Back to Marsham Street

‘This is a historic occasion’, announced Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, at the Defra drinks party on 7 December.  ‘It is the last time that the Defra group will meet here [in Nobel House in Smith Square].  We are due to move early next year to new offices’. 

And where are these?  In Marsham Street, where the Department of the Environment was housed from 1971 to 1997 (but in a different building, the notorious Marsham Towers).  It felt more like history turning a circle than a historic occasion.

Marsham Towers wikipedia

Marsham Towers, home of the Department of the Environment, 1971-1997.

Home Office small

The building at 2 Marsham Street which will become Defra’s home, joining the Home Office and Department for Communities and Local Government.








But the speech got better.  Mr Gove told us that ‘we are responsible for things on which you cannot place a price.  Defra unites a recognition that the things for which we are responsible—land, sea, air, the beauty of the countryside are presents which have no price tag.’

Absolutely right.  Please tell that to the treasury, Mr Gove.

from Bench Tor

A priceless landscape, the view from Bench Tor, Dartmoor National Park


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Bird survey at Sydenham

Last year I did a bird survey in the Wormsley valley near Stokenchurch for the River Thame Conservation Trust.  This year I have opted to cover Kingston Stert in Oxfordshire at the foot of the Chiltern escarpment.  This is the two-kilometre grid square SP70F. 

The requirement is to walk in the square for two to three hours four times a year (twice between 1 November and 28 February, and twice between 1 April and 31 July), recording every bird seen or heard.  I chose this square because it has a good network of public paths allowing a circuit which barely goes outside the square.  I do not know the area so that added to the interest.

I set off at 8.45 on Saturday 2 December from the village of Sydenham.  It was a grey morning with an overcast sky.  First I checked out the map board on the green, which is an attractive sketch of the parish.

1 sign

Map board

As I walked through the village I soon saw carrion crow, blue tit, wood pigeon and collared dove.  There was a red kite around and starlings overhead.  I turned into a field and heard the clattering of fieldfares and then four bullfinches on a hedge, three brightly-coloured males and a female.

3 bullfinch bushes

Bullfinch bushes

I was soon away from the village, out in the open fields, where I met an old lady who had lived in Sydenham all her life.  We exchanged a word about red kites: she did not like the way they catch their prey alive.

4 old lady

A local lady

I turned onto a footpath, there were masses of fieldfares chattering in the trees and then flying over the fields with their curiously weak flight.  Sometimes there was a starling among them.  I saw a few redwings but many more fieldfares.

I joined a wide bridleway, hedged on both sides.

5 bridleway

It did a sudden left-hand turn at grid reference 723019 and I wondered if the overgrown continuation of the hedged path ought to be recorded on the defintiive map.  It is one to investigate.

6 lost way

A lost way?

The definitive path turned south east over the fields with a view of the Chilterns ahead.

7 looking south to Chilterns

Turning south

In time I came to the lane where I turned onto a footpath through an extensive garden.  Here I heard a goldcrest.

8 goldcrests here

Here I heard a goldcrest

There were also a large number of blackbirds, and I soon saw why as there was a heap of rotting apples nearby.

9 reason for blackbirds

The reason for the blackbirds

I returned to the village with a slight retracing of my steps (when I stopped the clock and did not record any birds).  I then took a purposeful footpath south over large, open fields for about a mile and a half with the Chiltern ridge ahead.

10 walking south

Purposeful path

I did not see many birds until the path ran along a beech hedge, where I recorded a song thrush, dunnock and blue tits.

11 field edge

Beech hedge

I joined a bridleway which runs into Oakley on the west side of Chinnor, and was popular with dog walkers.


12a Looking east towards Oakley and Chinnor

The view east along the bridleway towards Oakley and Chinnor

I soon turned off again, to head back to Sydenham on a bridleway called Sewell’s Lane.  I suspect that this should be recorded as a higher status than bridleway.

12 turning N on bridleway

Sewell’s Lane

There were birds in the hedges, including my first chaffinches of the day.

At the boundary of Chinnor and Sydenham parishes there is a stout hedge, stream and footbridge.  I hope when I return in the spring that there may be warblers here.

13 parish boundary

Parish boundary, looking from Sydenham to Chinnor

The bridleway is a direct route back to the village.

14 bridleway

Sewell’s Lane

When I reached the road I turned left to return to my car by the church.  On the way I noticed the Airey houses in Sydenham Grove looking in a sorry state of neglect.  Airey houses are prefabricated houses designed by Sir Edwin Airey (1878-1955); they are not beautiful but they fulfilled an important social purpose after the second world war.

15 Airey houses

Airey houses

That’s the fun of a bird survey, it combines walking, bird watching, public paths and a bit of local history.

2 church

Sydenham church

When I came to record my results on the British Trust for Ornithology website, I found that fieldfares topped the poll (56, but that was only an estimate), followed by starlings (53, again an estimate), then blackbirds (34), wood pigeon (20) and rook (17).  I saw 25 species in total, but surprisingly no jackdaws and not many chaffinches.

I have marked my walk on a photo of the parish map below.  I’ll be back three more times!

Map of walk

Map of my walk in pink. I started in Sydenham, went west along a footpath, then north in a loop, south and east back to Sydenham. Then I did the long rectangle in an anti-clockwise direction.







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Secret church

Yesterday I visited the commons around Sevenoaks and Westerham in Kent.  They are included in the Sevenoaks Greensand Commons project, funded by the Heritage Lottery.

One of the commons is Seal Chart, and to reach it we walked past St Lawrence’s church (grid reference TQ 574552) just north-east of the hamlet of Stone Street.  The church is evidently Victorian with gable windows which have the appearance of a house.

Seal church 2

St Lawrence’s church with its gable windows

We had time to pop inside but the light was fading and as we could not switch on the lights we could not appreciate it fully.  However, the stained glass was intricate with a pre-Raphaelite quality,  and I was keen to look up when I got home.

I turned to the Pevsner guide, West Kent and the Weald by John Newman.  However, I could find no mention of the church; there is no entry for Seal Chart nor for Stone Street.  Nor is the internet helpful, the church’s own website has nothing about the architecture nor the stained glass.  The best I could find was this.


St Lawrence’s church from the road

It is strange that this interesting church is such a well-kept secret.  I hope that will be remedied.

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Ninety years of the journal: no froth, no frills

This month is the ninetieth anniversary of the journal of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society (now known as the Open Spaces Society).  The society had existed for 62 years before the first journal was produced; it is a great pity that it was started so late in the society’s history as it leaves a gap for historians.

In volume 1 no 1 of November 1927 the foreword was written by Lord Eversley, the society’s president.

first and latest

The first Journal in November 1927, and the latest one in autumn 2017

He wrote: As President of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society I have been asked to write something by way of foreword for the first issue of the Society’s Journal, which will henceforth be published at quarterly intervals [it was not].


Lord Eversley

I have long been convinced of the necessity for a Journal in order that members may be kept regularly apprised of the progress of the work, that the public may be more fully informed of the manifold activities of the Society, and that Local Authorities may have in convenient form expert technical information upon their many powers and duties in regard to the maintenance of public rights. …

The foreword continues for three pages.  It covers the society’s victory in winning amendments to the Law of Property Act 1925 to protect commons from enclosure and give public rights to some commons; the work to protect public paths; the special fund which was launched during the society’s Diamond Jubilee in 1925; and the threats to commons from the military and afforestation; and to commons and village greens from arterial and by-pass roads.  He concludes that ‘the Society was never more needed than at present’.  Many of the points raised in the foreword are expanded upon in the 32-page journal.

Unfortunately, that is the only foreword he wrote for the next issue in August 1928 recorded his death.

The design was in keeping with the times, austere and businesslike.  Thirty years later, in October 1957, the eve of the report of the Royal Commission on Common Land, the style had not changed.  The society had moved, from 7 Buckingham Palace Road to 11 King’s Bench Walk and was the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society.  And ten years after that we were in 166 Shaftesbury Avenue, at the top of a rather dingy building.  The journal still looked much the same.  It contained the text of the society’s evidence to the Gosling Committee on footpaths—which informed the Countryside Act 1968 the following year.

And then, in spring 1970, we had our first photograph on the cover, manorial waste in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park provisionally registered as common land.  By now the short period of time allowed for commons registration had almost elapsed.

Oct 57, aut 67, spr 70

October 1957, autumn 1967 and the first photographic cover, spring 1970

A further change came in autumn 1982 when the society became known as the Open Spaces Society and the journal, under deputy secretary Duncan Mackay’s editorship, was renamed Open Space.  I became general secretary in April 1984 and began to write Opinion in Open Space in autumn 1985 (which means I have now written 97 Opinions).  I took over as editor in autumn 1986.

aut 82 first OS and aut 87

The first Open Space, autumn 1982. The cover of autumn 1987 shows the number of registered commons in England and Wales, with thanks to the Department of Geography at the then University College of Wales, Aberystwyth

In spring 1988 we moved the production of Open Space from Wincanton Press in Somerset, which was run by our treasurer Rodney Legg, to Higgs in Henley-on-Thames where the society is based.  For most of the past 30 years the magazine has been produced by Pete Webb of Higgs; I am enormously grateful to him for his swift, efficient and accurate work, and the cheerful way he has put up with my irritating changes of mind and proof corrections.

New design
In 1988 we asked David Sharp, the brilliant designer of many of the Ramblers’ publications, to review Open Space and produce new mastheads.  The crisp, striking result was first displayed in autumn 1988, in which we noted the 75th anniversary of the death of our former honorary solicitor, Robert Hunter, and deplored the Countryside Commission’s proposals for public access to grouse-moor commons.

Case file

Far and wide

David Sharp’s crisp mastheads

Move on another 20 years and we have the first full-colour cover (but still black and white inside).

First DS aut 88 and first colour cover summer 2008

Autumn 1988, the first Open Space with David Sharp’s design, and summer 2008, the first with a full-colour cover

And then five years later, we had a complete redesign and introduced colour throughout—which is the Open Space our members receive today.

spring 2013 new design

Spring 2013, the first of the current design

Unchanged dimensions
The dimensions of the magazine have remained unchanged to within a few millimetres for 90 years and 270 issues.  Those who have a complete set need a long shelf but at least the row of magazines is of uniform height.

Open Space and the journal before it have always been different from most membership organisations’ magazines.  It focuses on what we do: fighting campaigns, explaining the law and giving our opinions and information: no froth, no frills.  I hope it will always be so.

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National park award for Dartmoor Derek

Derek Collins of the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) has won National Parks UK’s Individual Volunteer of the Year award.

Derek receives award

Derek receives his award

Derek has been a volunteer with the DPA since 2004.  He has worked on a range of projects, including bracken management, removal of vegetation around ancient scheduled monuments, and the mucky work of clearing Dartmoor leats.  No job is too difficult for him and he carries out all these tasks with a great sense of humour.  The DPA conservation volunteers are a happy team.


Derek in the Devonport Leat on Roborough Down

Derek has also adopted the role of looking after the volunteer group’s conservation work tools, ensuring that they are clean and sharp ready for the next outing.  He counts them out and he counts them in, and woe betide anyone who loses one.  Derek has attended virtually every conservation work party since 2004—around 50 each year.


Derek leads the way with the gate.

In 2016 he led the initiative to buy a DPA wagon to carry tools and volunteers to the various sites, and it has proved a great success.

Apy wagon

The DPA’s vehicle for volunteers

Derek is also a trustee of the DPA and voluntary warden of its hay meadows at Pudsham Down near Widecombe-in-the-Moor.

When asked what volunteering gave to him, Derek told of the first time he took a young carers’ group out in the Dartmoor National Park—many of them had never been on the moor before.  At the end of that day the group had made friends as well as discovering new experiences in the outdoors.  He enjoys seeing how the national park’s landscape can give so much to people who are not familiar with it.

P7 pic

Volunteers on the DPA’s land at High House Waste, resting on a rock known as ‘the sofa’. Derek is at the back on the left.

An enthusiastic communicator about the benefits of volunteering, Derek dedicates many hours to recruiting volunteers and is always willing to spend time encouraging them, and explaining how their efforts will contribute to the well-being of the national park and, in particular, to the community of Princetown where he lives.

Solve a problem
Derek can be relied upon to solve a problem.  I wrote here of the bridge he made across the River Strane for the DPA walk on 3 September.  Without that bridge we would not have been able to dedicate the gate at Swincombe to the late Geoff Sayer that day.

Bridge constructed by Derek Collins and his family

Derek and the DPA volunteers visit my land at Common Wood twice a year to clear the vegetation for butterflies.  It was Derek who came up with the idea of a windrow, made of hazel branches interwoven with gorse, brambles and bracken, to create a hedge and avoid having to burn the brash on the site.

8 windrow

Windrow at Common Wood, designed by Derek

A tireless advocate for the national park, to visitors and residents alike, Derek is a familiar figure at the shows on Dartmoor, manning the DPA stand, encouraging sales and recruiting new members and volunteers.  His sales pitch is hard to resist.

Chagford show

Phil Hutt, Sylvia Hamilton and Derek at Chagford show

Congratulating him on his award, Phil Hutt, Director of the DPA said: ‘This recognition is richly deserved.  Derek’s dedication, enthusiasm and leadership have made a massive contribution to the DPA and its mission of helping to protect and conserve Dartmoor.

‘The amount of work which Derek carries out would be impressive for a person of any age.  It is even more so considering that, in August this year, Derek celebrated his 80th birthday.  He did so by promoting the DPA at its stand at Lustleigh show—and he shows no signs of slowing down!’

No one could be more deserving of the award.  Well done Derek!

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On top of Cleeve Common

I was early as I approached Winchcombe for a walk on Cleeve Common in Gloucestershire on 17 November.  This meant I could stop on a side road, look across at the town with the hills beyond and see where I would be walking.  It was a rare, sunny, cold November day with all the promise of a great walk ahead.

1 Pre-walk

The view to Winchcombe and Cleeve Common, with a pillar of smoke rising from Postlip Mill. Taken from grid reference SP 049281

In Winchcombe I met my friends from Hereford: Marika Kovacs, Arthur Lee and Duncan Smart.  We were also joined by Rob and Sheila Talbot who live in Winchcombe and are responsible for its status as one of the best Walkers Are Welcome towns.  You will have read elsewhere on this blog of my walks with my friend Marika, who is visually impaired but is fearless about where she walks and is deterred by nothing.  Unfortunately, Arthur was not able to walk with us but he joined us at various points along the way.

We set off across the field to the impressive church, and Sheila showed us the dents in the wall from musket shot.  This was fired during the Civil War by Oliver Cromwell’s troops against the royalists who held nearby Sudeley Castle.  We helped Marika to feel the indentations.

2 Musket shot

Musket shot on the side of Winchcombe church

Then we walked down the magnificent high street of Cotswold stone, and turned off onto a field path alongside the River Isbourne to Postlip Mill.  We passed the industrial works on a wide, newly-created path, and crossed fields to a row of cottages at Postlip.

4 Postlip cottages

Cottages at Postlip

Marika had no problem with this walk; there were not many stiles but when we did come to one we gave her a little guidance and she was over with no difficulty.

3 Marika and Rob at stile

Marika hops over a stile with a little guidance from Rob

We joined the Cotswold Way and, by climbing up the hill, were able to see over the wall of the Postlip tithe barn.

5 Postlip tithe barn

Tithe barn

Soon we were out on Cleeve Common, the largest expanse of common and access land in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It is a magnificent limestone grassland, managed by the Cleeve Common Trust.  We met Arthur at the golf clubhouse and had lunch together.  Then we set off again, to the toposcope which is almost on top of the common (the actual top, a few yards away, is the highest point in Gloucestershire).  The toposcope had indented words and diagrams which were helpful for Marika.

6 sheila and Marika at toposcope

Sheila and Marika at the toposcope

We went on to the lone beech-tree (the highest tree in the Cotswolds), surrounded by a stone wall with memorial plaques on it.  When people make a donation to the Cleeve Common Trust towards the management of the common, in memory of a friend or relative, they are entitled to a plaque on the wall.  Here we all took photos of each other.

7 On top of Cleeve Common 2

Sheila, Marika, Rob and Duncan at the tree

Marika managed to take a photo of the rest of us, once Duncan had lined it up for her, by pressing her nose against Duncan’s phone.  It came out well.

Marika's nose pic

Marika’s nose-picture

While it was glorious there in the sunshine, with the view west towards the Severn estuary, the Black Mountains and the Malvern Hills, time was moving on and so we set off again, along the Winchcombe Way to the deserted Wontley Farm.

8a Wontley Farm

Wontley Farm

From there we walked north-east and then east to the unassuming Belas Knapp.  This is a low, grassy dome on the edge of a field, tucked under the woods of Humblebee How.  It is a neolithic long barrow thought to be about 5,500 years old.  At least 38 people were buried in the four chambers.

8b approach to Belas Knapp

The approach to Belas Knapp

It has a false entrance which was used for ceremonies.  Here the limestone is arranged in narrow rows.  Sheila helped Marika to feel the rock, and she ran a pen down it to generate a musical sound.

Belas Knapp tactile for Marika

Marika and Sheila at the false entrance

It was getting dark as we reached Corndean Lane, where we met Arthur again.  The final stretch was over the fields where we saw a magnificent sunset.  By the time we reached Winchcombe it was dark.

10 sunset

A perfect day.




Posted in Access, AONB, commons, Walkers Are Welcome Towns, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Poppy-day solecism

How often at this time of year do we witness the transposition of Laurence Binyon’s words from his poem For the Fallen?  Outside Christ Church United Reformed Church in Reading Road, Henley-on-Thames there is a little memorial. 

Henley poppy plaque

Memorial outside Christ Church, Henley

It says ‘They shall not grow old’, instead of the much more elegant, haunting and correct ‘They shall grow not old’.  The meaning is entirely different.


Christ Church, Henley. Photo: Michael Ford licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

That led me to look at the stone memorial-plaques on either side of the main entrance to Henley town hall, and to see whether all the men on the Christ Church memorial were named there.  Interestingly, they are not: I could not see John Frame, Bernard Jeffreys or Alfred Tripp.

Town hall plaque 1

Town hall plaque 2However, there is a full list of names on a board which was installed in 2014 just inside the town hall front door.  Curiously it bears the name Burnard Jeffrey not Bernard Jeffreys so it looks like someone has made an error, either there or on the Christ Church memorial.  Alfred Tripp is on the full list so presumably he is the same as L Tripp on the plaque outside the town hall.  There is more research to be done.

There are similar discrepancies between the memorials down the road in Shiplake: the bronze plaque in the church and the Celtic Christian cross in the village bear some different names.


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