Finding the fruit

Do not be afraid to go out on a limb.  That’s where the fruit is.

With these perceptive words, Camilla Widmark opened the third European conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons (IASC) today in Umeå, Sweden. Camilla, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, is the chairman of the conference organising committee.

This was a perfect introduction to my talk, Campaigning for commons, the collective approach.  As campaigners, we must never be afraid to go out on a limb.   The Open Spaces Society has experience of that, often as a lone voice.



I explained that a good campaign has four elements: aims, research, communication and lobbying.  But the important element for IASC is research because it brings together the academics and practitioners.  We have a symbiotic relationship: academics provide the facts and evidence, practitioners use them to achieve beneficial change.  For instance, in England and Wales we have employed academics to provide the evidence that walking benefits health and the economy, and thereby put pressure on local authorities, the decision makers, to increase their budgets.

Elinor Ostrom Award
Last year the Open Spaces Society won the Elinor Ostrom Award for practitioners working on commons.  Lin, a respected scholar of commons, firmly believed in collective action.  I urged participants at the conference to put forward nominations for next year’s award before the end of the month.  I am proud to be among the judges.

I hope that IASC will continue to embrace practitioners and do more to forge links between practitioners and academics, so that together we can bring about change for the commons’ and public good.

Mural of Umeå at the university

Mural of Umeå at the university

Posted in campaigns, common land, Elinor Ostrom, International Association for the Study of the Commons, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guardian’s inconsistencies

Last night we heard that the former Swedish prime minister, Frederik Reinfeldt, had conceded election defeat.  The news came through at about 10pm.  This morning The Guardian newspaper doesn’t mention it.

On 9 July, rather later in the evening, Sergio Romero brought Argentina into the semi-final of the World Cup.  It was the splash on The Guardian Sports page the next morning. Hardly consistent.

Guardian SportCoincidentally, I am heading for Sweden today, for the third European conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons in Umea.  I am to speak on Campaigning for Commons, the collective approach.

I hope to blog from there.


Posted in common land, International Association for the Study of the Commons, Sweden | Tagged | Leave a comment

Wally’s centenary

Today Wally Smith, who died in 2001, would have been 100, a special friend of the Ramblers and of mine.   Here’s what I said at his memorial event in May 2001.

Tribute to Wally Smith, 13 September 1914 – 29 April 2001
Founder member of the Ramblers’ Association, treasurer 1961-87 and vice-president 1987-2001.

They called him Tiger Smith in Liverpool and North Wales Area in the 1930s because he used to lead such energetic and challenging walks.  And I suspect it was also because he was a leading light in organising the path surveys in the 1950s, when we first got the official, definitive, maps of rights of way under the National Parks Act 1949.

All the paths had to be claimed by volunteers, and Liverpool and North Wales Ramblers covered two million acres.  Wally was the organiser, he went with the volunteers—by bus, train and bike—out into the wilds and then co-ordinated their returns and sent them to the county councils, an enormous task.  So it’s thanks to Wally that so many paths in that area are on the map today.  In the 1950s he moved to West Riding and became West Riding Area access secretary.  He pestered West Riding County Council to make access agreements on moorland.

Unsung hero
Wally was the unsung hero of the Ramblers’ Association.  Not much was written about him.  He was a founder member in 1935 and treasurer for more than a quarter of a century, from 1961 to 1987.  I found a page from him in Rucksack in 1970 in which he argues the case for putting up the subs from 10s 6d to £1 (to enable the Ramblers’ Association to do its campaigning) and he saw off an amendment at National Council that year to increase it only to 16s.

His job, for 50 years, was an accountant.  Yet he was willing to do this same job in his spare time for the RA because he believed in what it was fighting for.  Wally’s heart was always in the hills.  In his early days he worked in the Cunard Building in Liverpool and in his lunch break he would go onto the roof to improve his head for heights and practise his technique by jumping over parapets.

Campaigning body
He firmly believed in the RA as a campaigning body and he saw his job as making that possible.  He said to previous secretaries and directors: ‘My job is to see you’ve got the money to do what you want to do’—and he did, both as treasurer of the RA and of Ramblers’ Association Services (a holiday company established to raise money for the Ramblers’ Association).

Wally Smith (left) and Chris Hall, Ramblers' president (right) at the launch of the Ramblers' manifesto on 3 February 1992

Wally Smith (left) and Chris Hall, Ramblers’ president (right) at the launch of the Ramblers’ manifesto on 3 February 1992

Wally was straightforward and direct.  When Andrew Dalby was interviewed for a job with the RA in 1965, by Walter Tysoe and Wally, Walter asked him: ‘What newspapers do you read?’  Wally leaned across to Andrew and said: ‘He’s trying to find out your politics’.  Of course Wally would have asked the question straight out.

If he didn’t know something, he’d ask.  He had a curiosity for life; self-taught he was always seeking out knowledge.  When in London he would pop into the House of Commons to see what was going on.

He never panicked—he was the ideal person to go on the hills with.  He never bore grudges, he had a great sense of humour and you could tease him.  But above all I remember his wonderful smile.

Unlike many of his generation, he accepted change and indeed welcomed it.  He encouraged Alan Mattingly, as the new young Ramblers’ secretary in the 1970s, and he did the same for me when I came on the executive committee in 1982.  In later years he supported the Nottinghamshire Area, of which he was a member, in forming a group for young people.

Chris  and Wally at the Ramblers' manifesto launch, 3 February 1992

Chris and Wally at the Ramblers’ manifesto launch, 3 February 1992

He always came to our rallies—on the first Forbidden Britain Day in 1985 on Lose Hill in the pouring rain, Wally was there.  On Win Hill in 1994 to celebrate the 60th jubilee—Wally was there.  On that occasion he met our new president, Janet Street Porter for the first time and they got on really well, probably because they were both so direct.

He had a lifelong belief in freedom to roam, and it was fitting that the RAS should have held a dinner in honour for Wally on 3 March last year, the day the freedom-to-roam bill was published.

We need Wally now, as the RA considers its future direction, to guide us and remind us that we must never cease to campaign for people’s rights to enjoy the countryside.

His ashes are to be scattered on Snowdon, among the mountains he loved.  We can go there and remember him, his lifelong devotion to the RA, and the paths and freedom to roam which he won for us.  We shall remember him with deep respect, deep admiration but above all very deep affection.

Posted in Access, campaigns, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

For one and all, a true Cornishman remembered

I was sad to learn that Anthony Hawkey had died.  He was 96 and had lived in Egloshayle Road, Wadebridge, north Cornwall for all his life except for a year up Gonvena Hill (also in Wadebridge).  He was a true Cornishman.

I knew him as an activist in the Cornwall Ramblers; he was a founder of the Camel Group and chairman of Cornwall Area for many years.  He doggedly defended public rights of way, arguing with farmers, council officers and developers over blocked paths.  He was one of those volunteers who never gave up.  His lyrical, forthright Cornish tones were a hallmark of the Cornwall Ramblers’ meetings; he spoke as though preaching to his fellow Methodists.

His daughter Alison Gunderson gave a eulogy at his funeral on 11 August, summing him up beautifully.  This is what she said, slightly abbreviated.

My Dad didn’t move far—apart from a year up Gonvena Hill, his whole life was lived on Egloshayle Road.  The house where he was born is now the chapel of rest where he has lain for the last days, ending where he began.

Anthony by the River Camel

Anthony by the River Camel

The River Camel flowed through his veins.   As a boy he spent a lot of time in and on the river, later he worked upstream, in Camelford.  Until very recently he would cross the road every day, to stand and watch the river flow by.

He was born at Bridge End during the Great War.  His grandfather (William Anthony Hawkey) had set up there as a wheelwright, and his father (William Anthony Hawkey) moved into the motor business.  It was a different world, when the garage incorporated a blacksmith’s shop, and carpenters constructed vehicles ‘from trees’ as Dad would say.  He used to tell of his father driving home from the Midlands, just the chassis of a charabanc, to which they would add the coachwork.  More than once the local policeman caught him ‘borrowing’ cars from the garage and driving around town, Anthony Hawkey the under-age joyrider!  He got away with it because there were almost no other cars on the road then.

Train ride
From ten he began the daily train-ride to school in Bodmin, where he seems to have done well with minimum effort.  Although he continued to drive taxis and help out, he had no interest in going into the family business.  His first job was with Cornwall County Council, working in the office at the quarry at Sladesbridge.  They produced stone for road-building.  Road works were not done during the winter, so for half the year he worked longer days, cycling to Sladesbridge for six in  the morning, and for the other half had virtually nothing to do.

Dad would have been 21 when war broke out.  Throughout his life he had strong opinions and a determination to do what he believed to be right.  Even at such a young age, he was a committed pacifist, which he believed was the logical outworking of his Christian faith.  He left his job when the quarry began producing stone for military airfields.  Around the same time he must have received his call-up papers, registered as a conscientious objector, and was summoned before a tribunal.  Never afraid to speak up for the truth as he saw it, he convinced them of his absolute sincerity and his conscience was respected.  He remained a pacifist until his life’s end.

Local government
He expected to be put to farm labouring during the war.  Instead, he was directed into local government.  There began a career with Camelford Rural District Council which lasted until local government reorganisation in 1974.   He took early retirement just before his 56th birthday.  Camelford RDC meant a great deal to him.  As with everything he did, he gave his all to the job and the people he served, and did it to the utmost of his considerable ability.

Anthony at Lanhydrock

Anthony at Lanhydrock

Walking was a passion, and he was out on cliffs, moors and fields in all weathers.  He was a member of the Ramblers, one of the founders of the Camel group and, as he would proudly tell anyone who would listen, Chairman of the Cornwall area.  He would do battle with anyone who tried to interfere with rights of way.  I had hoped to send him into the next life with his walking boots on, but apparently boots can’t be cremated.  But he has with him a thumb-stick cut out of a hedge somewhere.

He loved music; playing with bands and singing in choruses.  He was a lifelong Methodist, serving variously as Sunday school teacher, youth leader, choir member, church treasurer, and circuit steward in the old Camelford and Wadebridge circuit.  I remember Sunday School trips, with as many children as could be crammed into the back of his VW camper-van, long before risk assessments had been invented.  With his sister Nesta he set up for the young people of Wadebridge; he organised games at church socials and helped with the Churches’ tent at the Royal Cornwall Show.  Some will remember arguing with him in church councils and circuit meetings.  When he had decided what was right, he would stick to it wholeheartedly, and he didn’t often lose an argument. A great quality, though one that could make him difficult to live with.

He didn’t move house often or very far, but he did travel a bit. He used to tell the tale of cycling to Bristol for a holiday.  The police were looking for an escaped prisoner on Dartmoor, and every few miles he was stopped and interrogated.  In later years he always talked of the time he cycled to Cardiff—and we shall never know if that really was another trip, or if the story had got bigger with the telling!

Spare place
But the single most important event of his life may have been attending ‘Sladesbridge Chapel’s harvest festival weeknight’, as he used to describe it.  They were planning a holiday and there was a spare place.  Dad took it, and on that holiday he met Hilda Brown, my Mum, the love of his life.  After 66 years of the happiest of marriages, she will miss him incalculably.

And so will all who knew him.

William Anthony Hawkey, 1918-2014


Posted in Obituary, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A shepherd’s life no more

The splendid Martin Down lies in Hampshire, close to the Wiltshire and Dorset boundaries.  It’s the scene of W H Hudson’s book, A Shepherd’s Life, where Caleb Bawcombe roamed day and night.  Regrettably there are no shepherds there today, but it does need to be grazed by sheep.

I first visited this magnificent common, in the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a year ago, and I wrote about it here.  I was concerned then to see temporary fencing on the common (to protect potentially nesting stone curlews from people) which I did not believe had the necessary ministerial consent. I followed this up with Natural England (NE), since the site is a national nature reserve in its care, and was pleased that it reacted swiftly, removing the fencing.

My complaint prompted NE to consider the management of its commons in general, exposing that there was not consistent knowledge or awareness throughout the organisation; consequently the Open Spaces Society provided training for NE staff on commons law last year.  NE has now appointed Pippa Langford as its principal specialist on commons which is very good news.

Looking north across the common

Looking north across the common

Rob Lloyd, the manager of Martin Down, invited me back for a visit in August and it was a joy to walk over this open down with its wide skies and extensive views.  Little habitation is visible and it scores well on the ‘dark skies’ register.

The common is owned by NE, Hampshire County Council and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalists Trust.  The three owners want to put up temporary fencing on the common to enable it to be grazed more easily.  Rob has been enclosing under the exemptions process (whereby a manager can fence up to ten per cent of the common, or ten hectares, whichever is the smaller, for up to six months without ministerial consent).

Looking north west over an area which has been grazed

Looking north west over an area which has been grazed

He would like to graze about three or four small and well-spaced parcels for a few weeks at a time and to rotate the grazing. The application, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, goes to the Planning Inspectorate who determines the application on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  Because the grazing needs to be flexible the application is quite complex and Rob has done a painstaking job to make it comprehensive and coherent.

The land needs grazing to maintain its exquisite chalk-grassland vegetation and rich diversity of wild flowers.

Diversity of chalk-grassland flora

Diversity of chalk-grassland flora

It is at risk of being taken over by the tough, yellow Tor grass, Brachypodium pinnatum.

tor grass

Tor grass

Experiments with herbicides are helping but once treated the land must be grazed.  There is no Caleb Bawcombe to keep an eye on the sheep and prevent them from straying, thus the fence is necessary.


Herbicide has been tested here

Herbicide has been tested here

Flora after spraying, no tor grass visible

Flora after spraying, no tor grass visible








I strongly dislike fencing as a rule, but in this case I think it is acceptable.  The orange flexi-netting will look temporary, it will only be in place for a short period and it won’t block any normal means of access.  Walkers have a right over the whole area and riders enjoy the bridleways and some other routes by custom.  The application is for 15 years after which the whole regime will be reviewed to see if it is working—indeed by then an alternative means of containing stock may have been invented or developed, such as ‘invisible fencing’.  This is already being used in some places, like Burnham Beeches in Bucks.

We walked to the top of Martin Down, with its extensive views over the New Forest to the Solent, and on the top we saw clumps of heather, unusual on chalk (as I noted on Lullington Heath, West Sussex, here).  The acidic soils may be due to periglacial strata in the rock.

Heather in a chalk landscape

Heather in a chalk landscape

There are 17 scheduled monuments on the site.  Near the top of the hill there is a crossing of Grim’s Ditch and Bokerely Dyke—it is not clear which is the oldest.


Junction of Grims Ditch and Bokerely Dyke

Junction of Grim’s Ditch and Bokerely Dyke

This is a fascinating place and it’s good to know that many people care about it and local people treasure it.  There are turtle doves nesting here, which I did not see, and pasque flowers and a variety of orchids earlier in the year.  The stone curlews may even come back.

I too shall return.

The view north

The view north

Posted in Access, AONB, common land, Natural England, Open Spaces Society, riding, walking | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Isle of Wight does the right thing

I have great news this evening from County Hall, Isle of Wight.  The executive has agreed to commit £200,000 to repair the collapsed sea-wall between Totland Bay and Colwall Bay which I highlighted on this blog last month.

Although this is not a total rebuild, rather a ‘make do and mend’ to quote the paper to the executive, the work will ensure that we can once again walk this exhilarating route with its spendid views across the Solent.

No way

No way

As Ramblers’ president, I was pleased to join the Isle of Wight Ramblers in August for a photo opportunity on the blocked path and to offer some advice about the campaign. Many congratulations to the Ramblers who worked with local businesses to put pressure on the council.

The landslip

The landslip

I am keen to help other Ramblers’ Areas with their campaigns.  They have only to ask.

Posted in Access, campaigns, Coastal access, Public paths, Ramblers, Ramblers' president, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Have you ever heard a nightingale, Mr Pickles?

Have you ever heard a nightingale Mr Pickles?  It’s absolute magic, that such a tiny bird can utter such a sweet song.  It is totally idyllic.  But it is a very rare treat nowadays; so many of their habitats have been destroyed.  If Lodge Hill too is destroyed the nightingale’s song will be an even rarer event.  What’s more, it would give the green light to developers that nature doesn’t count, that a designation as site of special scientific interest is meaningless.  It must not happen.

These were my closing words on the letter prepared by the RSPB for objectors to send to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  This is the last chance to save Lodge Hill and its nightingales.  You can write to Pickles here.

NIghtingale. Photo: RSPB

NIghtingale. Photo: RSPB

As the RSPB explains on its website, Lodge Hill, former Ministry of Defence land on the Hoo Peninsular, Medway, is a rare and important site for nightingales.  It’s a designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and so of course it should be safe.  But the philistine Medway Council has given outline planning permission for 5,000 houses here, trashing the site and its nightingales.

There’s still hope though.  Because the development would conflict with the government’s national planning policy to protect SSSIs,  the decision must be referred to the secretary of state who can choose to call it in and hold a public inquiry.  It’s vital that he does.

My nightingale experience was unforgettable (see blog).  I just hope that Pickles too has had such good fortune and knows that nightingales really matter.


Posted in Birds, Natural history, planning, RSPB | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments