Why so silent?

Six months before the last election, environment secretary Hilary Benn was thrilled to confirm the South Downs as a national park; he signed the confirmation papers at Ditchling in East Sussex on 12 November 2009.

Hilary Benn signs the confirming order. Photo: South Downs Society

Hilary Benn signs the confirming order. Photo: South Downs Society 

He knew that this result was badly wanted, the culmination of a 60+-year campaign, and he was proud to be able to deliver the people’s dream of a national park for the superlative South Downs.

From Butser Hill, Hampshire, in the South Downs National Park

From Butser Hill, Hampshire, in the South Downs National Park

As the next Westminster election approaches, ministers have another opportunity to make an extremely popular move.  The extension of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks has been awaiting confirmation for 18 months since the report of the public inquiry, held in June 2012, was passed to ministers. The extensions are supported by 93 per cent of those who responded to the final consultation in 2012.

Limestone pavement, Little Asby Common, proposed for inclusion in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

Limestone pavement, Little Asby Common, proposed for inclusion in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The proposed extensions would link the two parks, embracing the northern Howgills and the exquisite limestone hills around Orton, the Lune Valley and many other superb landscapes which richly deserve such designation.

As the Campaign for National Parks points out, the decision on the park extensions is urgently needed.

Why are ministers sitting on the papers?  Surely they want to have something popular to announce before the election.  These national park extensions are a great opportunity.  Now is the time for them to act for the benefit of us all, before election purdah descends and activity ceases.

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Catch the Canine Culprit campaign

Our open upland and uncultivated landscapes are maintained by grazing animals, but the survival of traditional hill farms is increasingly precarious.  One of the tragedies which farmers face is that of sheep worrying by dogs: sheep and lambs are killed and injured and ewes abort because of uncontrolled dogs.  This is a nationwide problem though few records are kept.

The Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society (DLPS) employs a Livestock Protection Officer, Karla McKechnie, who is on call round the clock working for the welfare of sheep, cattle and ponies on the moor.  She records that last year there were at least 70 sheep attacks by dogs on Dartmoor, but only a fraction of the dogs were caught and owners cautioned. Usually the dogs run off and cannot be traced.

???????????????????????????????It is a losing battle, despite the welcome cooperation of the Tavistock police.  A solution must be found or some farmers may give up grazing the commons.  This will affect their livelihood and the hillfarming community and also have an impact on the landscape and our access there, the biodiversity and archaeology of the uplands.

The DLPS has come up with a brilliant idea.

Simple step
In April 2016 a new law takes effect which will require everyone, with a few exceptions, to have their dog microchipped by the age of eight months.

Threatened lamb by the River Walkham, Dartmoor

Threatened lamb by the River Walkham, Dartmoor

It would be a simple step, at the same time as a dog is microchipped, to make it compulsory that a DNA sample is taken and recorded on a register.  This would mean that if a dog later attacks livestock and then runs off, the DNA which is left on the victim can be matched to that on the register, the dog identified and the owner fined or charged as appropriate.  The effect will be that dog owners are discouraged from allowing their dogs to cause injury because they will know that they can be traced.

Of course it would apply equally to injuries to other stock and to humans.  There have been many terrible incidents of children being mauled by dogs.  DNA registration would lead to owners taking more care and thus better dog behaviour.

Sheep has had ear torn off by dog attack

Sheep has had ear torn off by dog attack

The DLPS is launching its campaign to Catch the Canine Culprit, promoting the idea of compulsory DNA registration.  It needs to persuade ministers to include this in the regulations for microchipping, which have recently been adopted by government (The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015).  It is seeking support from kindred organisations, such as the Dartmoor Commoners Council, the RSPCA and the National Sheep Association.  The Dartmoor Preservation Association has already agreed to back the campaign and there has been coverage in the Farmers’ Guardian and Western Morning News.

Ponies on White Tor, Dartmoor

Ponies on White Tor, Dartmoor

The biotech company Streetkleen has the technology to produce the database of DNA records.  Once the registers are in place, to be held by the local authorities, a swab can be taken from the bitten area of an attacked sheep and the DNA matched with that on the register.

With the forthcoming election, the DLPS will invite parliamentary candidates for Dartmoor constituencies to support the pledge for a new law.  But this campaign is relevant far beyond Dartmoor, so let’s hope that other national parks, welfare groups and farming bodies recognise its merit—for farmers, animals welfare and public access, and that they agree to sign up to compulsory DNA registration for dogs.

Karla McKechnie, Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer

Karla McKechnie, Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer


Posted in campaigns, common land, Dartmoor, Dartmoor livestock, Defra, National parks | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Cash for Cornish Paths campaign

The public path network is the jewel in Cornwall’s crown and it should be the best in the country.  Instead it is being starved of funds, neglected and downgraded.  The Ramblers in Cornwall are well placed to lead the campaign for a better deal for walkers and all path users.

And so, in my capacity as Ramblers’ president, I launched Cornwall Area’s Cash for Cornish Paths campaign at the Area AGM in Marazion last Saturday.

Legal duty
We must persuade Cornwall Council to put more money and resources into the county’s public paths.  The council has a legal duty to ensure that all 2,765 miles of recorded paths are open and usable.  Yet a large number of these routes are blocked, closed or have problems which make them difficult to use.  They are governed by the same laws as our roads and lanes—if they were in the same state as the path network there would be an outcry, yet the paths are just as important.


Unfriendly path near Marazion

Unfriendly path near Marazion

The council is literally shooting itself in the foot.  The paths are the arteries of this beautiful and splendid county.  They are vital for local people, visitors, our health and well-being, the tourism industry and the local economy.

The Ramblers will form a task force to spearhead the campaign to lobby councillors to increase the path budget instead of cutting it year by year.

REACT at work at St Agnes

REACT at work at St Agnes

The Ramblers will team up with other path users—horse riders, carriage drivers and cyclists—all of whom need good paths, and will seek the support of tourist and health bodies and businesses, to make the case to county councillors who hold the purse strings and are responsible for the path network.

The Ramblers are already giving substantial help to the council with its practical path work team, REACT (Ramblers Environment Action Team), saving the council about £20,000 a year and opening up numerous paths, most of which had been blocked for decades.

Path at St Clether before clearance by REACT

Path at St Clether before clearance by REACT

Path at St Clether after REACT has cleared it

Path at St Clether after REACT has cleared it


As we know, paths give great value for money.  A small amount spent on enforcement and opening up the network will bring pleasure to locals and visitors and encourage people to spend money in this lovely county.

It’s time to put cash into paths—it must be good news for Cornwall.

St Michael's Mount

St Michael’s Mount


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A fence too far

In 1878 the Commons Preservation Society opposed the Manchester Corporation’s scheme to make Thirlmere in the Lake District into a reservoir and use the surrounding commons to collect the water.  Since people had always enjoyed free access to the fells, the society feared that the corporation would try to exclude them.  By threatening opposition to the corporation’s private bill the society won a clause to protect free access in exchange for withdrawing its objection.

Thus, section 62 of the Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act 1879 rules that access to the surrounding fells ‘shall not be in any manner restricted or interfered with by the corporation’.

The corporation is now United Utilities which is well aware of the legislation governing this part of its land.  Nevertheless it has applied to the Planning Inspectorate for consent for works on the common, those works consisting of nearly ten kilometres of fencing, right across the common, close to the ridge.  It seems to think that it’s OK merely to provide stiles and gates at normal crossing-points but clearly the fence will restrict and interfere with access and thus be contrary to the legislation.

Ullscarf, close to the proposed fence, looking west to Great Gable.  Photo: Ian Brodie

Ullscarf, close to the proposed fence, looking west to Great Gable. Photo: Ian Brodie

While the aims of United Utilities may be laudable, to reduce grazing to protect the vegetation, prevent erosion and improve the water quality, it cannot ignore the legislation which its predecessor pioneered through parliament.  Even if the Planning Inspectorate does grant consent, the fencing would seem to be unlawful.

The objectors include the Open Spaces Society, Friends of the Lake District, Ramblers and Wainwright Society.  The Lake District Local Access Forum, which advises the national park authority, has expressed deep concern.  It remains to be seen what the national park authority will do, but as the fence conflicts with the 1879 act and the park’s two statutory purposes, and could threaten the park’s pending World Heritage Status, the authority must surely object.

It’s time United Utilities withdrew its application and talked to the objectors about how to resolve the problem.



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

Walkers Are Welcome goes international

I have learnt the joy of walking the footpaths.  Through walking you realise the beauty and abundance of nature.  I would like to spread the culture of walking in Japan.

Left to right: Mr Kosei Hamada, director JFA; Mike Dawson, CEO Tewkesbury Borough Council;   Sheila Talbot, WAW; Jim Mason, Winchcombe Town Council; Ms Izawa Ruriko, JFA and me (WAW Patron)

Left to right: Mr Kosei Hamada, director JFA; Mike Dawson, CEO Tewkesbury Borough Council; Sheila Talbot, WAW; Jim Mason, Winchcombe Town Council; Ms Izawa Ruriko, JFA and me (WAW Patron)

So said Ms Ruriko Izawa, member of the planning committee of the Japan Footpath Association (JFA) at the signing ceremony on 6 February of the friendship agreement between the Walkers Are Welcome Towns Network UK and the JFA.

The Walkers Are Welcome Town of Winchcombe in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was host to the occasion.  This is the first association for Walkers Are Welcome with a country outside the UK.

It is lovely to think that the Japanese want to develop path networks and that they recognise how walking can benefit people’s health and wellbeing as well as the economy.

The signed agreement

The signed agreements

The JFA was established in 2009 to support groups that promote footpath initiatives throughout Japan, such as those in Misato, Kumamoto.

JFA’s press release for the signing event says: We leaned that in the United Kingdom it was when tired workers looked for more humane living after the Industrial Revolution that the footpath activities blossomed.  In Japan people realised after the Economic Bubble Burst of 1991 that happiness cannot be brought by economical success.

Map from walks guide to Misato region

Map from walks guide to Misato town

The Japanese are concerned about rural depopulation and the association wants to support groups that are active in the communities of declining rural areas to promote their path networks.  They also want to help groups in regions affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in the east, where the government has established a national park as part of the green reconstruction with a trail, over 700 km long, along the affected coast (see my blog on Ramblers’ website).  It would be excellent to develop paths connecting the trail with the inland towns.

In the friendship agreement JFA and Walkers Are Welcome (WAW) pledge to co-operate to create a culture of walking and establish a global network that welcomes walkers.  JFA may use the WAW logo and may accredit Japanese towns as WAW towns.  The agreement was signed in Japan by the JFA’s president, Joichi Ishizaka, who unfortunately could not be with us, and in Winchcombe by Sheila Talbot of the WAW committee and our international ambassador.

Japan FP Ass logo

WAW logo








Kosei and Sheila shake on the agreement

Kosei and Sheila shake on the agreement


Also present were researchers from the university of Kitakyushu and Ryukoko University, and a helpful interpeter, Mikako Ichimura from Kyoto University.  Rob Morris from Natural England joined the group to talk about access issues in England.

Left to right: Dr Hiroki Nakamura. Mr Kosei Hamada, Dr Akira Uchida,  Ms Izawa Ruriko, Dr Tatsuya Suzuki, Dr Yuji Hirokawa and Ms Mikako Ichimura

Left to right: Dr Hiroki Nakamura. Mr Kosei Hamada, Dr Akira Uchida, Ms Izawa Ruriko, Dr Tatsuya Suzuki, Dr Yuji Hirokawa and Ms Mikako Ichimura

Sheila, who with her husband Rob, is a leading light of Winchcombe WAW, wished the JFA every success and said that she hoped the agreement and the project would bring prosperity to the Japanese towns and would lead to exchange visits with the UK.

web FP signJim Mason, borough councillor, chairman of Winchcombe Town Council and member of the town’s WAW committee said:  It’s a great honour for the town of Winchcombe to host this historic moment.  I wish you all success.  Walkers Are Welcome has revolutionised our town’s businesses.

Mike Dawson, chief executive of Tewkesbury Borough Council added:  ‘The Walkers Are Welcome project is about people and communities.  In Winchcombe we have a fantastic community which welcomes people for the benefit of all.  It’s a pleasure for the borough council to be able to support communities like this.  I hope in Japan your councils can support your movement as well.’

We cut a cake which Sheila had made to celebrate the event.  Later our guests set off for a walk round the town and then, despite the cold weather, marched to the top of Cleeve Hill.

web cake

We wish our Japanese colleagues every success in promoting Walkers Are Welcome and look forward to many more visits.


JFA's footpath leaflet

JFA’s footpath leaflet



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Pat walks on

A year ago today, on 5 February 2014, I marked the 97th birthday of Pat Wilson, much-loved vice-president and Medway correspondent of the Open Spaces Society.  

Pat Wilson

Pat Wilson, August 2013

It is tragic that Pat did not live to see her 98th birthday: she died last April.  She is greatly missed.  But it’s good to know that there are many reminders of Pat in the Kent countryside on the paths she loved.

I have already mentioned the finger-post for Pat, pointing along the wild Bowling Alley on the Weald Way at Luddesdown, where she participated in the successful battle against military occupation in 1984.

Pat's daughter Hilary Hunt at the signpost on the Weald Way, Luddesdown

Pat’s daughter Hilary Hunt at the signpost on the Weald Way, Luddesdown

Now the Meopham and District Footpaths Group, of which Pat was founder and president, has erected a plaque at the delightfully-named ‘Scratch Arse Corner’.  This was the inspiration of the group’s tireless chairman, Ken Dare, and is at the junction of byway NS287 and footpath NS232 near Chandler’s Hill, Priestwood in Kent (grid reference TQ 653/645).  The plaque bears a poem in honour of Pat by group member Alan Smith.

The poem at Scratch Arse Corner

The poem at Scratch Arse Corner

The spot is significant.  When Pat first lived at Priestwood she knew little about public paths.  In 1961 a landowner blocked the footpath at Scratch Arse Corner with corrugated iron, chain-link fencing, barbed wire and more.  Pat was furious.  She first had to claim the path for the definitive map, which she had never done before, and she learnt on the job.  She won and the path was eventually cleared.  This battle led to the formation of the Meopham group, to survey the local paths and campaign for them to be reopened and recorded.

Close by, at the junction of Whitehill Road, Meopham, and footpath NS 261 (grid reference TQ 647/652), Ken and the Meopham Group, in collaboration with Pat’s daughters Hilary Hunt and Jo Rose-Wilkins, have arranged for a kissing-gate to replace the stile.  This path runs along Happy Valley, between Meopham and Priestwood where Pat used to live; she must have used this path regularly.

The old stile

The old stile

The new kissing-gate

The new kissing-gate








The rail alongside the kissing-gate bears Pat’s name, and inscribed on the wooden box-structure are the words ‘Freedom to walk, freedom to think’.

web Pat's gate

I was particularly pleased to see these words as they are (more or less) the translation of the inscription on ‘my’ gate on Cobstone Hill, Turville: Libertas spatiandi: libertas cogitandi (see my blog).  Hilary tells me that they found an article about this which Pat had cut out and kept in her personal papers.  I am flattered.

Those of us who knew Pat will never forget her.  Those who come after will be prompted to learn about this feisty campaigner who fought for paths and open spaces throughout Kent and Medway for more than 50 years.


Pat at her 90th birthday party in 2007

Pat at her 90th birthday party in 2007


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‘Recognisably regional, not harshly alien’

The first Dartmoor building guide was published in January 1956 but its foreword, by Lord Strang (then chairman of the National Parks Commission), was written 60 years ago today, 3 February 1955.  It must have taken some time to produce the book.

The book, Dartmoor: Building in the National Park, was inspired (and possibly partly written) by the then chairman of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, Sylvia Sayer.  She wrote in the DPA newsletter, December 1955:

img386In January, the Architectural Press are publishing (for the Dartmoor National Park Committee) a little illustrated book which briefly and clearly sets out the principles of siting, the types of design and the kinds of building materials that are suitable for new buildings in the Dartmoor National park so that these shall ‘express themselves politely in accents that are recognisably regional, and not harshly alien to an ancient and honourable tradition’ [she was quoting the architect Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis].  There is a crying need for such a book. 

Houses and bungalows of sadly ‘subtopian’ design, and utterly lacking in Dartmoor character or identity, have invaded the border areas of the national parks in the last two or three decades, and have crept even into the moorland villages and hamlets of the uplands.  Many of the designs and plans sent up to the Dartmoor National Park Committee for planning approval show little sign of respect for the building tradition of the region; indeed, their senders do not seem to know that Dartmoor had a building tradition at all (‘I want to put a house here and I want it to look like this; and the landscape can take care of itself’).

The drawing is of the Dewerstone Rock, at the meeting of the Rivers Meavy and plym on south-west Dartmoor, taken from the frontispiece of Amid Devonia's Alps by William Crossing

The drawing is of the Dewerstone Rock, at the meeting of the Rivers Meavy and Plym on south-west Dartmoor, taken from the frontispiece of Amid Devonia’s Alps by William Crossing

I love the eloquence of Lord Strang’s foreword: ‘Man must build, even in in national parks; and the beauty of Dartmoor, the space and silence of its uplands and the charm of its villages and border towns, have made it not only a favourite resort for holidays but also a place where people want to make their homes.’  The precepts are ‘set forth so simply and persuasively, and in such a friendly way’ in the booklet: houses should respect the local tradition, they should be inspired by and contribute to the individual character of the region, and ‘while drawing upon local tradition they need not slavishly copy it; there is room for experiment’.

The line-drawings and clear monotone photographs add to the attractiveness of the book, it does not need full colour to make its points.

Sylvia Sayer's house, Old Middle Cator,a traditional Dartmoor longhouse which features in the book

Sylvia Sayer’s house, Old Middle Cator,a traditional Dartmoor longhouse which features in the book

The book advocates simplicity: The design of the old Dartmoor farmhouses, outbuildings, cottages and inns was as simple, as straightforward and uncomplicated as Dartmoor itself; there is no ornamentation, no fussiness, no striving for effect.  They have a quality of massiveness and ruggedness, of enduring strength, solidity and shelter, which is both delightful and comforting.

It ends with a useful summary of dos and don’ts.

Some don'ts

Some don’ts

At that time, Sylvia was doing battle with the Devon County Council director of planning Geoffrey Clarke, who was responsible for planning in the Dartmoor National Park (it did not then have its own staff).  They locked horns over the exploitation of Dartmoor for china clay extraction.

Recommended colours

Recommended colours

The little 64-page booklet sets out very clearly the way to go about considering what should and should not happen in the national park, with its neat drawings,  photos and recommended-colour palettes.  It is written in straightforward, jargon-free language.

img391It holds its head high alongside today’s detailed and colourful Dartmoor National Park Design Guide (November 2011).  This too is written well, but the emphasis is different: phrases like ‘sustainability’ and ‘climate change’, ‘low carbon’ and ‘embodied energy’ were not in use in the 1950s.  It also has to tackle innovations such as solar photovoltaic panels.

It’s a more complicated world today, but I feel sure that the original Dartmoor building guide provided a secure foundation for the many guides which followed—for Dartmoor and other protected landscapes.


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