A unique record

It was a nice coincidence that the Recording Britain exhibition was at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery (on tour from the Victoria and Albert Museum) when I visited the town on 26 April for the Spirit of Kinder event. The 1932 Kinder trespass occurred a few years before the Recording Britain project started, but I felt they were connected, for the Kinder trespassers were campaigning for our freedom to roam on open country, and Recording Britain helped to ensure that these grand places were protected.

Recording Britain was initiated by Kenneth Clark at the start of the second world war, when more than 90 artists were commissioned to depict our nation’s prime features.  These included fine tracts of landscape, towns and villages where buildings were about to be pulled down, parish churches and country houses and their parks.

Watercolour
Most of the paintings are in watercolour, which Clark was keen to preserve as an artform, though Graham Sutherland and Paul Nash, as war artists, used other media.  The aim was to boost the national morale at time of war, and to highlight those places which were threatened from development and industrialisation.  It is an invaluable and beautiful record.

Some artists focused on their home patch.  Charles Knight (1901-90) from Ditchling in East Sussex chose to document the South Downs.  He recorded the 25-mile-long road between Milton Street and Edburton, running below the escarpment.  His work was used to defend the area from developers in 1940 and again when a bypass was planned in 1954.

Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997) on the other hand travelled from his home in Essex to his native Yorkshire, Wales and Derbyshire.  At Ashopton, Derbyshire, he made an urgent record before the valley was flooded by the Ladybower Reservoir.

Grainfoot Farm, Derwentdale, Derbyshire, 1940 by Kenneth Rowntree.  Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Grainfoot Farm, Derwentdale, Derbyshire, 1940 by Kenneth Rowntree. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition is accompanied by a 1940s film from the Pathé Archive, made by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (now the Campaign to Protect Rural England), which recognises the threats to the countryside and advocates the creation of national parks, a decade before they became a reality.

Isolation
In stark contrast, there are some works by the Guyanese-born Ingrid Pollard (1953-). Her Pastoral interlude 1987 consists of photographs and words, signifying isolation and exclusion.

It’s as if the black experience is only lived within an urban environment.  I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wandered lonely as a black face in a sea of white.  A visit to the countryside is always accompanied by a feeling of unease; dread … feeling I don’t belong.  Walks through leafy glades with a baseball bat by my side … 

It made me realise the value of the Campaign for National Parks’ Mosaic project, which has for the past 15 years been working with a range of communities to encourage and enable people from diverse backgrounds to enjoy and appreciate national parks.  It has been hugely successful, and as a result there are many more people who now visit the countryside without unease, dread, or fear of not belonging.

Recording Britain is on until 2 November 2014.  Entry is free.  I recommend a visit.

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Good and bad path-practice in West Berks

Yesterday with my two friends, Drusilla and Mary, I ventured into West Berkshire, for a six-mile walk in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  I saw examples of good and bad practice in path maintenance.

We started at Snelsmore Common, north of Newbury and followed ramble 11 (Winterbourne Village and Boxford Common) in the East Berkshire Ramblers’ book Rambling for Pleasure: Kennet Valley and Watership Down.  All credit to David Bounds and Dave Ramm for a well-described and interesting walk.

The route takes in the hamlets of Winterbourne and Bagnor, the woods of Snelsmore Common and Boxford Common, and cross-field paths with extensive views over the Kennet, Lambourne and Winterbourne valleys and the downs beyond.

Well-restored cross-field path east of Winterbourne

Well-restored cross-field path east of Winterbourne

The footpath from Winterbourne Holt to Winterbourne, which strikes out over a number of fields, is a fine example of how cross-field paths should be (see photo above), with a firm, wide surface.  The path problems were largely overgrowth: with councils slashing their path budgets, vegetation clearance is likely to be reduced.

Annoyed
However, I was annoyed by the anti-dog stiles at Boxford Common.  There is a sign on them inviting people to keep dogs on leads, so the owner knows that dog-walkers come here.

Unfriendly stile

Unfriendly stile

web dog sign

But he then makes it difficult and cumbersome for large dogs, like Janet the golden retriever, to cross them.

Getting Janet the retriever over the stile

Getting Janet the golden retriever over the stile …

... is not easy

… is not easy

These stiles should be replaced with gates, to British Standard 5709, to ensure people of all abilities, with their dogs, can enjoy this lovely route.  It’s the landowner’s duty to do it, and West Berkshire Council’s to ensure it happens—but perhaps the energetic West Berkshire Ramblers could give a hand?

I have reported this to West Berkshire Council using the online report form.  I’ll let you know what response I get.

West Berkshire Ramblers' volunteers' 100th gate

West Berkshire Ramblers’ volunteers’ 100th gate, on Winterbourne Road

 

 

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A treacherous act

Seventy-five years ago today, 13 July 1939, the Access to Mountains Act 1939 received royal assent.  My predecessor at the Open Spaces Society, Sir Lawrence Chubb, had a big hand in this but it is nothing to be proud of.  We can only feel relieved that the act was repealed ten years later by clause 84 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 without ever being applied.

In summary, the act did not grant a right of access, it merely prohibited owners from keeping walkers off the land during daylight hours; the act only applied to mountain, moor, heath, down or cliff where there was an order for access, the process for achieving this was cumbersome, slow and expensive, and in certain circumstances trespass became a criminal offence, punishable by fine.

Tom Stephenson, former secretary of the Ramblers’ Association (RA), wrote in detail about the 1939 act in his book Forbidden Land (Manchester University Press, 1989).  He reported that there was ‘great joy and jubilation and an inexplicable optimism in the RA in November 1938 when it was learned that Arthur Creech Jones, the Labour MP for Shipley, was to introduce an Access to Mountains Bill’.

Presented
The bill, as initially presented, was the same as that presented by James Bryce half a century earlier, giving the public the right of free access to uncultivated land, subject to provisions preventing abuse of the right.  No owner or occupier of such uncultivated land was entitled to exclude or bar walkers.

However, at the second-reading debate in the House of Commons in December 1938, it emerged in the response from the Under-Secretary at the Home Office, Geoffrey Lloyd (Conservative), that there had been negotiations between landowners’ representatives and the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society (as the OSS was then known).  It was the first the RA’s leaders had heard of this.

Unprincipled
It turned out that Lawrence Chubb was working hard behind the scenes, in an unprincipled and toadying manner, to achieve an agreement with landowners.  The House of Commons agreed to let the bill have second reading and to negotiate in committee.

 

Plynlimon

Plynlimon

With Chubb actively involved, and to the dismay and anger of many ramblers, a number of draft bills then followed.  The one that was pursued could hardly have been worse.  It did not give public access to all uncultivated land but instead proposed an elaborate procedure for limited access to specific areas.  What is more, a landowner could appeal to the Ministry of Agriculture for an order to restrict access and impose special conditions governing the access (for instance, for lambing, nesting or shooting) and it would be an offence, punishable by fine, for anyone to disregard such restrictions.  Thus trespass would become a criminal offence.  Unless one could prove that the trespass was unintentional, one could be fined merely for being on land.

The RA agreed to oppose the bill.  It went through committee in the House of Commons. At third reading Fred Marshall (Lab for Sheffield Brightside) tried to nullify the trespass clause by removing the word ‘unintentional’.  Clement Atlee and 17 MPs who became ministers in his 1945 government supported the amendment but it was defeated by 86 votes to 70.

Lobbied
The RA and sympathetic MPs lobbied the lords, making it clear that they would greatly prefer no bill to the one proposed.  But the lords proceeded.  The trespass clause was amended so that it would not apply automatically, only if it was stipulated in an access order or a subsequent amendment to an order, a small concession.

The slopes of Kinder

The slopes of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire

The bill which became law on 1 Jan 1940 did not give a right of access, it merely prevented the owner and others from keeping walkers off the land to which the act applied.  The access was given by order, made by the minister, on the application of the owner, local authority or ‘any organisation deemed by the minister sufficiently representative of the persons likely to be benefited by the application of this act to the land’.  However, this access was only available during daylight hours; at night the ordinary law of trespass applied.  There was a list of restrictions (similar to those in the 1949 act and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000), breach of which were criminal offences.

The statutory rules and orders which followed made it even worse.  Anyone wanting access had to apply for an order on a prescribed form and pay £10.  He also had to provide and pay for maps and advertisements.  If there were objections, the applicant might have to pay for a public inquiry.  If an order was made, the applicant had to erect notices and signs and maintain them.  And if the ministry decided to close land, because of fire danger for instance, the applicant had to post notices.  All this placed a wholly unreasonable burden on those seeking access, and the applicant might be an organisation such as the RA with very limited funds.  The regime was unworkable and very nasty.

Persisted
Yet Chubb persisted in arguing that it was a good thing.  In the Commons Society’s annual report for 1939 he wrote: ‘The chief event of the year was unquestionably the passing into law of the Access to Mountains Bill.’  He said that the bill was given second reading in the commons ‘in order to enable the society to negotiate the terms of a mutually-acceptable bill with the Central Landowners’ Association (now the CLA) and the Land Union and other bodies.  The negotiations were carried on in the friendliest spirit, and the society desires to record its deep appreciation of the manner in which the representatives of the landowners endeavoured to reconcile its views with their natural desire to avoid any undue interference with private rights of property’.  Thus Chubb showed his true colours.

He went on to criticise ‘the small but active body of critics who persistently opposed the measure because it did not slavishly follow the impracticable scheme of the original bill’, and concluded ‘It is fortunate that the act completed its passage through parliament in time to escape the fate which befell many bills which were still in intermediate stages when the war broke out, and that when peace returns it will be possible to proceed immediately with its full application, as part of the social amelioration which must surely be one of the first objects of the peace.’  Fortunately, that ‘full application’ never occurred.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, with its imperfections and limited application, is undoubtedly far better than the Access to Mountains Act’s pernicious provisions.

Winsford Hill, Exmoor

Winsford Hill, Exmoor

Posted in Access, Open Spaces Society, parliament, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blencathra friends miss the point

It is sad that the Friends of Blencathra have failed in their bid to buy this magnificent mountain, also known as ‘Saddleback’ in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria.  This majestic place should belong to the community.

However, all may not be quite lost as the contract with the secret buyer has not yet been signed.  So we learnt from John Robson, managing director of H&H Land and Property, agent for the Lonsdale Estates, on BBC radio 4’s Today programme this morning.  The guide price was £1.75 million and the mountain is being sold by Lord Lonsdale to pay the inheritance tax following the death of his father.

Blencathra south face.  photo: Wikipedia

Blencathra south face. photo: Wikipedia

It was a pity that the Friends’ honorary president, Chris Bonington, wasn’t clearer on Today about the constraints that the new buyer will be under (listen here, 1 hr 20 mins in to programme).  When Jim Naughtie asked him about this, Chris said ‘being part of the national park, there can’t be any kind of development on it without planning permission …  Secondly, because it’s all open moorland it’s already got the statutory right to roam so we will always have the right to wander Blencathra free of charge’.

He missed the point.  Planning permission applies to all land, and the right to roam can be removed if the land ceases to be open country.

Three points 
Chris should have made three points.

1          The land is in the national park, therefore any development must also meet the authority’s objectives to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public.   A tough test on Blencathra.

2          The land is registered common, CL66, so that any works there would, additionally, require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He could also have said that there are ten active graziers with rights to graze thousands of animals, none of which can be interfered with.

3          The land is heavily designated.  It is a site of special scientific interest and a Special Area of Conservation.  Moreover, it is in a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement with two other commons, running to November 2020, which prescribes the management.

While Chris would not have had time to spell all this out, he might have given more of a flavour of it.  For the upshot is that there are so many rights and interests, and so many constraints, that the only reason to own this precious jewel is to maintain its landscape, wildlife, commoning heritage and public access.

If the new owner tries to do anything here which conflicts with these many public interests, there will be trouble.

Posted in Access, common land, Cumbria, National parks, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The shock of my life

‘You gotta do ’em over,’ said my dad, shaking his head sorrowfully.  That was 40 years ago today: 6 July 1974.  I can hear him now, with his soft American voice, uttering words which I was not expecting to hear.

He was conveying the news that I had failed my first-year biology exams at Exeter University, something I had never anticipated.  And the shock came at the end of a wonderful day.  I was at Lancaster University, at a conference about national parks with my heroine and mentor Sylvia Sayer, Dartmoor’s champion.

Lancaster University

Lancaster University

This was my first experience the national scene, and I had met people who had just been names before: Ian Campbell (secretary of the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society), John Cripps (chairman of the Countryside Commission), Mervyn Osmond (from the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, as it was then known), Gerald Haythornthwaite (chairman of the Council for National Parks) and many others.  It was a taste of my future life and I was on a high.

Authorised
I knew the exam results were due that day and I had authorised the parents to open the letter before coming up to fetch me en route to a holiday in Scotland.  At the end of the conference Sylvia encouraged me to seek out mum and dad and ask about the results, so she was with me at the time.  We were both devastated by this news.  I had never before failed an exam and I had worked hard for these ones.

In fact the parents were so dismayed that they had rung my good friend Hil Scott (now Marshall), also in her first year at Exeter, to find out how she had fared.  Her post hadn’t arrived by then and she spent some anxious minutes thinking that she too must have failed until the postman came.  Fortunately she had passed.

Callbox 
That evening, in Hornby in the Lune Valley, I stuffed countless coins into the callbox to talk to the patient Hil, endlessly going over how could this possibly have happened.  We cut our Scottish trip short and I raced back to Devon to confront my professor, David Nichols, the marine biologist.

He explained that my problem was that I wrote too much and didn’t answer the questions!  So after a worrying summer I did the retakes and passed.

It came out OK in the end, but that day 40 years ago is one I’ll never forget.

 

 

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Blue-plaque blooper

On 22 June Chris Hall, editor of The Countryman magazine from 1981 to 1996, went to a ceremony for the unveiling of a blue plaque outside Greyhounds, Burford, in Oxfordshire, former home of the magazine.  Chris’s letter, below, was published in this week’s Oxford Times.

The Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board has muddled its latest memorial, a plaque commemorating The Countryman magazine and its founder-editor, J W Robertson Scott.

Mark Whitely, current editor

Mark Whitely, current editor

The plaque has been placed on the front of Greyhounds, Sheep Street, Burford, where the magazine was edited for many years, but where Scott never worked or lived, although the board specifies that persons commemorated ‘must have lived or worked in the building on which the plaque will be erected for at least five years’.

He edited the magazine from his home at Idbury Manor, five miles away, and The Countryman only came to Burford when he retired.

Scott’s plaque should be at Idbury.

John Cripps
If anyone is to be commemorated at Sheep Street it is Sir John Cripps who edited the magazine there (1947-71), served on the former Witney Rural District Council (chairman 1959-62) and revived the Burford Friends’ (Quakers’) meeting.

And it is a pity that the board could not get the dates right: the plaque says that The Countryman was edited at Burford from 1949 until 2003.  Wrong.

The magazine came to Burford early in 1947 ‘during the great white winter’, as Cripps himself recalled and as the magazine recorded.

web plaque

Unfortunately the board does not plan to correct this, the chairman [Robert Evans, Oxford Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History FLSW FBA] told me at the unveiling ceremony.

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Barossa nightjars

We met for the nightjar survey 15 minutes later, and a week earlier, than last year.  About 20 of us congregated at the end of King’s Ride, Camberley, Surrey, by the cattle-grid, eager to get out onto the heaths and record churring nightjars and whatever else was about.

This year the survey was run by James Herd, Surrey Wildlife Trust’s ranger for Manor Farm, Barossa and Poors Allotment.  This is dry heathland which is managed by the trust and is part of the Sandhurst military training area.  This was James’s first year organising the survey, in previous years it was run by volunteer Patrick Crowley who did a super job. James efficiently supplied us with maps and aerial photographs showing the areas allocated to us.  He had divided the area into seven, including two areas within the range danger-area (but MoD knew about the survey and wouldn’t be firing).

Nightjar country

Nightjar country

As I explained last year in my blog, I travel many miles to do the survey because the habitat is so different from the Chilterns and I have the chance of seeing and hearing heathland birds.  I had arrived a bit early to enjoy the place before we got started, and had headed for the heather where I saw a Dartford warbler last year, but there was none that night.

Heather near Wishmoor Bottom, but no Darties tonight

Heather near Wishmoor Bottom, but no Darties tonight

I set off with my survey partner, Paul Briggs, at 8.30, clutching my map to show the area we should traverse.  It was a fairly small area of open heathland with some wood and scrub.  We walked round it in the growing dusk, and had a good siting of a tree pipit.

We had been told to expect nightjars from 9.45 onwards and, sure enough, at 9.47 we heard our first churrs.  James said we should record any outside our territory too as back-up in case no one else had heard them.  Soon the nightjars were churring from all directions and it was difficult to be sure exactly where they were.

We split up and walked the boundaries of our patch in opposite directions, I went up the hill into a wood then down through bracken, sweeping round until I met Paul.

Map of the survey area, my patch outlined in red

Map of the survey area, my patch outlined in red

Between us we heard about eight nightjars, of which three were in our patch.  We reconvened at the cattle-grid at about 11pm.

Later James told us that it had been a good year, with 36 churring males as well as woodlark, woodcock, Dartford warbler and hobbies.   So he concluded it was a good night.  I can endorse that.

web nightjars 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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