know that the speed limit on the Plain is 30mph which helps ensure it is an enjoyable place for everyone.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon Mr Angus Macpherson and the MOD Deputy Commander for the South West Region Brian Heil also attended the operation.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon Mr Angus Macpherson said: “It was a really insightful day getting to see first-hand the great collaborative working between Wiltshire Police and the MOD and the issues they are facing on Salisbury Plain. Issues which have the potential to be exacerbated by the declining weather conditions as we move into winter.
“It was interesting that the majority of those partaking in illegal activities on the plain were not local residents, but actually people who had travelled substantial distances from outside the county.
“Officers were speaking to people from Kent, Oxford, Sussex and Bournemouth. It was worrying to hear that these individuals had done little prior research other than a basic internet search. Despite the work that has been carried out by the MOD to improve the signage on the Plain to make it clear where the public should and should not be, people were of the impression they could simply tear around on MOD land as they pleased.
“Hopefully Operation Aston will help word spread that people need to take some personal responsibility for knowing how to lawfully and safely enjoy the Plain or risk having vehicles seized and being issued fines like we saw happen today.”
MOD’s Deputy Commander for the South West Region Brian Heil said: “The safety of the public and our own personnel on Salisbury Plain is a main priority for us and is why initiatives like Operation Aston are so important to ensure the Plain is used correctly and responsibly.
“Salisbury Plain is a vast area owned and used by the MOD for all manner of military training exercises, including those involving live ammunition. It is incredibly dangerous for the people to be on the Plain in areas not permitted to the public, even more so when the red flags are up meaning live firing is occurring.
“There are plenty of big fences and signs, but we still see people entering the impact area and other out of bounds areas conducting illegal activities such as off roading and hare coursing. If someone for example goes off road they could be driving through areas where troops are training and they may not be obvious to the human eye (after all it is their job to be able to blend in to their surroundings), thereby unnecessarily increasing the risk of injury or worse. Furthermore, illegal off-roaders put themselves at risk from both the danger of unexploded ordnance and also the very challenging terrain.
“A large proportion of Salisbury Plain Training Area contains Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and scheduled monuments. We are responsible for these and are held to account if these get damaged. Off roaders come in and cause damage to these areas and don’t care about the consequences.”
More information about SPTA by-laws and public rights of way can be found on the government website (www.gov.uk/ministry-of-defence-byelaws) and the Wiltshire Council website (www.wiltshire.gov.uk/recreation-rights-of-way). Further to this advice out good practice for greenlaning can be found on the Green Lane Association website (www.glass-uk.org )