Hazel Perham, Cornwall’s campaigner

Hazel Perham, a heroic campaigner from Treverva in west Cornwall, died on 20 February aged 74. She was immensely brave, a fiesty fighter for paths and access, and ever cheerful.  Born and brought up in Dagenham she never lost her Essex accent, but was very much at home in Cornwall where she lived with her husband Alan, and her family close by.


She was very much part of the Treverva community, and her friends on Facebook have enjoyed the galaxy of old photos and memories which she posted there when her illness prevented her from walking.

Hazel saved countless paths and made west Cornwall a much better place for walkers, we owe her so much.

This is the blog I wrote about her last October when she was presented with a Ramblers’ award.

No one could be more deserving of recognition for Ramblers’ volunteer effort than my friend Hazel Perham from Treverva in west Cornwall.  This week she received a certificate from the Ramblers for her outstanding contribution to walking.


Hazel, who tragically can no longer walk far because of illness, has devoted her life to improving conditions for walkers on the battlegrounds of West Cornwall.  For far too long Cornwall’s inland paths were in a deplorable condition, with severe blockages particularly through farmyards, and there was hostility to walkers (despite our contribution to the Cornish economy).

Small in stature but with huge courage, Hazel would combat these, and was a terrier at the heels of the council and intransigent landowners.

I was pleased to join Hazel, and her colleague Maureen Donovan, in opposing the diversion of Manaccan footpaths 7 and 21 at Trevaddra Farm on the Lizard peninsula where Cornwall County Council had connived with an obstructive landowner. We won following a public inquiry in 1996 at which I called Hazel as one of my witnesses, and we won our costs too. But two years earlier she had been with a group of ramblers who were accosted by the landowner, Edward Bone; he grabbed her and threw mud and dung at her.  Such charming behaviour was not unknown in Cornwall in those days.


Hazel (left) with Maureen Donovan

For years Hazel was footpath secretary for Kerrier, chairman of the Cornwall Ramblers’ Access Group and a pillar of the Penwith/Kerrier Group, regularly leading walks through her beloved countryside.

The best day
Says Hazel: As I sit in my chair remembering all my varied works and achievements for the Ramblers I chuckle to myself. The best day was when I got a very excited phone call from Head Office to tell me my name had just been read out in Parliament and a big cheer went up from the gallery. This happened after an awful lot of campaigning for access legislation, by continually writing to my MP Candy Atherton, and she told parliament I was always writing to her. The worst days were being bitten by a sheepdog in the back of the leg and another time was getting an electric shock from a heavy duty electric fence on the back of the head.  I’ve never been the same since.

Now Hazel keeps all her Facebook friends entertained with her many memories and photographs, particularly of Cornish life past and present.  She is a mine of information.


We have so much to thank Hazel for, and it is amazing that she has remained cheerful and smiling through all her adversities.  Thank you Hazel, you are a dear and loyal friend to all ramblers.

Hazel Perham, 20 January 1943 – 20 February 2017

Posted in Access, campaigns, Obituary, Obstructed path, People, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the Moor Butterflies on Common Wood

Common Wood: part 11

On 20 February the Dartmoor Preservation Association’s conservation volunteers returned to my land at Common Wood, near Horndon on Dartmoor.  This was their eighth workday here, and there were 15 of us, more than usual.  

This was the first time that the work was done under the auspices of Butterfly Conservation’s new All the Moor Butterflies project.  This three-year project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with support from the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park authorities, Cornwall AONB and Natural England, among others.  It aims to conserve and restore suitable habitats for certain butterfly species on Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor, and involve local people in learning about them and helping to preserve them.  The target species include three which we hope to encourage to Common Wood: Marsh, Small Pearl Bordered, and Pearl Bordered Fritillary.


Volunteers at work

The project’s new conservation officer, Simon Phelps (@WildlifePhelps) and community engagement officer, Megan Lowe (@naturemeg) guided us in our work.


Simon and Megan

We set off from Hillbridge Farm along the leat and Derek Collins hung a notice so that people walking there would know what was going on.


We headed down the steep slope and across a stream to the bosky bottom of the common, near where we worked last February.  Here is an area of rare Rhôs pasture (acid to neutral grassland), an important habitat for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, but it is being threatened by the spread of willow, birch and gorse.

So we set to work at the north-east end, close to my boundary, clearing vegetation to uncover grassland and the vital food species for the butterfly, Devil’s Bit Scabious.

Some of us hacked the vegetation.


Chris tackles the gorse


Stephen and Claude saw up a birch tree







Others cleared it away, while yet others created a windrow, or bank, out of the cuttings.


John piles material onto the windrow


Rachel and Sylvia move the cuttings








Further to the south-west, Christian made a huge pile of gorse, which we divided into a second windrow.


Megan shows the height of the gorse pile


Another windrow







The site was a scene of industry from 11 am to 3pm, with only short breaks for coffee (and Val Barns’ yummy cake) and lunch.


Coffee break

When we had finished, we really could see a difference, we had pushed back the willow and gorse.  It was another great day’s work, and I hope that we see some butterflies there this year. The intention is to create a corridor for the Marsh Fritillaries along the upper Tavy valley. Thank you to Butterfly Conservation and the DPA volunteers for all your help with this work.













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YHA turns its back on simple hostels

The Youth Hostels Association (YHA) seems to have forgotten its roots.  It has given notice that it will cut its ties with the proprietors of a number of simple hostels and camping barns, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Last summer I wrote about the Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust (EWT), having spoken at its tenth anniversary lunch.  I learnt of the enthusiasm from its members who manage and maintain the two hostels, Dolgoch and Ty’n Cornel, in the remote heart of Wales known as the Elenydd.  These provide vital accommodation on the Cambrian Way.

Tyn Cornel 2

Ty’n Cornel

The EWT runs the hostels, voluntarily, as part of the YHA network.  Ten years ago, when the YHA threatened to sell these and other small hostels, the EWT was formed to rescue them.  It bought them and then, due to the hard work and dedication of its members, kept them going in a continuing partnership with the YHA which markets the hostels and shows them on its hostel maps.

At the end of November, the YHA gave the EWT  only three months’ notice that it intended to end this franchise agreement.  The EWT gets about 60 per cent of its overnights from the YHA so this announcement has bitter consequences.   The YHA has given similar notice to the proprietors of many other small hostels and camping barns. Most are small ventures, and all are affiliated to the YHA.

Trustees and officers from the EWT met the YHA’s head of enterprise and procurement, John McGrath.  He gave two reasons for ending the agreement.

1 The YHA wishes to promote the ‘YHA Experience’ brand image.  Every hostel will offer the same facilities and level of service, ie they will be boringly predictable.  The YHA believes that the ‘unbranded affiliates’ such as the two Welsh hostels ‘dilute’ the YHA brand.  The standard of facilities required by the hostels is higher than that which the EWT would wish, or be able, to provide—and indeed than the visitors would want.

2 The YHA does not get enough income from EWT, it claims it makes a loss.

Dolgoch 2


It is deeply depressing that the YHA wants to go the way of the Holiday Inn or Travelodge, where you know exactly what you will get. The charm of the hostels has always been their variety, different standards, and the range of accommodation, facilities and level of staffing. Now, although many continue to be housed in interesting buildings in fine countryside, it seems that they will lose their quirky distinctiveness.

The YHA has extended the contract with the EWT until the end of May 2017 and in the meantime the tireless volunteers are looking at alternative ways of marketing the hostels. They will consider other booking agencies and means of publicity.  The chairman, Marilyn Barrack, is determined that the hostels will continue to thrive.  They certainly deserve to do so.

Other threatened facilities include Alstonefield and Taddington Camping Barns in the Peak District National Park, and Puttenham Eco Camping Barn on the North Downs Way in Surrey.  These ventures are all true to the ethos of the YHA’s founders, but the YHA seems to have forgotten about them.  It was bad enough to sell off many simple hostels but now it is turning its back on them altogether.

Independent Hostels UK offers a network of hostels and bunkhouses and is providing marketing and support to many of the facilities set adrift from the YHA.

Please support the EWT and the other threatened accommodation providers and write to John McGrath at the YHA, and the chief executive Caroline White, to tell them what you think about the YHA’s behaviour (johnmcgrath@yha.org.uk and carolinewhite@yha.org.uk).


Posted in Access, Wales, walking, wild country | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Campaign training from Lynda Snell

It was good to hear Lynda Snell outlining a simple campaign plan on The Archers last night.

She was telling Harrison Burns how to bring about change at the Ambridge Cricket Club AGM.  She said:

  • first decide your aims and objectives, work out what you want to achieve,
  • then do your research, facts are your weapon;
  • ensure everyone is well fed and watered;
  • get a few individuals on side before the AGM (ie influence the decision makers).

It reminded me of the campaign training run by the brilliant Dave Beskine for the Ramblers in the 1990s, leading up to our crusade for freedom to roam on open country. He devised a simple formula: Aims, Research, Communications, Lobbying (ARCL).  It works well and can be applied to any campaign.

Prentice & Meacher, Boulsworth 1997

Gordon Prentice, Michael Meacher and ramblers on the approach to Boulsworth Hill, which was forbidden land then (1997).,

As Lynda recognised, sustenance is important for lobbying.  We held receptions and led walks for MPs and Peers, and we always made sure there was plenty of food and drink.  A vital element in any campaign plan.

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An unstable proposal

On 15 February Wycombe District Council planning committee will decide an application to ‘convert’ a stable into a two-bedroom chalet-style bungalow. The stable is near the top of a hill, opposite Beeches Farm, in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  

The application includes the creation of a parking and turning area, the removal and replanting of hedgerows, a new garden, and a storage shed.  The first application was withdrawn in January 2016 and further work was done on it before it was resubmitted.


The simple stable, seen from the footpath

The stable (grid reference SU 791 8870) is at the eastern end of the long Hambleden footpath 17 which runs up the valley to the stable at the top.  If the development goes ahead, the applicants will want to divert the footpath so that it loses its lovely, purposeful, direct route.  It would then join Colstrope Lane, beyond the development, on a dangerous slope with limited visibility.

There are nearly 40 objections, mostly from local people but including Hambleden Parish Council, Ramblers, Open Spaces Society and CPRE.  Unfortunately the officer, Alastair Nicholson, is recommending conditional approval.

Our district councillor Chris Whitehead, has made some powerful points.  He argues that ‘an ancient public footpath traverses the land, with stunning views over distant hills’.  He points out that this is ‘a new build masquerading as a conversion’.

I strongly hope that the officer’s recommendation is overturned and the development is thrown out.


The hill below the stable

Update: the application was refused.

Posted in AONB, Chilterns, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ramblers celebrate trail-blazing path workers

At our recent annual general meeting, the Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and West Middlesex Ramblers were delighted to present a certificate to two dedicated footpath workers, Peter and Diana Gulland from Haddenham near Aylesbury.  The certificate celebrates their outstanding contribution to walking.

Peter and Diana have retired as Ramblers’ path checkers after almost 50 years of service to walking, defending and caring for paths in northern Buckinghamshire.


I presented the certificate to Diana and Peter at our AGM.

When they first ventured into North Bucks from their London home in 1968 they found the paths to be unwalkable.  They soon got involved in voluntary work, clearing and waymarking paths.

North Bucks Way
After they moved to Haddenham, they helped to create the North Bucks Way (NBW) at a time when the only other named path in Bucks was the Ridgeway.  They wrote two editions of the Ramblers’ guide to the NBW and then On Foot in the Vale of Aylesbury and The Vale of Aylesbury Walker.  These publications were intended to encourage people to venture beyond the well-walked Chilterns into the lovely but undiscovered countryside of northern Bucks.


Peter and Diana at work clearing vegetation from a stile.

They organised a series of coach rambles to bring walkers from West London and South Bucks northwards to enjoy the paths and thereby keep them open.

They both served on the Area committee of the Ramblers: Peter was chairman from 1988 to 1992 and Aylesbury Group countryside secretary (1996-2002) and Diana was Area membership secretary.

It is thanks in no small part to the tireless and dedicated work of Peter and Diana that the paths in Aylesbury Vale are in a much better state today than they were 50 years ago.  They literally blazed a trail by getting paths reopened and then encouraging their use.  Walkers owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Says Peter: ‘When we cleared our first stile in Westbury, nearly 50 years ago, it would have been beyond our comprehension that this small action could lead to such a variety of interesting and absorbing activities and to such recognition.  We have enjoyed playing our part for the Ramblers.’

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Don’t break ground: H&S gone mad

All highway authorities are strapped for cash for public rights of way, and it is strange that some make it almost impossible for volunteers to get involved.

In Gloucestershire, where the county council contracts its work on public paths to Amey, there is an excellent band of volunteers, the Cotswold voluntary wardens. In fact they have operated throughout the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1968, doing valuable work on the paths such as erecting signposts and waymarks, replacing stiles with kissing gates, and much more.


Cotswold wardens at work

But Amey has now imposed stringent health-and-safety restrictions.  It has forbidden any work which involves digging or placing a post in an existing hole. This will prevent the volunteers from plugging the gaps in the rights-of-way budgets.  And what about the extra costs incurred when Amey has to chase around the county checking for underground services before a path problem can be resolved?

Amey has decreed that no ground may be broken until a statutory-undertaker plan has been obtained for the site and a CAT (computerised tomography) scan undertaken by a qualified operator to ensure there are no pipes or cables there.  Then a permit to dig will be issued but this will only last for 24 hours—a ridiculously short time.  Amey also says that if a bridge or stile becomes too dangerous, even on the Cotswold Way National Trail, it will close the path until it can make it safe.


Rob and the finger-post

A Cotswold Way voluntary warden says: ‘This morning I have to go and check a Cotswold Way finger-post with a blade broken off. This small job may require a hammer and chisel. Normally it would be easier to take the post out of the ground and work on the blade at ground level.

‘I need to take the post out to drill out the wooden dowels holding the remains of the old blade in place. If I try and do in situ, I will need a ladder (and I probably have the wrong type of ladder), road signs, cones etc.

‘Should I lift the post out of the hole, Amey would need to come and carry out a survey for underground services.  Amey have not given a period for call-outs so it could be weeks or months (based upon previous personal experience) before the finger-post is placed back in the ground. This is absolute utter nonsense.’

Apparently the Cotswolds Conservation Board were never consulted and it heard about this by accident when an email from a public rights of way officer was sent to a wardens’ work party.

This is no way to run a highway network and, thanks to Amey’s strictures, Gloucestershire County Council risks losing one of the best volunteer teams in the country.


Cotswold wardens

Posted in Access, AONB, National trail, Obstructed path, Public paths | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments