Bodmin Moor: completing the jigsaw

In November 1993 the Bodmin Moor Commons Bill, a private bill promoted by Cornwall County Council, entered parliament.  It was ill-conceived and driven by money: the council wanted to create a body which could be legally responsible for managing the moor and receiving the agri-environment grants.  The bill threatened public access and eventually, after five years and much expenditure, the council withdrew it. 

Commons are privately owned land over which others have rights, usually connected to their properties, of grazing, digging peat or collecting wood etc, for use on their holdings.  Of the 61,000 acres of Bodmin Moor about 17,500 acres (nearly 30 per cent) are common land.  The commons are registered in 71 units with Cornwall Council (now a unitary council), the registration authority.

Bodmin cairn. Photo: Graham Bathe

Bodmin cairn. Photo: Graham Bathe

Cornwall County Council had seen its neighbouring granite upland, Dartmoor, successfully promote a private bill in 1985. The Dartmoor Commons Act gives the public the right to walk and ride over all the Dartmoor commons, the access being managed by the Dartmoor National Park Authority.  This is coupled with management of the moor by the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council.  Access and management should go hand in hand: this was the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Common Land in 1958 and the Common Land Forum in 1986.

Failed
But Cornwall County Council and the Bodmin landowners and commoners wanted the management without access.  The bill not only failed to provide access, but it gave the commoners and landowners powers to make regulations barring the public from certain areas and it made trespass a criminal offence!  No wonder the access lobby opposed it. Indeed, we had not even been consulted.  We urged the council to follow Dartmoor’s example of giving a right of access along with the management but it refused.

Leskernick. Photo: Graham Bathe

Leskernick. Photo: Graham Bathe

The bill started life in the House of Lords.  When it reached the House of Commons, Andrew Bennett MP, chairman of the House of Commons Environment Committee and a whizz with private bills, objected at report stage.  No time could be found for debate before the 1997 election and it needed a carry-over motion to continue.  Andrew objected to this too, saying that the objectors would withdraw once access agreements were in place.  Nothing further happened and eventually the bill was removed from parliament.

Twenty years on things are very different.  There is a right of public access to the Bodmin Moor commons and other open country under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  So now all that is needed is an effective regime for management which exists alongside public access and is sensitive to the needs of the moor, its splendid landscape, biodiversity and archaeology and animal welfare.

Oversee
Part two of the Commons Act 2006 allows for the establishment of commons councils, democratically elected bodies which can oversee the management of the commons by majority voting and receive grants.  In fact, seven years on, only one such council has been formed, for the Brendon Commons in north Devon.  The Bodmin council will be the second, provided the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is substantial support for it.

The consultation to establish that support runs until 13 April.  The election will result in delays but the plan is to have the council in place on 1 March 2016.  Thus the jigsaw for the Bodmin Moor commons will be complete.   This is all good news.

Lesson
The lesson of the last 20 years is that there is a sensible sequence for dealing with commons.  If you cannot introduce legal access and management simultaneously, it’s best to introduce the access first and then management.  This is what is happening bit by bit on the 1,544 square miles of English commons, and if the Welsh Assembly implements part two of the Commons Act, it will happen on the 668 square miles of Welsh commons too.

Posted in Access, common land, Dartmoor, parliament | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On the cusp of the warblers

Yesterday felt like springtime but I reckoned it was too early for warblers.

I set out across the fields from Turville, in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns, to the song of skylarks.

Accompanied by skylarks

Accompanied by skylarks

As I walked through the woods I could hear a chorus of birds: robins, dunnock, tits of various kinds, goldcrests, great-spotted woodpecker and tree creeper.  Coaltits were flooping about in these trees, on the edge of Great Wood.

Coaltit trees

Coaltit trees

I strolled across the fields to Southend and then through Summerheath Wood, part of which is common land.

Summerheath Wood

Summerheath Wood

Soon I reached Turville Heath Common which is separated from Summerheath by a lane. Turville Heath is more open than Summerheath.

Turville Heath common

And then I heard my first chiffchaff of the year—on the same date as my first one last year, but he was in Salford.  (I didn’t hear one in Turville until 2 April.)  The return of the warblers is something to celebrate.

The barn at Turville Heath

The barn at Turville Heath

I walked back past the old barn on Turville Heath Common, which has mercifully not been mucked around with. Here I saw local farmer Robin Harman.  He told me of his plans to make the barn into a café for walkers, riders and cyclists, where he will serve drinks and his Chiltern pasties made from his own produce.  Watch his website for news of its opening at easter.

You can take the Oxford tube (bus) out of London, get out at Lewknor (M40 junction 6) and walk up over the Chiltern escarpment to the barn for lunch and then back another way. There is no car access to the barn, so you will be able to enjoy your lunch free from petrol fumes while you gaze out over the lovely common.  An idyllic Chiltern spot.

Posted in Birds, Chilterns, common land, Turville | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Round and round the common

The Heads of the Valleys Development Company is under financial and competitive pressure to build its massive Circuit of Wales motorsports development as soon as possible.  Bizarrely, it opted to site the construction on common land, with all the inherent delays which that designation rightly requires. 

The proposed Circuit of Wales

The proposed Circuit of Wales

We have just completed a ten-day public inquiry into the proposed deregistration and exchange of common land, which must be approved for the development to go ahead.  But it is now 20 months since the development received planning approval from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, and the delay has been largely due to the requirement to find common land in exchange for the square mile to be taken for the development.  The Commons Act 2006 section 16 governs this process.

Open common land, the site for the proposed development

Open common land, the site for the proposed development

I appeared on day nine of the inquiry, to present the objection of the Open Spaces Society and call as a witness Mark Weston from the British Horse Society.  Other objectors, including the Brecon Beacons Park Society and Gwent Wildlife Trust, had already presented their cases.

The existing common, which is a broad sweep of open moorland extending to the boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park, is available for public access by right on foot and horseback (the common is in a former urban district and therefore subject to section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925).

Exchange
The exchange land is on seven scattered sites, most of it serving different communities from the existing common.  There is already public access on foot to much of the replacement land, some of it already by right under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Tjhere is already a right of public access on foot to this proposed exchange land at Green Meadow

Tjhere is already a right of public access on foot to this proposed exchange land at Green Meadow

There is little opportunity for extensive public access on horseback because there are restrictions such as fences and trees.

Fences and trees at Waun-y-Pound exchange site

Fences and trees at Waun-y-Pound exchange site

Furthermore, the management proposals for these sites assume there will be grazing and consequently more fencing to make stockproof boundaries, with restrictions on access which would not be legal on a section 193 common.

Cross-examination
So we said all this, and then Russell Harris, the applicants’ QC (they had gone to the top for this inquiry), got to work with his cross-examination.  He is from Landmark Chambers and its website proclaims that he was Legal 500’s top planning counsel in 2013:  ‘he is now involved in most of the UK’s highest-profile development schemes’.  It is reported in the Western Mail that ‘some of London’s most iconic buildings may never have been built without the legal skills of Russell Harris QC’, and it gives him credit for the Gherkin and the Shard.

The public inquiry venue, Blaenau Gwent Council Offices in Steelworks Road, Ebbw Vale

The public inquiry venue, Blaenau Gwent Council Offices in Steelworks Road, Ebbw Vale

The Chambers & Partners Directory (2011) states: Famed for his ‘flawless client service’ is the extremely well-regarded Russell Harris QC.  One instructing solicitor described his approach as ‘really helpful and client-friendly’, and went on to say that once in court he is ‘up and at them, and not willing to take any prisoners’.  I recognise the last phrase—his method is to lure you into agreeing with him and then wham!  I was careful how I answered him.

Discretion
His line was that the development had planning permission and therefore must be in the public interest, and that section 16 of the Commons Act 2006 gives Welsh ministers, the decision-makers, a wide discretion.  So, he argued, since the planning application had been granted, the development must be in the public interest and this was an overriding factor for the decision-maker.

Proposed exchange land at Bryn Farm: already enjoyed by the public

Proposed exchange land at Bryn Farm: already enjoyed by the public

I disputed this strongly.  After all why do we have the section 16 process if it is to be rendered meaningless by planning permission (in which common-land issues are not considered)?  Mr Harris also claimed that the development had to be built on common land because there was nowhere in the valleys that could take it, and all the upland was registered common.  But why does it need to be in south Wales at all?  Is this development so crucial to the economy of the area that the splendid commons must be sacrificed?  Is there no other way to generate income and jobs which does not destroy the environment?

