Win, win, win

This week the Open Spaces Society had three wins.

First the society helped to save two footpaths across Harrow School grounds.  In 2003 the school built tennis courts and all-weather courts across footpath 57, with the connivance of Harrow Council.  The other path, 58, runs in a direct route across sports pitches.

20 Obstructions on FP57 looking to A - Copy

Footpath 57 obstructed by tennis courts

Eventually, despite our efforts to make the school reopen the path, the council made diversion orders, moving footpath 57 around the obstructions and footpath 58 in a zigzag around the sports pitches.  Both were indirect routes.  The Open Spaces Society, Ramblers and local people objected and there was a six-day public inquiry in January and February at which the school was represented by a QC and junior and the council by a barrister.

Loss of views
The inspector, Alison Lea, ruled that the routes should not be diverted, largely because of the loss of views of Harrow-on-the-Hill.  She was particularly impressed by Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, who spoke of the ‘spectacular’ views he enjoyed on his runs along the paths.

FP58 direct route

The view from footpath 58

Second, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs accepted the Open Spaces Society’s argument that environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be applied to common land, in addition to the need to get consent for works on common land under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.  This means, for instance, that if someone wants to erect more than two kilometres of fencing on common land in a national park, he or she must have the proposal screened by Natural England to see if it needs a full EIA. Before this, Defra claimed that consent for works on common land was sufficient.  This is important extra protection for commons and Hugh Craddock, the OSS case officer, gets the credit for this.

And third, the society helped to stop seven wind turbines near Llandegley Rocks in Powys. The proposal would have involved four turbines on land which was protected by an inclosure award, as well as the exchange of common land and the destruction of a much-loved beauty spot.


Llandegley Rocks, beauty spot saved from turbines

Posted in Access, campaigns, commons, Obstructed path, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The inspiration of our national parks

Theresa May is said to have taken the decision to call the election while walking near Dolgellau, in the Snowdonia National Park, in early April.

OK it was a bad decision, but this goes to show that national parks provide the inspirational environment to help us make big decisions.  Their space and tranquillity enable us to relax and see things in a wider perspective.  Theresa May should be grateful to those politicians in 1949 who gave us national parks in England and Wales.



May should recognise the value of the national parks and the vital need to fund them so that they remain inspirational landscapes.  The government promised in 2015 to protect national park funding in England up to 2020, but for five years before the parks had suffered significant cuts, so government had made a low base from which to start.  (Welsh national parks are now under the wing of the Welsh Assembly.)  It is time to raise that base.

There must be a pledge in May’s manifesto to give proper funding and recognition to our national parks, those top landscapes which inspire us.


Posted in Access, National parks, Politics, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Backward Bradford

I had been invited to do a live interview for the Open Spaces Society on BCB Radio* which covers Bradford.  I realised we would be talking about commons, greens and paths, so I checked out Bradford Council’s website.

There are some terrific commons in Bradford’s territory and many of them are ‘urban’ commons, ie in a former metropolitan district.  This means that there is a right to walk and ride there.  Examples are Ilkley Moor, Baildon Moor, Black Moor, Brow Moor, Haworth Moor and parts of Keighley Moor.

Baildon Moor, E of Baildon

Baildon Moor

Considering that Bradford has had such a long association with commons I was dismayed to find that the council’s website page about common land is more than 10 years out of date.  It still refers to the need to obtain consent for works on common land under section 194 of the Law of Property Act 1925. That was superseded by section 38 of the Commons Act 2006 on 1 October 2007.

It also says that section 68 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 permits the grant of statutory easements for vehicular access over land where it is currently an offence to drive a vehicle.  That was repealed by the Commons Act 2006 on 1 October 2006, following a House of Lords judgment which nullified the provision.

Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor

I have told the council of its errors and suggested that, if it joins the Open Spaces Society, the society will help it to get its website right.

*You can listen to the interview here at 49 mins, 30 secs.

Posted in common land, commons, Open Spaces Society | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Wanted: an all-round aide

The tiny advertisement in the Western Morning News in March 1977 read: AUTHOR, non-fiction, some journalism, active in general spheres, needs young, literate, resilient, deft all-round Aide about 3 days weekly, mainly in Exeter, preferably with some business or PR acumen, research ability, accurate shorthand typing.

Job advert

I was just finishing my post-degree secretarial course at Exeter College and was looking for a job nearby which I could combine with campaigning for Dartmoor.  This job seemed ideal. On 23 March I met Charles Owen for an interview, with his wife Felicity, in their flat above Torquay harbour.  The next day Charles phoned with an offer which I accepted.  He appreciated the fact that I had done a university degree before doing a secretarial course, although I did not have all the skills listed in the advertisement (no business or PR acumen for a start).

I began work for Charles 40 years ago today, on 20 April 1977—a significant date for me as on 20 April 1972 I had first met my campaigning friend Sylvia Sayer.

Room on the Quay
The ‘office’ was a room above the Exeter Maritime Museum on the Quay, long before it was redeveloped.  The Owens had a house in the neo-Georgian Dinham Crescent, in Exeter, as well as the Torquay flat.  A year or two later they moved to Furlong in Ferry Road, Topsham, about five miles south-east of Exeter.   I had an office in their house—more spacious that the Quay, but rather cold and dark.  However, their living room was lovely, on the second floor with a view over the Exe estuary to Haldon Hill.  I was summoned there by an intercom to receive my instructions.


Topsham Quay and the Lighter Inn. © Copyright Martin Southwood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

This was my first proper job (my only other had been temporary, working for the Dartmoor National Park Committee in summer 1975).  Fresh from my course I had little practical experience.  When I typed my first letters for Charles, my mind went haywire and I typed the addressees’ details on the right not the left.  I realised this after I had gone home and returned to the office that evening to retype the letters so that he would not know of my mistake.

Charles had a varied career.  Born in 1915, he had been in the Royal Navy, achieving the rank of lieutenant-commander; he was awarded the DSC.  At the end of the war he left the Navy and began a career in industry, working for United Steel, HM Treasury and the Board of Trade.  In 1958 he became a management consultant and later an author.  His books included Britons Abroad (1968), The Opaque Society (1970) and No More Heroes (1975).  During my time with him he wrote (and I typed) The Grand Days of Travel, which was published by the Exeter firm Webb and Bower in 1979.

My three-day-a -week job was varied and interesting.  Charles had a wide range of interests and liked to write about them.  He was perceptive and held strong opinions.  I helped him to research for a booklet One Man’s City:  A Newcomer’s View of Exeter, which was serialised in the late (and sadly missed) Exeter Flying Post which appeared rather erratically.


South-west wall of Guildhall Centre, Exeter. © Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Charles was not complimentary about the city, its postwar architecture, its car-centricity and poor public transport;  he considered Exeter to be humdrum and introspective, failing to make the most of its assets—the river and the canal in particular.  Exeter was ‘parochial’ when compared with ‘metropolitan’ Plymouth and ‘cosmopolitan’ Torquay.

He had a great idea of creating an Exeter Metro centred on the neglected Exeter Central Station, relegating the car to the outskirts and reinstating the square outside St David’s Station so that visitors had a good welcome to the city.  He wrote of the Guildhall shopping centre, pictured above: ‘its outward appearance from some directions, alongside a multi-storey car park, is unforgivable; from St David’s Hill, the mass is crude, monstrous, overbearing’.  He said it should have been given open vistas towards the cathedral and High Street and should provide ‘a gregarious rendezvous’.  His articles invoked a robust response from the city’s planners—as they were intended to do.

Charles formed the Central Exeter Habitat Project, with Exeter University’s Sociology Department, which worked on a survey with the aims of bringing more life to the heart of Exeter and providing more living accommodation in the city’s centre. He tried to set up a literary group, and he took me as his guest to the West Country Writers’ Association AGM in Plymouth.  He had aspirations for Exeter, but found the Devon people too laid back.

Gendall and Havell
I also worked for Felicity, who was an art historian with a fine collection, and I did some research about the artists John Gendall (an Exonian) and William Havell for her.  When we ran out of typing I helped in the garden.

Much as I enjoyed my job, my priority was to campaign for Dartmoor.  On 1 March 1978 the public inquiry opened in Okehampton into the South West Water Authority’s proposal for a reservoir at Roadford.  Dartmoor’s defenders needed to be there because the opponents of Roadford (some local authorities and the farming and landowning organisations) were proposing Dartmoor sites as alternatives.  The inquiry ran for four days a week and I wanted to be there.  Charles was extremely understanding about that and I was able to go to the inquiry most days (cramming three days’ work for him into Monday).

Then on 1 May 1979 the Okehampton bypass inquiry opened in Okehampton, again four days a week and even more important to me than Roadford.  This was scheduled to last for some time and in fact ran until February 1980.  Not surprisingly, that was more than Charles could accept and after a few months we parted amicably.

The tireless Charles intended to run a festival in the autumn of 1980, the Devon-American Fortnight, to celebrate the many connections between Devon and America.  He began to develop the idea in 1977 and in July 1978 he won the agreement of the US Ambassador, Kingman Brewster, to be its patron.

DAF Brewster

From the festival programme

Charles raised some money and began to promote the festival.  He needed a festival administrator but despite a number of attempts he failed to appoint the right person.  As the Okehampton inquiry was coming to an end in December 1979 he invited me back as festival administrator, and I agreed.

It was hard work, Devon did not really rise to the challenge. Charles arranged for Kingman Brewster and his wife Mary, to visit Devon and booked the US Navy Sixth Fleet Show Band to come and give three concerts.  But he needed other events to fill the period between 26 September to 10 October.  Some towns joined in with gusto—Torrington, Crediton, Appledore and Bideford for instance, but many were lukewarm.   Eventually we had a programme of art exhibitions and concerts, theatre and gastronomic events covering many parts of Devon.

DAF coverDAF programme









Felicity put together an exhibition at Furlong of Devon Scenes 1780-1980, with works by dead and living artists.

Sharpitor by EC Pascoe Holman

Sharpitor by Edwin Charles Pascoe Holman which appeared in the exhibition and which the Owens later gave to me.

I had the enjoyable task of escorting the Brewsters across Dartmoor on the sunny first morning of the Festival, 26 September 1980. They stayed at the Judge’s Lodgings in Exeter the previous night and were heading to Plymouth for lunch with the Lord Mayor, then a flying visit to the American Memorial on Slapton Sands before going to various other Devon towns.  We were chauffeured in a Rolls Royce along the twisty B3212, above the Teign Valley and through Moretonhampstead, Two Bridges and Princetown to Plymouth. The moor was magical, golden and slightly misty, and I no doubt regaled them with all my Dartmoor battles.  They were enthusiastic and companionable.


The Dart valley on 26 September 2008, 28 years after my lovely drive with the Brewsters

I made many mistakes in my time with Charles but two stand out.  One was when, after a long spell of dictation, I couldn’t read back my shorthand.  It was unfortunate because he had dictated a chapter of his book, straight out of his head, and my scribbles were the only record of his fine words.  Of course I should have written some of it in longhand (he was quite a slow dictator).  It was a black moment when I had to own up to this.

Snoopy shorthand

Sixth Fleet Show Band
The second was during the Devon American Fortnight.  Bookings for the US Navy Sixth Fleet Show Band concert in Paignton were low.  Charles asked me to ring the Western Morning News the day before to try to boost the sales.  I rang the paper and told them we had not sold many seats and asked if they could help to promote the event.  The next day the paper published a story that there were still 600 seats left to sell.  Charles was furious; he said I should have told them that the seats were going fast and that anyone who wanted to come needed to book now.

I have always remembered that tip—and we did manage to fill the hall sufficiently, by offering seats to various institutions for free.  That concert was in aid of the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children and its founder, Sylvia Darley (a friend of the Owens) was there, so it would have been extremely embarrassing for her and for the band if we hadn’t filled the seats.

Tall, dark, urbane and highly intelligent, Charles could be a bit intimidating if you got on the wrong side of him; fortunately that didn’t happen to me too often.  To use one of his favourite words, he was extremely convivial; we had some good times together.

My sketch of CO

My sketch of Charles at the West Country Writers’ Association meeting in 1977

I continued to work for Charles sporadically after the festival ended and we stayed in touch until his death in 2001.  He taught me a lot—starting on that day on the Quay 40 years ago.

Posted in Dartmoor, Devon, Exeter University, Memories | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

No to tracks on Naphill Common

The Chiltern common of Naphill, near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, is a beautiful expanse of natural woodland with many veteran trees.  It is owned by the Dashwood Estate, and the Friends of Naphill Common keep a close eye on it.

5 notice board

Notice board, designed by Philip Hussey, near Pickup’s Pond

I visited on 13 April with Philip and Trevor Hussey, who are twins, both professors and long-standing residents.  Their parents met at the fair on the common and were married in 1920.


Trevor (left) and Philip Hussey. Photo by Gloria Leflaive

Gloria Leflaive, who has campaigned for the common for decades, joined us.   They know the common intimately.  Philip pointed out a patch of forget-me-nots which, unusually, had white flowers among them.

4 forget me nots

Forget-me-nots, there are some white ones among them which is unusual

I wanted to check out a planning application to which I have objected on behalf of the Open Spaces Society.

8 the common

Naphill Common

The proposal is to pull down Heatherlands, a pleasant house next to the common, and replace it with three dwellings.  This will mean a new access-way over the common.

2 Heatherlands on left

Heatherlands is to the left and the hedge is the boundary of the common

Section 38 of the Commons Act 2006 states that one must get the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for certain works on common land. These include ‘works for the resurfacing of land’.  That phrase is further defined: ‘works are for the resurfacing of land if they consist of the laying of concrete, tarmacadam, coated roadstone or similar material on the land (but not if they consist only of the repair of an existing surface of the land made of such material)’.

The Commons Act also gives members of the public the power to apply to the county court for an order to remove unlawful works.

It struck me that there were already a number of tracks on the common which ought to have had consent but it is probably too late to take action.  The courts do not like matters to be left too long and the power in the Commons Act can only be used for works which have been erected since 28 June 2005 when the act was published (bizarre, I know).

However, I was told that the access-way in this photograph is fairly new (and it does not have section 38 consent) so local people will have to decide whether to do anything about it.

1 unlawful track

Does this access need consent under the Commons Act?

The older Chapel Lane track runs parallel with the north-east side of the common, across common land.   It comes to an end just short of Heatherlands and there is a row of wooden posts to stop people from driving further (see map below).

7 access

End of the road

The applicant for the Heatherlands development, Mrs B Burnett, has submitted a design and access statement which states that ‘the access to the site for plots 1 and 2 are taken from the existing access which serves Little Oaks [next door], and agreement is in place with the landowner for this access’.  She does not mention that the access would be across common land.

3 site of new access

The new access would cross the common near the holly bush

The Open Spaces Society has pointed this out to Wycombe District Council and asked that, if consent is given (which the society hopes it is not) the council includes an advisory that consent may be required under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006.

The residents fear that this will lead to suburbanisation of the common, interfere with walkers and set a precedent for further access-ways to be constructed across common land.  This could even result in an extension of the Chapel Lane track south-east to join Downley Road at Pickup’s Pond so that there was a continuous track along the common. Already people are parking on the common to the south.  It could so easily become a mess.

6 parking

Parking on the common south of Downley Road

All power to those who are fighting this planning application and campaigning to protect this magnificent common.

Naphill map

Posted in AONB, Bucks, Chilterns, common land, commons, Open Spaces Society, planning | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Early bird at Cowleaze Wood

On Easter Monday I repeated my bird survey for the Thame Valley Conservation Trust. The deal is that you have at least one tetrad (a one-kilometre square on the Ordnance Survey map).  Mine is in the Wormsley valley near Stokenchurch in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (SU79H, with the grid reference SU7294 in the bottom left-hand corner).  I have already done the survey in December 2016 and February 2017 and must do it again twice between April and June.  This was my third visit.

For the spring survey we are asked to visit early in the morning and to note the breeding status of any birds seen or heard.  That means one must log if one hears a singing male or sees display or nest activity.  When logging the records one logs the status which indicates the greatest evidence of breeding (for example courtship and display which suggests ‘probable breeder’ trumps singing male which is just ‘possible breeder’).

I set off from Cowleaze Wood car park at 7.12 am and immediately heard a singing blackcap followed by robins, wrens and chiffchaffs.  I walked through the wood and then a short way along the escarpment where I picked up coal tits and linnets.  I took the bridleway past  Upper Vicars Farm.  It was a grey morning but the light showed through the trees.

1 Nr Upper Vicars

Near Upper Vicars Farm

In the valley I heard willow warblers.  I climbed the hill out of the Wormsley Valley and saw eight red kites and two buzzards.

2 Looking up Wormsley Valley

Wormsley Valley looking south

3 Looking other way

and north






Once I was back in the wood the species became richer again, with robins, wrens, goldcrests.

4 Cowleaze

Cowleaze Wood

6 through woodland






In the dense brambles there were wrens and no doubt dunnocks and other birds which I could not see.

7 brambles

There were patches of bluebells, far too early.

8 bluebells

We are supposed to walk for at least two hours so I used the extra time to visit Bald Hill, for a downland habitat.

10 Bald Hill view

I walked back up the footpath to the song of chiffchaffs, blackcaps and the inevitable robins.9 Bald Hill footpath

My total count for the two hours was 23 species, with 32 robins (with at least one showing  courtship and display), 23 wrens (ditto), 15 great tits and chiffchaff (singing), and 12 blackcap (singing).  I feel my results are rather skewed because chiffchaff, blackcap and willow warblers are noisy singers so I am more likely to hear them than other species such as tits which are more discreet.

Nevertheless, it is rewarding and even though I am not completely accurate, I hope that the results will prove useful to the project.

Posted in AONB, Birds, British Trust for Ornithology, Chilterns | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

South Downs celebrations

The annual anniversary celebration on the South Downs National Park is organised by the Hampshire Ramblers, so it tends to be in the Western Weald: this year it was at Midhurst and I had been invited to speak.  

When we were fighting for the national park we had to mount an additional campaign to get the Western Weald included as there was pressure for a chalk-only park. It is so fortunate that we succeeded, because this part of the park has wonderful qualities, not least its rare and precious heathland.

Tree pipit
I arrived early for a walk around Iping Common, one of these heaths, and was rewarded with an almost instant sighting of two tree pipits and a yellowhammer.  Four years ago, I heard nightjars here at the end of July.


Iping Common

I crossed the road for a brief walk on Stedham Common, where the Sussex Wildlife Trust grazes British White cattle.  They were doing good work on the birch.

Tackling birch

Tackling the birch

At the South Downs Centre the walkers gathered, and Margaret Paren, chair of the authority, gave a talk about the authority’s current work.  Then 36 of us set off on a walk led by Jasper and George Stride.

We followed the River Rother through bluebell woods to Stedham Mill

1 by the Rother

Walking by the Rother

6 Stedham Mill

Stedham Mill







then to Stedham Church with its amazing yew tree

4 Stedham yew

and across the river under the Tudor Stedham Hall.

5 Stedham Hall

Stedham Hall

We then headed to Woolbeding church for lunch,

8 Woolbeding church

Woolbeding church

and returned to Midhurst for tea provided by the South Downs National Park authority.

I spoke briefly about the need to ensure that post-Brexit agricultural funding pays for new and improved access on paths and freedom to roam—public money for public goods—as well as for restoring lost landscapes such as heath and downland.  This change in public funding could be beneficial to the South Downs.

Thinking about my morning visit to Iping Common I pointed out that the South Downs National Park Authority is currently dependent on Heritage Lottery funding to restore its heaths—the Heathlands Reunited project.  Less than ten per cent of the park’s former heathland remains, and what is left is fragmented.  But we should not have to depend on the lottery to achieve this; such restoration should be financed from agri-environment funding.

The access bodies are getting together to lobby for proper funding for access post-Brexit. We hope to ensure that something good comes out of the current mess.

Posted in Access, Birds, campaigns, commons, National parks, Ramblers, South Downs National Park, walking | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments