Flawed at Fawley

On Thursday 2 July I decided to take a stroll on the Buckinghamshire side of the River Thames on Fawley footpath 12.  It runs from Henley along the west bank of the river, across a stream on a footbridge, and a meadow with a fine view of the magnificent seventeenth-century Fawley Court (which, with its 27 acres of grounds, is valued at £22 million).  It then enters Temple Island Meadow site of special scientific interest and joins the A4155 Marlow road.

Fawley Court from the footpath

Fawley Court from the footpath

Henley regatta was in full flow.  When I reached the meadow after the footbridge I found a sign, ‘Private property, no trespassers’, and a blue rope funnelling walkers around the edge of the field.

Photo 1, misleading sign


Naturally I kept walking on the definitive path straight across the meadow, and was accosted by two security men from Dynamic Protection who claimed that I was trespassing and that they had permission to close the path.  They were hazy about who had given the permission, speculating that it was Wycombe District Council, and they had no idea of the legislation under which the closure was alleged to have been approved.  So I kept walking.

The route was obstructed by parked cars and garden clobber, and there was a stage constructed between the path and the river.

Obstructions, looking north

Obstructions, looking north

Obstructions, looking south

Obstructions, looking south







I walked back again, ignoring the protestations of the security men.  Naturally I complained to Bucks County Council (BCC) rights-of-way department, who said they knew nothing about it.

The next day a member of BCC rights-of-way staff told me that the highways and traffic department had in fact dealt with the closure application from the Fawley estate, without telling them.  I was astonished by this strange and discourteous behaviour.

Nasty legislation
Meanwhile I discovered that the order had been made under section 16A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which is a nasty piece of legislation enabling paths to be closed for special events.  There are no regulations and guidance for this section.  I asked the council how it justified making an order, why it had not consulted the organisations which have to be consulted about proposals under the Highways Act and Wildlife and Countryside Act, whether it had obtained the consent of the Secretary of State for Transport (as is necessary for closures of more than three days) and other questions.

It took some days to get a coherent response from BCC but eventually I heard from Sarah Davis BSc (Hons), TMA Support Officer (I think TMA stands for Traffic Management Act).

She apologised for initially making the order under the wrong section of the 1984 act (section 14 instead of 16A).  She said they did get the consent of the transport secretary.  There were no guidelines for section 16A and no requirement to consult or to advertise the closure.  She claimed to have emailed ‘various internal and external organisations including the generic mailbox for the rights-of-way team.  Unfortunately this has flagged that this process is not necessarily infallible and we are now reviewing our process.’  It is curious that none of those who were apparently emailed actually received anything.

Relevant event?
I have asked how the council could be satisfied that the tests in section 16A were met.  The event must be a ‘relevant event’ ie any sporting event, social event or entertainment which is held on a road (which includes footpaths).  This was not held on ‘a road’, but next to it.  Then, the council must be satisfied that the traffic should be restricted or prohibited to facilitate the holding of a relevant event, to enable members of the public to watch the event, or to reduce the disruption to traffic likely to be caused by the event.

Fawley footpath 12 by the river

Fawley footpath 12 by the river

The event was private, and it did not need to interfere with the footpath at all.  It seems that it did not fulfil the necessary criteria.  I have asked whether council staff visited the site to assess the application.

The closure was claimed to be in connection with Henley regatta.  This runs from 1 to 5 July, but the closure was from 27 June to 10 July.  Even if the closure was justified under the criteria, it surely does not take five days to erect and dismantle a marquee.

There is a requirement to post notices on site to inform the public.  According to my friend David Parry (who keeps a close watch on the paths along the river especially during the regatta and subsequent festival), after he, I and others had complained, a flimsy piece of paper was pinned to the path.  This failed to state the relevant legislation, it was unsigned, there was no map and the alternative route was not signed on the ground.  So it was pretty useless.

It is very important that the processes are followed, because breach of such an order is a criminal offence.  However, I was not trespassing on 2 July because the law had not been followed in closing the path.

It really is time the government produced some regulations and guidance for section 16A which make consultation, advertisement and adherence to the criteria statutory requirements.

Bucks County Council has a good record on public rights of way, but now much of the work on highways has been transferred to a private company, Ringway Jacobs.  While the rights-of-way staff continue to work tirelessly and cheerfully in difficult circumstances, they have been seriously let down by the traffic people who seem ignorant of the law and have not followed due process.

I still intend to get to the bottom of what happened this year, and to ensure that, if the Fawley estate wants to close the path next year, there is a proper investigation and full public consultation so that there is no more highway robbery.

Posted in Bucks, Henley-on-Thames, Public paths, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Not so benign?

Last week I went to a reception at the House of Lords to celebrate England’s national parks. It was held in the Attlee Room, under the shrewdly benign gaze of Clem Attlee whose portrait hung on the wall.  Since he was prime minister at the time of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, this seemed entirely appropriate.

Clem Attlee

Clem Attlee

I recalled an event organised by the Outdoor Industries’ Association in 2012 in the Strangers’ dining room.  There hangs a fine painting of Chequers by Marcus May, who was commissioned to paint official residences.  That too was relevant for the event, for it features Beacon Hill behind Chequers where, with some difficulty, we won the freedom to roam under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Chequers by Marcus May, with Beacon Hill behind

Chequers by Marcus May, with Beacon Hill behind

Last week’s reception, called Love your national parks, was organised by National Parks England. Unusually (and refreshingly) there was no ministerial speech or politicians’ pap, it was just a good opportunity to meet parliamentarians, national park chairmen and women, national park officers and other like-minded people.

Seven Sisters, South Downs National Park

Seven Sisters, South Downs National Park

We were reeling from the announcement that day that the government will not call in the decision on potash mining in the North York Moors National Park after the authority decided, by one vote, to allow it.  The Campaign for National Parks is leading the coalition, which includes the Open Spaces Society and Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), against the world’s largest potash mine in one of our top landscapes.  There was a certain hypocrisy about being exhorted to ‘love your national parks’. We must do much more than merely love them, we must fight for them too.

Clem Attlee might not have looked so benign had he known of this threat to his government’s creation.



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Back to Barossa

At the end of June I returned to the usual meeting place for the nightjar survey on the Surrey heaths near Camberley.  About 20 volunteers met by the cattle-grid at the end of King’s Ride at 7.45 on Sunday 28 June.  James Herd, manager of the Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Manor Farm, Barossa and Poor’s Allotment reserves, divided us into small groups and gave us maps of our territory for the evening.

The map I used for the nightjar survey, boundary of my zone in black, suggested walk in yellow

The map I used for the nightjar survey, boundary of my zone in black, suggested walk in yellow

Most of the volunteers are local, but I like to visit a different habitat from the Chilterns. This is usually my only chance of seeing heathland birds such as nightjars, woodlark, Dartford warblers and tree pipit, and I really enjoy it.

Saddleback Hill
I was in a group with three others, Mike Whitaker, Roger Murphy and his daughter Rosie. We walked across our site, which was the nearest to the start point, taking in Saddleback Hill, and looked out over the heath with its pine trees.  We heard a tree pipit’s song and I would have loved to have seen it, but it was not visible.



IMG_4297We came across the belted galloway cattle which are grazing the land to maintain the heathland. Then in the gathering dusk we split up to record the nightjars churring. This normally starts at about 9.45pm.

I was with Mike and first we heard (briefly) then saw a roding woodcock.  That was at 9.45. Then at 9.47 we heard our first nightjar churring some way off.  At 10.04 we heard one close by in a single pine tree and I got a fleeting glimpse of it, which was thrilling as I rarely see them.

The sunset was impressive as we walked back towards Saddleback Hill and met Roger and Rosie on the top.  We could hear nightjars on both sides of the hill.  So we reckoned that in total we heard at least three.


We returned to the rendezvous at 10.45 to pool our results.  A few days later James sent us the map showing our findings.  He reported that this year the numbers were down to 22 from 30 last year, but this is only a snapshot and some birds may have paired up already and not been churring.

The results for 2105

The results for 2105

James will not be organising the survey next year: he is moving jobs to become the Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Commercial Development Officer.  This is a sad sign of the times: Surrey County Council, which contracts Surrey Wildlife Trust to manage its reserves, is wanting both to save money and to make money from its estate, aiming for a self-financing countryside by 2021.  Consequently, Surrey Wildlife Trust is looking at how to raise money while remaining true to its purpose: a tough assignment.  So we can only wish James luck with this tricky task.

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Perfect party

It may be a cliché, but my (belated) fiftieth birthday party, ten years ago on 16 July 2005, was a perfect day.

My friend Marion Saunders had offered to host it at Hillbridge Farm, near Peter Tavy on western Dartmoor.   I had known and loved the farm for the past 40 years.  There could be no better location.

I was up at 6.30.  I was sleeping on the floor of the conservatory as the house was full and it was like camping without the discomfort.  The sun was already pouring in and I ran down to the river for a swim, icy cold at that time of day with the mist still rising from the water. On my way back I met Hazel Perham, who had slept in her car in the front field, heading out in search of breakfast.

Getting ready
With invaluable help from many friends we spent the morning getting everything ready, moving ponies up the farm so they were out of the way, arranging strawbales as seats and setting up tables and barbeques.

People began arriving from about 1 pm for the walk at 2 pm.  Others, who were not walking, came later.  I was pleased to have at least one representative from each stage of my education: prep school, boarding school and university, and many whom I had met through my work with the Ramblers throughout the country.

Setting off, Jo Spratley and Jack Burling leading the way

Setting off, Jo Spratley and Jack Burling leading the way

Richard Lloyd Jones from Cardiff had asked if he could ‘bring a friend’.  When he arrived I found that the friend was Helen Yewlett whom I knew from the Countryside Council for Wales board, and that they were engaged.  It was a great start to the party!

After I had given a little introductory talk, we set off down the front drive, over the Hill Bridge and up through the fields known as ‘Coffins’, giving David Palmer’s South Devon bull a wide berth. Fortunately, he was happily occupied with his cows.


We continued up through Wapsworthy and stopped at the Moor Gate for everyone to catch up.

Moor gate

Moor Gate

Then we began the long slow climb up White Tor where again we had a stop, to enjoy the incomparable view, from Bodmin Moor round to Tavy Cleave.

White Tor

White Tor

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been published that day so some people had their minds on other things

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been published that day so some people had their minds on other things

We continued towards Stephen’s Grave and along the track to the bridleway above Twist.

Heading down from White Tor, like nomads in the desert

Heading down from White Tor, like nomads in the desert

We reached the lane at Cudlipptown and went down through the fields to Horndon Clam, and back along the River Tavy, walking upstream.  Little did I know that, six years later, I would be buying the land through which we walked, Common Wood.

When we came to the swimming pool, where I had swum that morning, people swam and sat on the sunbaked rocks.

kate'sparty 049

Then it was back to the farm for tea and drinks, and an excellent barbeque and to greet many more friends who had not walked with us.

wirecuttersMarion had made me a cake with a wire fence around it and supplied  wire-cutters to cut my way in, symbolic of some of my past exploits with blocked paths!  And of course I made a speech.  It was a chance to thank everyone, especially Marion, and to remember Dee Ivey who had owned Hillbridge for many years but, sadly, had died two years earlier.  She would have been thrilled to see Hillbridge being enjoyed by so many.

Some people camped on the farm, and we sat up late in the garden, chatting under the stars.

I was so fortunate to be able to hold my party at Hillbridge, in wonderful weather, with more than 70 of my friends.  A day to remember.


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‘A bloodless coup’

Another anniversary!  Today, 9 July, the Open Spaces Society holds its AGM exactly 30 years after the AGM on 9 July 1985 when, for the only time in its 150-year history, the society booted out its president.

That president was the late Earl of Onslow, elected in 1982 largely on the grounds that his family had been generous in giving land, including commons, in and around Clandon Park in Surrey, to the National Trust.

Military training on Salisbury Plain

Military training on Salisbury Plain

He was not present at the AGM and one would have expected his re-election to have been a routine affair.  However, the minutes record that after Onslow had been proposed, ‘Mr Christopher Hall, Mr Alan Mattingly [then director of the Ramblers] and others stated their opposition in view, they said, of Lord Onslow’s expressed sympathy for the expansion of military training on open country and the introduction of laws of criminal trespass [which were being promoted by the Country Landowners’ Association].  On a vote, the resolution that Lord Onslow be re-elected president was lost by 17 votes to 18.’  Lord Onslow had indeed represented the society on a recent military briefing on Salisbury Plain.

Unfortunately, due to a muddle, no one told Lord Onslow of his fate and he learnt of it from the Guardian Diary of 16 July, in which John Cunningham wrote:

Good to see that the Open Spaces Society is living up to the libertarian tradition of one of its founders, J S Mill.  The society has just kicked out its president, the Earl of Onslow.  So sure of unopposed re-election was Onslow that he didn’t bother to attend the society’s AGM.  The bloodless coup came when the editor of the Countryman—unlikely saboteur Chris Hall—pointed out that Onslow approved the Army’s expanding use of Salisbury Plain.  At a recent army briefing to soften up conservationists in Wilts, the gallant earl said, ‘I do not see how any reasonable person could disagree with the case presented.’  All reasonable people will be glad that the public-spirited Onslow will now be able to devote more time to his role as a governor of the University of Buckingham.

The society has steered clear of presidents ever since.

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Clash over champagne and caviar

While champagne and caviar were being quaffed at Henley Regatta, 25 years ago today (8 July 1990), representatives of the Open Spaces Society exercised their rights of passage through the hospitality tents.

The tents and enclosures, which were leased by Palmer Jeffrey and Company Corporate Hospitality, were pitched across public footpath Fawley number 12, on the Buckinghamshire bank of the River Thames.  The public had the right to walk through the tents and over the champagne-laden tables, but the path was also blocked by walls of canvas with no openings.

The culprits were Simmons and Sons, the Henley estate agents, who pegged out the tents and enclosures over the path.

I walked the path a number of times during the regatta, accompanied first by a camera crew from Television south, and then, on the afternoon of Sunday 8 July, by a photographer from the Bucks Free Press.  He had his camera ready when the tents’ lessees threatened to throw me in the river.  It was a hot day and a plunge would have been refreshing, but I warned them that they would be filmed assaulting me.  So they refrained from doing so.


Altercation.  Photo: Bucks Free Press

Bucks County Council considered prosecuting Simmons but decided against it when it received an abject apology.  As far as I know, Simmons didn’t obstruct the path again.

The same spot at the regatta in 2015

The same spot at the regatta in 2015

 I was pleased to get local and national publicity for my walk (below are articles from the Bucks Free Press, South Oxfordshire Chronicle and Evening Standard).  The Henley Standard did not report it.

Henley regatta press Jul 1990


Posted in Access, Bucks, campaigns, Henley-on-Thames, Open Spaces Society | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A city on foot

Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway used to be a roaring six-lane highway on the south side of Boston.  Now it is a quiet green space, with flower beds and seats.  And it is an excellent space for art.

I was fortunate to be in Boston when Janet Echelman’s amazing sculpture, As If It Were Already Here, was on display, suspended over the greenway.

sculptureMade of hand-spliced, ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene (UHMWPE) and braided high-tenacity polyester fibres, it is strung between buildings and lit at night. We saw it both by day and night, and it was completely different on the two occasions and it changes every moment.  It will remain until October 2015.

When one element moves so do the others.  It is immensely strong yet delicate as lace as it sways in the breeze.

sculpture 2

9 sculpture






The artist explains that the sculpture spans a space where the highway once split downtown from its waterfront.  There are three voids in the sculpture which represent the ‘tri mountain’ which was razed in the eighteenth century to create land from the harbour. The colour banding is a reference to the six-lane highway, interstate 93, which was buried in the Big Dig, a megaproject whose construction phase lasted from 1999 to 2006 and was the most expensive highway project in the USA.   The greenway was created on top of the highway, contributing to Boston’s network of parks and green spaces.

Greenway sign

Janet says that the sculpture embraces Boston as a city on foot, and certainly this area of downtown is now a pleasant place to linger and walk.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway has grown up a lot since I visited it in 2011.

Greenway 2011

Greenway 2011

Fort Channel Park


It is likely that this sculpture is providing a boost to nearby restaurants, from which people can watch the ever-changing shapes and colours.


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