Advice
It was also put to us that Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government’s adviser on landscape, access and nature conservation, had not objected.  But I know only too well that it is difficult for a government agency to oppose something that the government has made clear it supports.  I felt that NRW had gone as far as it could in giving professional advice, stating clearly, after a detailed analysis, that ‘it is difficult to conclude that the replacement land is of equal value’.

 

Proposed exchange land at Crown Business Park: inpenetrable

Proposed exchange land at Crown Business Park: inpenetrable

During the presentation of our case, we learnt that there was a recent Statement of Common Ground between the company and NRW.  The inspector allowed an adjournment while I studied the document.  But the section on access is only a statement of principle; it gives no assurance of what will happen on the ground.  It says that ‘both parties agree that the designation of the replacement land as common land will in principle provide more opportunities for unrestricted public access across the replacement land’.  What does ‘more opportunities’ mean?  There is no mention of horse-riding, and there is a requirement to ‘align with the ecological and landscape aims and objectives’ of the management plans, which may be laudable but make it clear that there will be restrictions on access.

Wentwood Forest
Moreover, some puzzling issues arose in relation to Wentwood Forest.  Part of this has been offered to make up about a third of the proposed exchange land, yet is 30 miles away in the next county.  It appears to be traditional Forestry Commission (now NRW) land, open to public access along tracks.  The horse-riders believe they have access here too.  It seems there will be little gain by making it a common.

Wentwood Forest leaflet (the proposed exchange land is shaded)

Wentwood Forest leaflet (the proposed exchange land is shaded)

The leaflet has a map showing public access.  But we learnt at the inquiry that the agent for the landowner, the Somerset Trust, had written to NRW to say the lease between the Tenth Duke of Beaufort and the Forestry Commissioners dated 25 May 1941 ‘is clearly for forestry purposes only and does not permit public access on the site. … I understand in the public inquiry that an argument is put forward that the land already has some degree of public access.  This would be in contravention of the lease as I read it.’

So we have a leaflet welcoming visitors over the whole site: ‘with over 1000 hectares of continuous woodland, Wentwood is the perfect place to explore on foot, bicycle or even horseback’—yet access to part of this land is alleged to be unlawful.  This is extraordinary and obviously requires investigation.  There would be a massive protest if people were suddenly prohibited.

Wentwood Forest leaflet

Wentwood Forest leaflet

I believe that, regardless of the outcome of the inquiry, such prohibition would not happen and that the public will not gain from the exchange.  Walkers and horse-riders already enjoy the tracks but they cannot go where trees are planted and there is no intention to clear fell,  so the land is inferior to the existing common.  And of course, if the land became common, NRW would not be able to carry out management works there without ministerial consent under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.

Muddle
What a muddle it all is, and what devastation to common land.  We can only hope that, even at this late stage in the Circuit of Wales’s chequered history, inspector Emyr Jones, recommends that the application for exchange of common land be rejected, and Welsh ministers agree with him.

 

 

Posted in Open Spaces Society, common land, walking, British Horse Society, riding, Access, Wales, Natural Resources Wales, campaigns | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Acronym soup

Until this month I had not set foot in Woolmer Forest, east Hampshire, since 3 October 2002.  That was when, as a member of the Countryside Agency board, I was asked to consider whether the forest should be included within the boundary of the proposed South Downs National Park.  Fortunately we all thought it should be included, and so, in time, it was.

The reason why there was some doubt about that was because it is part of Longmoor range, a military live-firing area.  However, as there is public access some of the time, it was rightly deemed to fall within the criteria for national park designation—offering opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities by the public. There is also a flag-free perimeter route.

Perimeter route on the western side of the range

Perimeter route on the western side of the range

The Royal Engineers and Hampshire County Council are working together on the final section of the Shipwrights’ Way along the edge of the training area.  It will need a lot of work as it is to go on a board walk by a stream at the bottom of a wet wood, unfortunately only as a permissive route, not a definitive one.  This 50-mile path runs between Alice Holt Forest to the north and the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth, marking the journey taken by the oak which was used in Tudor times for ship building.

Route of the Shipwrights' Way

Route for the Shipwrights’ Way

Woolmer Forest is important for nature conservation, containing the largest and most diverse area of lowland heath in Hampshire outside the New Forest.  It is a special area of conservation (SAC) and site of special scientific interest.

Cranmer Pond, Woolmer Forest

Woolmer Pond, Woolmer Forest

On my recent visit, I was driven round in a military 4×4 along with representatives of other recreation-user groups, as part of our annual meeting with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (now part of the Ministry of Defence, the body which manages the military estate among other things).  Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ludlow (Training Safety Officer, Security and Access, South East) was our guide.

Lt Col Mark Ludlow

Lt Col Mark Ludlow

As ever, the range has competing pressures, for military training, wildlife and many types of recreation, and these may increase. With troops returning from Germany we apparently have to accommodate more training in this country, which means occupying some of our best and most sensitive landscapes.

I had a problem with the acronyms which Col Ludlow rattled out on our tour, as though from a machine gun.  FARP (forward arming and replenishment point), SARTS (small arms automatic remote target system), ND (negligent discharge), and many more. The military live on acronyms.

In the afternoon we returned to the barracks (which are likely to be sold off to become a housing estate) for lunch and meeting.  I puzzled over the final item on our agenda, DONM.  It turned out to be the prosaic ‘date of next meeting’.

TAFN (that’s all for now).

 

 

 

Posted in Access, National parks, Open Spaces Society, South Downs National Park | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Reflections on the European commons conference

My article about the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) European conference in Sweden has appeared in the IASC’s Commons Digest, winter 2015.  I reproduce it below.

‘Do not be afraid to go out on a limb.  That’s where the fruit is.’  Thus Camilla Widmark, chair of the International Association for the Study of the Commons’ European conference, opened the meeting in Umeå, Sweden in September 2014.  Her words gave the perfect introduction to my talk, ‘Campaigning for Commons, the collective approach’, which followed shortly after.  As campaigners, we must never be afraid to go out on a limb in defence of our beliefs.

Lin Ostrom, photo: Guardian

Lin Ostrom, photo: Guardian

This was my first European conference and I was generously funded by the Elinor Ostrom Award.  The Open Spaces Society (England and Wales), of which I am the general secretary, was one of three winners of the practitioners’ award last year.  I was able to reiterate Lin’s message of the importance of collective action in protecting the commons and enabling communities to defend and maintain them.  Academics and practitioners have a symbiotic relationship: academics can provide the facts and evidence which practitioners need to bring about change.

Pre-conference workshop
I identified this desire to work together many times during the conference.  First I went to the pre-conference workshop, a fascinating discussion about the Sami people (of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia), whose indigenous rights to graze reindeer clash with other land uses such as forest management, mining, energy generation and hunting.  It seems that the current governance and management systems are inadequate to resolve these conflicts.  The Sami parliament is not yet sufficiently recognised and respected: could greater collective action be an answer?

I talked to scholars working on water and pasture management in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; the privatisation of the Euphorbia food-plant in Madagascar; and the marketing and protection by registration of the Colombian coffee bean.  I listened to talks on the struggle by communities in Mozambique and Thailand to be heard when their resources are under attack.

Euphorbia stenoclada, wikipedia images

Euphorbia stenoclada, wikipedia images

Herders' house in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan

Herders’ house in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is vital that communities achieve the best management structures and governance processes to enable them to gain political weight with the decision makers.  The conference highlighted the difficulties faced by all parts of the globe in establishing equality between those who defend their commons and the powerful institutions which imperil them.

Delight
It was a delight to stay in the town of Umeå, known as Björkanas Stad, the City of Birches.  In June 1888 the eastern part of the city was devastated by fire and, in its restoration, silver birch trees were planted along the avenues, to prevent future fires from spreading.  Umeå is the 2014 European Capital of Culture and is rightly proud of its art and sculpture, although unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the galleries and sculpture park.

Avenue with birches

Avenue with birches

Parts of the town are being rebuilt and when I visited the main square, with my colleague John Powell from the Countryside and Communities Research Institute in Gloucester, England, we met students wanting to know what three things we would like to see in the square (itself a common).  They did not mind that we came from England and were unlikely to see the results!  I volunteered no traffic, a wild area for birds and butterflies and a safe, natural space for children’s play.  I should like to know what happens there.

 

John Powell from CCRI responds to the students

John Powell from CCRI responds to the students

I liked the university campus too, with its calm and elegant architecture and ample vegetation and green space.  The conference was hosted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and the centre had attractive murals of Umeå and its culture.

Krister Stoor joiking

Krister Stoor joiking

On the second night we visited Guitars, a recently-opened museum of electric guitars collected by the brothers Mikael and Samuel Åhdén.  We had dinner downstairs, and were entertained by Krister Stoor, a Sami and professor at Umeå University, who demonstrated the traditional joiking.  This is not singing but rather an atmospheric musical interpretation of elements, such as a river or a forest.

Excursion
After the conference many of us set off in glorious evening sunlight on the excursion.  We headed north to Stensfors Gård, a traditional farmhouse, for dinner en route to Skellefteå.

We spent the next morning at the Finnfors hydro-power plant.  The original plant was built in 1906, and there are 15 on the 400-km-long river Skellefteålven.  It is run by Skellefteå Kraft which takes its corporate responsibility seriously.  It is a public company and the public benefits from a share of the profits and discounted energy.  The company is concerned about biodiversity and has installed a new type of turbine, Streamdiver, with no oil or grease which enables free movement of fish downstream.

At Finnfors

At Finnfors

After lunch by the rushing river at Vindeln we went into the nearby forest.  Here SLU runs a research programme with SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget), the largest private owner of forest land in Europe, which manufactures wood and paper products.  We sat in a clearing and learnt about how the wood is harvested to regulate the amount of light, and how the forest is managed for biodiversity, recreation and reindeer.  I suggested that, from my English perspective, wide rides for walkers, riders and cyclists were desirable, with removal of trees to open up views.

Learning about the forests

Learning about the forests

Sweden has the tradition of allemansrätten, which gives everyone the right to roam freely and to gather mushrooms and berries, provided they do not interfere with private rights.  Historian Anna Stéms spoke of increasing conflict between public access and the right to pick mushrooms and berries, with this operation becoming commercial and leading to an influx of city people who do not respect allemsansratten.  In England and Wales we look longingly at Swedish access which is so much better than ours; Scotland has already achieved something similar to Sweden with its Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

Allemansrätten by Vindelälven

Allemansrätten by Vindelälven

Camilla and her team did a wonderful job in organising so efficiently such an interesting and varied conference.  I am grateful to the Elinor Ostrom Award for enabling me to participate and to learn so much more about the commons which Lin championed.

 

Posted in Access, campaigns, common land, International Association for the Study of the Commons, Open Spaces Society, Sweden, Woods and forests | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A ‘little unsuspected paradise’—lost?

In 1796 the poet Thomas Gray extolled the ‘little unsuspected paradise of Grasmere’.  Two centuries later the area faces threats which Gray could not have predicted.

For the Lake District National Park seems to be under unprecedented attack.   In the last few weeks four new threats have emerged: the well-publicised land sales by the national park authority, United Utilities’ application to erect a fence across common land above Thirlmere, the renewal of the Kirkby Moor wind turbines on the southern edge of the park, and a revived planning application from the Lowther Estate to suburbanise White Moss at Grasmere. The Open Spaces Society and the Friends of the Lake District are objecting to them all.

Stickle Tarn. Photo: British Mountaineering Council

Stickle Tarn. Photo: British Mountaineering Council

The Lake District NPA has put seven sites on the market, including Baneriggs and Lady Woods at Grasmere, Stickle Tarn above Langdale, and Yewbarrow Woods, Longsleddale.  Not only is it wrong in principle to sell off sites which are of national value, it is also wrong in practice. For the park authority will lose control of what happens here.  A new owner might be driven by commercial rather than national park values, and applications for development can always be granted on appeal.  Land such as this should be held by the nation for the nation.

The properties are being sold through Michael C L Hodgson, and bidding closes on 12 March.

Thirlmere
Worryingly, the national park authority has not objected to United Utilities’ proposed fence, six miles long across the Thirlmere Commons, for which UU seeks consent under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.  UU states that its intention is to reduce stock grazing to prevent erosion of vegetation which is then washed into the watercourses, but there is not much evidence to prove that this will work.  The fence would march across wild land, destroying the splendour and freedom of this magnificent area.

The summit of Ullscarf, south-west of Thirlmere, on the line of the proposed fence, looking west to Great Gable. Photo: Ian Brodie

The summit of Ullscarf, south-west of Thirlmere, on the line of the proposed fence, looking west to Great Gable. Photo: Ian Brodie

In any case, the fence is contrary to the Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act 1879, clause 62, which was won by the Commons Preservation Society (as the Open Spaces Society was then known).  This gives the public a right of free access to these fells which ‘shall not be in any manner restricted or interfered with’.  Both UU and the park authority seem to think that the act will not be breached if gates and stiles are provided, but of course the fence will interfere with access.  So even if UU gets it consent under the Commons Act there is a big question as to whether it can lawfully erect the fence.

Kirkby Moor
The 12 Kirkby Moor wind turbines on common land near Ulverston should be taken down in 2018 when their planning permission expires.  Instead RWE Innogy intends to replace them with six much larger ones—more than twice the current height.  They are highly visible over a vast area, in particular from the Lake District tops.  I sincerely hope that the application is rejected and the turbines are removed, leaving this sweeping landscape free from encumbrances.

Kirkby Moor wind turbines. Photo: RWE Innogy

Kirkby Moor wind turbines. Photo: RWE Innogy

The Lowther landholding in the national park used to be sensitively and sympathetically managed, but a new Lord Lowther has inherited the estate and now things are changing. Last year the estate applied to develop White Moss Common, next to the A591 between Rydal Water and Grasmere.  It sought planning permission for a visitor centre (euphemistically called a ‘welcome hub’) and so-called ‘hierarchy of routes’ around the car-park. It ignored the fact that this is common land with rights to walk and ride.

White Moss. Photo: Kate Willshaw

White Moss. Photo: Kate Willshaw

Fortunately the application was thrown out by the park authority’s members last autumn, against the advice of officers.  Now the estate has resubmitted the application, which is much the same except the size of the building has been reduced.

And while all this goes on, ironically the Lake District NPA and others are seeking World Heritage Site status for the park.  These many threats could put this aspiration at risk.

Of course the Lake District, in common with other park authorities, is suffering massive cuts in its budget. It has lost £1.56 million, 23 per cent, in the last five years.  The Campaign for National Parks is running a campaign against the cuts.  Such cuts are indicative of a myopic government which fails to recognise that our protected landscapes give fantastic value for money.

Outweighs
A recent study by Cambridge University zoologists, published in PLOS Biology, shows that the money generated from tourism and recreation vastly outweighs the $10bn a year spent on safeguarding and managing the world’s national parks and nature reserves.  It identifies the Lake District as one of the ten most frequently-visited sites (out of 556 for which the researchers had direct data).

So protected landscapes are an investment not a drain on the public purse, and it’s time that government understood this and resolved to give them more cash.

Posted in Access, common land, Cumbria, Lake District, National parks, Open Spaces Society, wild country | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where am I? Nobody knows

I have been doing a rather old-fashioned thing this week.  The Open Spaces Society and Pitkin Press have just published my book, Saving Open Spaces, (about which more later in a later blog) and I wanted to post it—yes, put it in the mailbox—to the press.

Saving-Open-SpacesFor the past few years all our press mailings have been by email, so I had to compile the postal addresses.  I went to the websites to look for them but it was a nightmare.  Very few press and radio actually put their address on the front page.  You have to delve for a contact link.  When you get it you may only see a whole list of email addresses, or a box to fill in online. Sometimes I resorted to directory inquiries, but that’s no good if you don’t have sufficient information for the search.

One example: I telephoned the Press Association to ask for its address because I could not see it on the website. The receptionist didn’t know it.  I wondered how she had found her way to work. She had to ask someone else and then told me that it was 292 Vauxhall Bridge Road.  When I asked for the postcode she had to inquire again.

You’d have thought the press would want people to contact them but from my experience this week they want to hide themselves away.

Natural England
I planned to send a copy of the book to every member of the Natural England board. Natural England no longer has its own website, it’s part of the generic government website gov.uk.  When eventually I found the contact page I could not see which address I should use for board members (supposedly important people).  I rang the inquiry line, one of those 0300 numbers, and the person answering passed me to someone else who had some difficulty in finding out the postal address for board members.

It’s been an eye-opener and pretty frustrating.  It should be a rule of every website design to put the postal address clearly on the front page.  Follow the Open Spaces Society’s example, our address is clearly there at the bottom.

Posted in Open Spaces Society | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments