The Defence estate includes some of the most dramatic countryside in the UK and every year large numbers of people enjoy access to it both legally and safely. But not everyone sticks to the rules with some people endangering themselves and the lives of others.
My name is Kevin Morris and after a career in the Army and leaving with the rank of WO1 I now work in the Full Time Reserve Service as a Training Safety Marshal for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation based on Salisbury Plain. As the job title suggests, maintaining the safe use of the training area is at the heart of what I do. My primary responsibility is obviously the safety of military personnel, but with so much public access to the Salisbury Plain Training area, much of my work involves public safety.
I look after around 26,000 acres which includes open countryside, woods, scrubland not to mention land leased to a large number of tenant farmers and all of it is crisscrossed by public roads and other rights of way.
Whether it’s a soldier on exercise or someone cycling through the training area my priority is to make sure the activity is done safely. Sadly while the vast majority of people do obey the by-laws, some people completely disregard the warning signs, the rules and seemingly disengage their common sense.
One of the biggest problems on all training areas has to be related to illegal off-road driving.
Young men in particular see the vast areas of open ground and think it would be a great place to test their skills. Many come from as far afield as Birmingham, Essex, Bristol and Southampton. But all training areas contain hazards; not least soldiers on exercise. Over the years my colleagues and I have had to deal with some shocking situations involving all sorts of rolled and crashed vehicles, some resulting in life changing injuries. One incident that sticks in my mind involved a motorbike rider who suffered multiple injuries including a broken leg after wrecking his bike. While his injuries weren’t immediately life threatening, he could have remained trapped and unable to raise help and the final result could have been very different.
Because many of the roads across the training area are empty much of the time, people think it’s safe to speed. They also take risks they’d never chance on standard roads. This speeding is made worse during poor weather conditions. In the autumn and winter besides the problems caused by ice, visibility can be drastically reduced by fog. During the summer months, dust is an issue. Either way suddenly confronting a tank or similar military vehicle can often have only one outcome.
Wherever possible we like to talk to people and discuss why it’s important to stick to the speed limit or not to leave the public roads, or stay within the law. However persistent offenders are reported to the police and where necessary we will take action through the courts.
Monitoring illegal activity
While this is a military training area, and its primary use has to come first, there is significant public access which we support and respect. We are happy to allow any recreational activity that is safe and keeps within the by-laws. A good example of this are the large number of amateur photographers who come to see the Plain’s vast array of wildlife. However illegal activities such as hare coursing or fly tipping are never tolerated. To help combat these activities we gather video evidence. I have what’s called an ‘evidence camera’ fitted to my vehicle, which I can also detach and wear as a ‘body camera’. We also use movement activated cameras to gather footage of criminal activity and it’s amazing what people try and get away with.
We recently prevented several raves taking place on the training area. In one case we worked with the police who used a camera drone to locate one of these illegal music events being set-up inside an area of woodland. We established road blocks and turned away dozens of cars and hundreds of people, some from Wales.
We officially call these incidents ‘incursions’ but you could describe them as trespassing, or illegal access. While some may seem relatively harmless, most are either illegal or in some way dangerous and could result in serious injury or death. It’s my job, like that of all Training Safety Marshals on the Defence estate, to make sure that doesn’t happen.