Swift action in the North York Moors

Shortly after my visit with the Ramblers to the North York Moors on 18 July I reported the wobbly, dangerous stile at Fylingthorpe (grid reference NZ 945048).

1 Stile at Fylingthorpe

Wobbly stile at Fylingthorpe, 18 July 2017

On 15 August. it was fixed.  Bernie McLinden, the North York Moors National Park Authority senior ranger (coast), has written: ‘Couldn’t get agreement for a gate but have repaired the stile. Given the nature of the gap with stone walls and stone floor we had to install something a little different to the usual stile—but I think it works well.’  Although he had been away that did not hold things up, and the stile was built by his colleague, Martyn Williams.

Mended stile at Fylingthorpe

New stile at Fylingthorpe, 15 August 2017

It looks wonderful; I can’t wait to go back and use it.  And what a speedy response—I doubt many authorities would fix a stile within a month.

Thanks Bernie and Martyn!

Posted in Access, National parks, Obstructed path, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | 4 Comments

Heart-lifting finale

The final session of the Utrecht conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) was held in the Janskerk.  It was a policy debate on the interplay between science and practice.  I welcomed this as it is what I believe the IASC should be promoting.

Policy debate

Entertainment before the policy debate began in the Janskerk

The most heart-lifting moment was when Miguel Laborda-Pemán of Utrecht University presented the results of a meeting of young scholars the previous evening.  Sixty young scholars had attended, the average age was 30 and nearly half of them were affiliated to institutions outside their home country: they are a mobile community.

Here is the slide.

Young scholars' meeting

Top of the list, under the heading ‘relevance’, is: To explore and make more visible the connection between research and social impact.

And under ‘communication’: With the general public to increase knowledge and awareness—activism and institutional barriers.

This is encouraging stuff.  The young scholars are saying very clearly what they want from IASC.

International divide
This was reinforced by Jagdeesh Rao, head of India’s Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), who called for more action on the ground.  He said that the divide between researchers and activists is international.  ‘If science is going to pour new wisdom into village communities I have trouble.  We’ve had four to five thousand years of castism—thinkers and doers have been reduced from humans to lesser humans.  There is no method in the madness of the real world, how does science improve on method?’

FES team

Jagdeesh Rao (right) with, left to right, Rahul Chaturvedi and Subrata Singh of FES

I asked the platform team how they considered IASC should realise the excellent aspiration of the young scholars to bring together research and social impact and make the connection more visible.  Marco Janssen, Professor at the School of Sustainability at Arizona University, chose to answer.  He will take on the presidency of IASC in 2019, following John Powell from the Countryside and Communities Research Institute (CCRI) of Gloucestershire University, who is currently president.

Marco said that a lot of universities were not prepared to collaborate with practitioners, or at least were not willing to travel to do so.  He said that we need to become less risk averse, we need a long-term strategy and we have to experiment—but he did not suggest that he would lead the IASC council in this activity when he is president.

This was a disappointing response.  However, we have another 18 months of John Powell’s presidency and, with the young scholars snapping at council’s heels, I hope that much can be achieved.

Lima here we come!
And we can look forward to the next global conference to be held in Lima, Peru, 1-5 July 2019.  It will be organised jointly by universities in Peru and Colombia.  I joined the organisers at a breakfast meeting to discuss plans for this conference and was encouraged that practitioners will be at its heart.  We are on the right road.

Breakfast meeting

Breakfast meeting. Left to right: Marco Janssen, Deborah Delgado Pugley (Pontifical Catholic University, Peru), Anne Larsen (Center for International Forestry Research, Indonesia), Xavier Basurto (Duke University, North Carolina, USA), Juan Camillo Cárdenas (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia), John Powell and me.

Posted in International Association for the Study of the Commons, commons, Netherlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Colour Kitchen

A feature of the biennial conferences held by the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) is the dinner.  This year it was held at Utrecht’s Museum Speelklok, a museum of extraordinary, automatically-playing musical instruments. 

We gathered in the main hall for the presentation of the Elinor Ostrom awards and sumptuous food, before having a tour of the museum.

musical instrument

Travelling organ

There were many examples of co-operatives at this conference, such as The Colour Kitchen, which provided the excellent food that evening.  It was organic, vegetarian and locally-sourced.

The Colour Kitchen’s slogan is ‘No social waste’.  David Poiesz, the manager, explained that they give an opportunity to people ‘at a distance from the job market’.  They take on the unemployed, former prisoners, people with health problems and others who have difficulty finding jobs.  It trains them and then encourage them to train others.  At the end of the course they gain a qualification.

‘Talent should not be left on the couch’ said David, ‘everyone deserves a chance’.  It is a social enterprise, speaking with a social heart and working with an eye for people and the environment.  Each year about 300 people are employed by The Colour Kitchen in various parts of the Netherlands to learn skills.

David and manifesto

David Poiesz with the manifesto

The manifesto sets out its ethics and ambitions.  Translated, it reads:

  • Talent should not be left on the bench
  • Everyone deserves a new chance
  • We don’t work with labels (but with a quality mark)
  • We believe that we can make a difference together
  • Show that social is the new normal
  • People with a story have more to offer
  • Be creative every day
  • Give people space to learn from their mistakes
  • You’ll find that you get a good return
  • Everyone is entitled to a job
  • Social enterprise is seriously addictive
  • We get energy from people who grow
  • You need the space to discover your talent

Tine de Moor from Utrecht University and former president of the IASC signed the manifesto on behalf of the Institutions for Collective Action, one of the organisers of the conference.

The Colour Kitchen is an excellent model for others to follow.

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Late-singing chiffchaffs

Tuesday’s episode of The Archers was quite earthy, with Roy Tucker being ‘caught short’ and his daughter Phoebe having to do a pregnancy test.  

Listeners may have been so taken up with all this that they failed to notice a chiffchaff singing in the background when Clarry Grundy, Susan Carter and Roy were chatting outside the Dairy.

If Jim Lloyd or Robert Snell had been around they might have observed that 15 August was pretty late in the year for a chiffchaff to sing.


Chiffchaff. Wikipedia commons

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Defending land rights: finding solutions

A novel feature of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) Utrecht conference was the invitation to submit proposals for practitioners’ labs.  The idea was to have a number of snappy presentations and then a discussion, on a theme of practical value. 

With help from the IASC’s president, John Powell, I put together a proposal called ‘Defending land rights: exploring the solutions to current issues’, which was accepted by the conference assessors.  Despite the lab being scheduled for the last morning, we had more than 30 people which was encouraging.  The 90 minutes allocated was nothing like enough time—we were still in full flow when we had to break.

We were allocated zaal (room) 1636 which was lined with photos of  women professors of the university.

Women's room

The women’s room

John Powell chaired the session and we had contributors from all over the world.  Here are some titbits from the flipchart.

Fionuala Cregan from Land Rights Now spelt out the problem her group faces.  ThereLand rights now badge small are 2.5 billion people with no secure land rights.

LRN acts for them, communicating why land rights are important and building a global movement.  Earth Day on 22 April is a worldwide event to promote environmental and climate understanding.  Fionuala showed a couple of one-minute videos which are powerful, see here, here and here for instance.

wampis summit-590

Wampis delegates at their summit to form their autonomous government. Photo: New Internationalist

Thomas Niederberger from the University of Bern in Switzerland has been working with the Wampis in Peru’s Northern Amazon.  After decades of abuse and exploitation, the Wampis have established their own government. Their story is told in the Guardian here.  Thomas explained how they must protect 1.3 million hectares of forest to combat climate change; how the oil and gas have been exploited, with pipeline spills, a hydro dam and a terrible massacre; the lack of recognition of indigenous people as a legal category, and the action the Wampis have taken to get publicity (through the Guardian and Facebook).  There are great problems of finance, for the indigenous organisations, active research and communications, and of ensuring the people are safe.

Pranab Choudhury, Center for Land Governance, NRMC, India spoke on Community land rights and customary tenure.  There is no commonly-agreed standard or definition for common land; customary tenure is largely not legally recognised.  There is a diversity of tenure, sometimes the chief decides, sometimes there is a democratic process.  There is some legal protection but mixed implementation.



Pranab suggested that resolution is through the documentation of customary tenures and creating records of land.

Anne Larsen, Center for International Forestry Research posed some questions and thoughts.

Anne Larsen

Anne Larsen

What do we mean by success?  It is always temporary, because new challenges come.

What do we mean by recognising community land-rights?  This can take a long time.

Reforms come from many perspectives: eg conservation, rights, forests, which affect the goal.

Most positive steps come out of crisis or political change, eg from authoritarian to democratic, or vice versa.

You need: leadership, monitoring, communication and allies in government.

Leticia Merino, University of Mexico UNAM spoke on forest rights in Mexico.

Latin America has the largest area of forest land under community control.  This is the result of social movements which have had a profound effect.

In Latin America, the mining sector is very strong.  The federal government has the right to use the subsoil, oil and water.  Land grabbing is related to exports.

Sixty per cent of the forest areas are under concessions.  There is misuse of water for mining and fracking.

We need new frameworks for social action and new alliances.

For the Open Spaces Society (OSS) I talked about use rights and public access in England and Wales

In the inclosure movement of 17th-19th centuries many commons were taken from the people and put in the hands of relatively few landowners.  In 1965, we had an act of parliament to record the remaining commons.  There was no right for the public to walk on most commons.

Activists ran a campaign to win access rights for the public to commons and mapped open country.

Prentice & Meacher, Boulsworth 1997

Gordon Prentice, Michael Meacher and ramblers on the approach to Boulsworth Hill, which was forbidden land then (1997).  We were lobbying for a right-to-roam law.

Campaigns must have a clear aim or target, you must identify who is the decision maker and then focus your lobbying on that person or organisation.

For the access campaign, we had to lobby government, with evidence of need and benefit.  When a favourable government took power in 1997 we were ready with our campaign.  We won the new law in 2000 but the campaign took over 10 years.

Chris Short, Foundation for Common Land (FCL) explained that the FCL strapline is ‘collaboration, convening, championing, challenging’.

Chris spoke of a case where the Lake District National Park wanted to lease land at Glenridding Common.  The FCL talked to the national park authority and set out a number of requirements of the new lessee.  He or she must:

  • recognise the formal pastoral system and not exercise a right of veto,
  • consult the commoners,
  • manage the infrastructure supporting agricultural activities,
  • at the end of project (3 years) consult over what happens next.

FCL was successful in getting these points recognised in the lease to the John Muir Trust.


Striding Edge, Glenridding Common. Photo: John Muir Trust

Anne MacKinnon, water-law scholar from the University of Wyoming, spoke on overcoming inequity in water-use Anne McKinnonrules.  The Wind River tribe won rights to water.  There was a 1990 water code but it was subject to state law and it was still impossible to use half of the water right.

In the tribe there was great poverty with 70 per cent unemployment; it had no access to the living river—ie it had legal rights it could not exercise.

The question was how to get to co-management of the resource.

The presentations raised lots of issues for discussion, but there was little time and it was frustrating not being able to pursue points fully.  We touched on campaigning techniques but could have said so much more.

Issues which came up were:

  • you need evidence to raise awareness,
  • be ready when opportunity arises,
  • it is important to note that success is not permanent, and that failure can be temporary too,
  • you need to create a presence,
  • what is the best political strategy for protecting community rights?  There are different models for different situations,
  • there is a political attempt to hijack commons for global institutions,
  • commons need to be part of the discussion on land rights,
  • you should have a list of things not to do.

I shall send a note of the lab to all those who were there.   I have a growing list of practitioner contacts to which I add from each conference.  I am hoping that this global gathering can communicate and learn from each other’s experiences.


Wind River range, Wyoming, by Jay Ashbrook

Next year the Countryside and Community Research Institute of Gloucestershire University is running an online course on Defending the Commons, in which I am participating.  This will be one of many opportunities to continue the conservation.

Posted in common land, common rights, Access, International Association for the Study of the Commons, campaigns, commons, Netherlands | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hidcote’s hidden story

My visit to Hidcote Manor garden in Gloucestershire on 20 June this year was the first time I had shown my National Trust card and gone in by the main entrance.

In 1989 and for some years after I visited using the public footpaths which crossed the garden—although I did so with some difficulty since they had been obstructed by hedges, locked gates and other paraphernalia.

2 long walk

Hidcote’s Long Walk today: footpaths HEB 6 and 8 used to cross this and were obstructed.

The matter came to my attention in May 1989 when Cotswold District Council made a diversion and extinguishment order to move the blocked paths around the illegal obstructions in the garden.  The Open Spaces Society’s policy is normally to object to the diversion of obstructed paths, since paths should be reopened as required by law rather than diverted to avoid the blockage.  In fact, the society’s former local correspondent for the area, Peter Newman, had objected to the diversions in 1985.

Hidcote FP HEB6 in May 1989

In May 1989 this hedge was obstructing Ebrington footpath HEB6 at grid reference SP 1752 4278

I walked through the garden, making use of Ebrington footpaths HEB6 and 8, and found the obstructions.  I had to make the necessary deviations to enable me to continue my journey.

The Open Spaces Society objected to the diversion and extinguishment and wrote to the National Trust and Gloucestershire County Council, pointing out that there were ten obstructions on 835 metres of public footpath at Hidcote.  The obstructions were:

HEB 8: a thick hedge, an unopenable door marked ‘private’, a padlocked gate
HEB 6: four hedges and two fences
HEB 5: fence

Hidcote FP HEB8 in May 1989

In May 1989 this locked gate marked ‘private’ obstructed Ebrington footpath HEB8 at grid reference SP 1755 4275

The OSS also issued a press release which received good publicity and caused some outrage from the tenant farmer.  Other objectors appeared, but unfortunately the Ramblers Gloucestershire Area did not object to the order.

Hidcote FP HEB6 May 1989

In May 1989 this fence obstructed footpath HEB6 at grid reference SP 1745 4275.

Correspondence continued for some years.  At first Gloucestershire County Council was defensive, claiming that the definitive map (the legal record) was wrong.  However, it relented and the National Trust did largely reopen the paths.  On 13 July 1996 I led a walk of Ramblers’ Area secretaries, who were attending the Area secretaries’ conference in Warwick, on the public footpath through the garden.

Area secs at Hidcote1 13 Jul 1996

Ramblers’ Area secretaries walking the old definitive line through Hidcote garden. Left to right: Geoff Williams (Dyfed), Peter Barbour (Oxon), unidentified person, Jo Bird (trustee), Maurice Tebbutt (Northants), Mavis Rear (Glos).

Area secs at Hidcote2 13 Jul 1996

Ramblers’ Area secretaries in Hidcote garden, second in line is Michael Bird (Warwickshire)

Eventually, in March 1997 Gloucestershire County Council said that the orders would be withdrawn.  After further discussion, and the offer of paths in addition to those created by the diversion, the OSS agreed not to object to a revised order and it was confirmed in August 1999—more than ten years after the original order.

1 diversion route point I

Diverted route of HEB 8 south of the gardens

The additional routes were one across the parkland adjoining the gardens, and a path parallel to the road leading to the car-park, which takes walkers off the road.  It has a generous width, stated in the order: ‘to be an enclosed width of a minimum of 2m at point U gradually widening from the gate at that point to a minimum of 4m wide and a maximum of 5m wide measured from the edge of the boundary adjacent to the unclassified road to the north, numbered 40518, leading to Hidcote Manor Gardens car park’.   I have put a copy of the plan at the end of this blog; it is quite complicated!

4 creation

Created path parallel to the road to the car-park

5 creation avoids this road

The path takes walkers off this road

When I visited on 20 June it was difficult to see where the paths had once run, and few people will remember that there were once paths across the garden.  It is good to know that as a result of the Open Spaces Society’s objection to the 1989 order, we have useful additional paths which would not have otherwise been created.

Hidcote plan

Plan showing path diversions, extinguishments and creations

Posted in Access, campaigns, National Trust, Obstructed path, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

‘Resolved’ has a new meaning in Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire County Council has an annoying habit.  When you submit a public-path problem online it may send you an email, after an improbably short period, to tell you that your problem has been ‘resolved’ (Oxford Concise English Dictionary: ‘clear up, settle’).  The chances are that it hasn’t been resolved at all.

Missing waymark
Last August I reported a missing waymark at the junction of Piddington and Wheeler End footpaths 3/1, 3/2 and 6/1 (grid reference SU 801 934) since it is not obvious where the paths run.  I tracked my query on the website and discovered that the matter had been ‘resolved’.

When doing my Ramblers’ path-check of the parish again this year I noticed the waymark was still missing.  I reported it on 6 August and received an email from Bucks CC on 8 August to say it had been resolved:

Dear Miss Ashbrook,
Reference report number 40045236.
Thank you for your enquiry. This has been fully assessed and resolved and this enquiry is now closed.
If you wish to raise a new report please do so using our Report It website. Please provide as much detail as possible to assist in resolving your report.
Transport for Buckinghamshire

Just in case it really had been resolved I checked it on 11 August, but there was nothing there.

31 FP3&6 no WM, looking NW small

Footpath 6/1 is to the left and 3/1 to the right: waymark needed

Shoddy stile
Last year I reported a stile on FP 25 at SU 811 199.  It is not to British Standard 5709.  The tracking report says:

Thank you for your report of ROW style (sic) issue at PIDDINGTON AND WHEELER END FOOTPATH 25, PIDDINGTON AND WHEELER END which is now resolved.

Here is the problem at the time I reported it last year.

19 Stile at jct 25 & 24 in 2016

On FP 25/1 in July 2016

And here it is a year later, having been ‘resolved’.  Can you spot the difference?

18 FP25 & 24 jct in 2017

FP 25/1 in August 2017

No signpost—despite duty
There are other reports which have been concluded with no action and no explanation. And some with very bizarre explanations.  Last year I reported a missing signpost at the junction of footpath 16 and Piddington Lane at the path’s northern end (SU 811 939).  I heard no more so I tracked this on the website and was dismayed to read:

We have reviewed/inspected a ROW sign issue at PIDDINGTON AND WHEELER END FOOTPATH 16, PIDDINGTON AND WHEELER END and at present this does not meet our criteria to be fixed. However, we will continue to monitor it during our routine inspections to assess any deterioration.

I don’t know what it means by ‘deteroriation’: there isn’t a signpost to deteriorate—but the website didn’t give ‘missing signpost’ as an option.

And of course the response is rubbish.  The county council has a legal duty, under section 27 of the Countryside Act 1968, to erect a signpost where a footpath, bridleway, restricted byway or byway leaves a metalled road, unless the parish council considers it unnecessary.  However, the council has not said that the parish council has asked for it not to be installed.  In fact it is necessary because people are tempted to walk up the narrow lane which runs parallel to the path, rather than walk inside the hedge which looks private.  I have reported it again.  (Since I visited last year the steps have been put in, so that’s progress.)

30 FP16-1 N end no SP paint

Footpath 16 heading south-west from Piddington Lane, along the black line

I know Bucks CC rights-of-way staff are hard-pressed and do their utmost to give a good service, but I think the reporting system needs an overhaul and the language needs changing.

Posted in Access, Bucks, Public paths, Ramblers, Ramblers' path-check, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments