Simply put, although it's quite legal to drive many unsurfaced roads (often known as Greenlanes) in the UK, it is often the case that such use causes irreparable damage. Many RUPPs (Roads Used as Public Paths) and BOATs (Byways Open to All Traffic) now resemble off-road courses due to the inconsiderate and irresponsible use by a growing number of 4x4 enthusiasts, trail bike riders, horse riders, cyclists and 'ramblers'.
Users of motorised vehicles will inevitably (and often rightly) take the majority of the blame for such damage. The consequences are clear, such access will be restricted as legislation is placed to prevent all such use.
Many of us who have driven 'lanes' for more years than we can remember generally tend to look upon the increasing use 'for fun' somewhat negatively - frequently seeing users taking and never putting back. The environment cannot sustain the growing trend, something has to give.
As this site is dedicated to Landies, I'll confine my thoughts accordingly, however, as noted above, horse and trail bike riders together with Ramblers do equal damage (the surface impact and compression ratio of a pair of boots is far higher than most tyre imprints, and causes 'puddling' leading to increased erosion) and I would hope that similar comments are made elsewhere encouraging them to act with greater responsibility.
So take a couple of tonnes of Solihulls greatest, better still, take our Grumble - weighing in at over 3.5 tonnes. No matter how experienced, how conscious and how careful we may be, driving 'legally' on a RUPP or BOAT, in the wet, or on oft previously driven routes simply is not a good idea
A 101 is incredibly capable off-road, Grumble especially so - being designed for the purpose by Land Rover to exacting military specifications then highly modified by me as a long range expedition vehicle.
The tyres on Grumble were specifically chosen for their broad distribution of weight, being a 4x4 the power is evenly spread between wheels. The automatic gearbox soaks up the power and torque of the 4.6L V8 engine (running on LPG) pretty much eliminating wheel-spin, but all the same, in the right place at the wrong time, Grumble could cause a whole lot of damage.
So we avoid 'laning' on all but a few routes we know will not be damaged.
Having said this, Grumble is somewhat unusual. Other Landie drivers would do well to carefully study the guidelines from GLASS - the Greenlane Association, "a national user group, dedicated to researching and protecting the UK's unique heritage of ancient vehicular rights of way and promoting sensible driving in the countryside".
Our 'rule of thumb' has always been that if you can see where we've driven half an hour after we've driven it, we shouldn't have driven it in the first place. The obvious caveat for this being an organised off-road facility, where Grumble will get as muddy as anyone else (and often ends up towing others out when they're stuck!)
The principle equally applies to expedition travel. Whether around the UK, Eire, Europe or Africa, the impact that any vehicle has can be extremely damaging. Equally as damaging are the actions of the people within the vehicles. Nobody likes a tourist.
Wherever we travel and by whatever means, we need to be conscious of our actions and the affect of our presence. Discarded litter, used batteries, bottles and other containers can seriously alter the delicate balance of the environment and natural habitat for locals and wildlife alike (go watch: "The Gods Must Be Crazy").
It's good to travel, explore, chart and document new ground. It's even better to do it without leaving a footprint - or, to go back to where I started, by treading lightly.
The only things we should take away from such delicate environments are memories and photographs.
The Royal Geographic Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) have extensive resources for expedition (and other) travellers on their website.
Turn around, go home, and put the kettle on :-)