Otmoor under threat

On my recent visit to Otmoor RSPB reserve I was alarmed to see posters proclaiming that it is under threat from the proposed Oxford-Cambridge ‘expressway’ (a road which we clearly do not need).


You can read more about the threat here.  Although the route is still vague, it could cut close to the eastern side of Otmoor and have a devastating effect on this wonderful, peaceful habitat.

I have signed the petition and urge you to do so.

Returning warblers
My visit, on the gloriously sunny day of 20 April, was primarily to celebrate the late arrival of spring and drink in the songs of the returning warblers.  I was not disappointed.

On the Roman road bridleway near the car-park I saw my first willow warbler of the year, as well as chiffchaff and blackcap.

Roman Road

Roman road

As I walked the path from the car-park I saw a whitethroat and then, somewhere in Moorleys, I heard a grasshopper warbler.

Groppers here

There’s a gropper here somewhere

Once I was out by the reedbeds I soon heard reed, sedge and Cetti’s warblers, and caught fleeting glimpses of all three.  I thought I heard a garden warbler too.  Others heard lesser whitethroat but I missed them.  So I’ll hope to see them next time.

Near the main hide there was a flock of linnets in the oak trees.

Linnet tree

Linnet trees

A hobby came flying in, to be mobbed by black-headed gulls.  It was early, but there should soon be more.

A bit later I heard a bittern booming in the reedbed, the first time I have heard this amazing foghorn.

Bittern booming

The bittern was booming

In about three hours on that peaceful day I saw 43 species and heard at least another two.  Otmoor is a very special place; it cannot be allowed to suffer from this devastating road scheme.

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The Dartmoor reservoir saga, 40 years ago

Forty years ago, on 20 April 1978, I gave my evidence at the public inquiry into the Roadford reservoir scheme in west Devon.  It was a big event for me as I had been to very few public inquiries before this. 

My turn came on the 25th day of the 28-day long inquiry, held in Okehampton.  I had managed to attend on many days, through negotiation with my long-suffering boss, author Charles Owen.

The inquiry was to examine the South West Water Authority’s (SWWA) preferred site for a reservoir at Roadford, near Broadwoodwidger.

The objectors to the Roadford reservoir included West Devon and Torridge District Councils, the National Farmers’ Union, Country Landowners’ Association, Broadwoodwidger, Stowford and Thrushelton Parish Councils, Peter Mills MP and others.  They claimed that it was good-quality agricultural land (not true) and therefore should be preserved, whereas Dartmoor was expendable.

Roadford Lake by Lewis Clarke

Roadford Lake © Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Because the opponents of Roadford proposed alternative sites on Dartmoor, the amenity bodies had to appear as counter objectors.

I represented the Open Spaces Society (then the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society), Frank Beech appeared for the Dartmoor Preservation Association of which he was secretary, Mervyn Osmond spoke for the Council (now Campaign) for National Parks, and Sylvia Sayer and Lis Hawkins appeared as individuals. The Dartmoor National Park authority was represented by its chief officer, the late Ian Mercer.

Dredged up
As counter objectors, we had no view on the Roadford scheme but we were furious that the objectors had dredged up the proposal for a reservoir at Swincombe, in the heart of southern Dartmoor.  This had been rejected by a parliamentary committee eight years earlier.

Swincombe gorge

Swincombe gorge, the proposed site for the dam

And during the inquiry itself they came up with a further outrageous idea, to create a reservoir at Stengator, near Black Tor Copse national nature reserve.  This is in the wild West Okement valley, which had already suffered from the Meldon Reservoir, opened in 1972.  In no time Meldon had proved to be useless (as its objectors predicted), having failed to provide sufficient water during the 1976 drought.

My friend and archaeologist Colin Kilvington and I made a hurried visit to Stengator a week before I spoke at the Roadford inquiry, so that he could show me some of the ancient monuments there, including tinners’ huts on the Brim Brook.  I photographed them and presented them as part of my evidence.

Tinner's hut Brim brook Guy Wareham

Tinner’s hut on the Brim Brook. ©Copyright Guy Wareham and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

The objectors also proposed a site at Bickleigh, near Plymouth, as a further alternative and this was opposed by Plymouth City Council and South Hams District Council, represented by solicitor Robin Midgley).  SWWA had considered Swincombe and Bickleigh (with Roadford and another site at Townleigh, on the River Thrushel, a tributary of the Tamar) in the early 1970s and had come out in favour of Roadford in 1975.

The inquiry was into a number of issues, including the SWWA’s compulsory purchase order for Roadford, and its appeal against refusal of planning permission by West Devon and Torridge District Councils.  The inquiry inspector was Jack Mercer.  SWWA was represented by David Widdicombe QC and his junior Michael Fitzgerald, while the objecting councils employed Matthew Horton—so there were plenty of lawyers.

My evidence ran to 13 pages and came from the heart.  I said a great deal about the value of Dartmoor’s wilderness where one can find refreshment and relaxation.  I pointed out that the Swincombe scheme had been rejected by parliament in 1970, and averred: ‘we deeply deplore the absurdity of those who return, like hyenas to the kill, in the hope that there might be a fragment of meat left in the argument’.  I explained that Swincombe and Stengator were common land and therefore exchange land must be provided, which was impossible.

W Okement below Stengator

The West Okement below Stengator

I ended with a quote from William Crossing, the great Dartmoor writer:

If these solitudes should be invaded, nowhere in England will the eye be able to look upon a scene in which there is nothing but the handiwork of Nature.  No amount of profit, even supposing they could be made to yield such, would compensate for the loss of their primeval character, and it behoves those who believe there is something of more value to a nation than money to aid in the preservation of these stretches of wild moorland, which have come down to us untouched, and in which we have a glimpse of the world as it was.

‘Dartmoor may no longer be untouched,’ I concluded, ‘but it still fights to survive, and it is for these reasons that we oppose the siting of any further reservoirs on Dartmoor’.

Ter Cross and Swincombe

The Swincombe valley from Ter cross

My diary records that it took me an hour to read my evidence.  I was followed by Sylvia who probably took even longer (I had typed her evidence with my newly-acquired secretarial skills).  I don’t think I was questioned, which would have been a disappointment to me.  On the other hand I was delighted that David France, who was there for the BBC, said to Syl and me that we were the most newsworthy items so far, because we were emotive.  He then proceeded to interview us and I was thrilled to be on Morning South West, the local radio programme, the following morning.

Inspector’s report
The inspector’s report was not published until 6 October 1980.  It was accompanied by a letter on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment (Michael Heseltine, former MP for Tavistock in west Devon).

The inspector recommended the confirmation of Roadford.  He gave little space to the alternative sites, which he rejected.  He said: ‘I do not propose to express a view on the landscaping issue, concerning which it is difficult to avoid an element of subjective judgement, but to confine any comments to the guidance given by government policy on national parks.  From this it is my view that in designating national parks, the intention of the Government was to preserve such areas for the nation as far as possible in their original natural state.’  He went on to quote Department of the Environment circular 4/76.  He considered that a reservoir at Swincombe ‘is no minor peripheral erosion but a major construction in the very heart of Dartmoor.  I consider therefore that the construction of a reservoir at Swincombe would be in complete contrast to the spirit and intention of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and the subsequent recommendations of the National Parks Policies Review Committee.

‘Similar arguments apply to a reservoir at Stengator except that it would be smaller.  However, in this case, further technical doubts arise, as indicated by the inspector’s report on the Meldon Reservoir, and there are problems associated with access.



‘For these reasons, therefore, without debating the issues of landscape, archaeology or delays in procedure, I consider that proposals for alternative reservoir sites within the Dartmoor National Park should receive no further consideration.’  He also rejected Bickleigh.

However Michael Heseltine did not endorse the recommendation but instead deferred the decision until a comparative study had been made of Roadford against Higher Horslett.  This was a site near Holsworthy which was previously rejected by the SWWA because it would take more agricultural land than Roadford, albeit of rather lower quality.

Eventually, in spring 1983, the Secretary of State for the Environment (by then Tom King) finally endorsed Roadford, and rejected any possibility of siting a reservoir on Dartmoor because ‘the Government has a responsibility to retain national parks as far as is possible in their natural state’ and ‘there are reasonable alternative locations to Dartmoor that would have less adverse effect on wildlife and the environment’.  At last, Dartmoor was safe from any more reservoir schemes.

Roadford Lake 2 by Lewis Clark

Roadford Lake © Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Roadford reservoir, now known as Roadford Lake, was opened in 1989.  It is managed by the South West Lakes Trust and is a nature reserve and a visitor attraction in a part of Devon which is often overlooked.

Posted in Open Spaces Society, National parks, Dartmoor, wild country, campaigns, commons | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Glad to see greenfinches

I have gone through the last few years barely hearing or seeing a greenfinch.

Then yesterday (14 April) I did my third visit to Sydenham, Oxfordshire, for the River Thame Conservation Trust, bird survey.  Shortly after I started my walk, in a tree by the church, I heard their plaintive cries.  There were at least four there, mixed with some goldfinches.


The greenfinches were in the tree just to the right of the bus shelter.

Other features of my two-and-a-half-hour walk (see the route here) were at least four yellowhammers in the fields, so I hope they are breeding, and at least ten chiffchaffs and six blackcaps—heard, and easily seen now before the leaves come out on the trees.

Rooks topped my list (25), busily nesting, followed by blue tits (20), robin (15) and great tit (11).  I saw 27 species in all.   A rewarding morning.


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Jerry Pearlman, the ramblers’ advocate

If a Jaguar displaying the licence plate JJP 200 was parked outside the meeting place, you knew you would have an interesting time.  Jerry Pearlman did not attempt to disguise his presence and he would always have something relevant to say.



Jerry was honorary solicitor for the Ramblers for more than 30 years.  He practised as a lawyer in Leeds for 60 years, and while his firm was involved in routine matters, Jerry took on cases in defence of public paths, common land and access to open country.


Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, christmas 2017

Born in 1933 in Redcar in the then North Riding of Yorkshire, Jerry spent his childhood in Keighley and Bishop Auckland where he went walking in the countryside with his father, Sam.  At that time he decided he wanted to be a lawyer and he took a Bachelor of Laws degree from London University.

Jerry and Bernice met on a ramble to Ingleton which he had organised for the Jewish Society in 1957, and they were married in 1961.  They had two daughters, Kate and Debbie, and three grandchildren, Mark, Alex and Jacob.

I first met Jerry on 23 November 1975 at Cator on Dartmoor, the house of Guy and Sylvia Sayer where I encountered so many important figures in our movement.  Jerry had come to Dartmoor to represent the Ramblers at the Sharp inquiry into military training there.  My diary wrongly refers to him as Gerry, but I later learnt that this was not such a heinous error after all.  As his daughter Debbie said at his funeral: ‘There was a slight mix-up with his naming.  His father registered him as Joseph Joshua but he failed to tell his wife who called her new son Gerald.  And thus he was called.  Jerry only found out his real names when he joined the army in 1955 and saw his birth certificate.  Hence he was Jerry with a J, or known to some of us as JJ.’

To return to the Sharp inquiry, Jerry was a formidable opponent then and remained so for many decades—it was always best to be on the same side as Jerry.

I last saw Jerry in October when we fulfilled his long-held desire for a gathering to unveil the plaque on his cottage at Stalling Busk; this commemorates a Ramblers’ meeting there in 1996 to prepare for the freedom-to-roam legislation.

Paddy, Janet, Kate, Jerry with the draft Bill

Paddy Tipping, Janet Street-Porter and Jerry holding the Access Bill which Jerry drafted, outside Jerry’s cottage at Stalling Busk where Janet had just unveiled the plaque, 7 October 2017

Jerry was involved in hundreds of cases, in court and at public inquiries, representing the Ramblers or the Open Spaces Society, these confirmed our rights and clarified the law on paths.

Probably his greatest victory was in the House of Lords, the landmark Godmanchester and Drain case (2007), which set an important precedent for those claiming public paths.  And the case involving the most paths must have been the Ombersley ‘rationalisation’ scheme in the then Hereford and Worcester which threatened to divert more than one hundred paths, defeated by Jerry in 1994.

JJP at Alan's event 3 May 1998 cropped

Jerry speaking at the event at Ribblehead in the Yorkshire Dales to mark Alan Mattingly’s retirement as director of the Ramblers, 3 May 1998

Jerry worked tirelessly to help the Ramblers and me reopen the notoriously blocked ‘Hoogstraten’ footpath in East Sussex, supporting and encouraging me in my decision to go first to the magistrates’ court, and then to the high court and court of appeal where I eventually won.  It was a great day when I donned a hard hat and opened the locked gates with bolt cutters, and much of the success was due to Jerry’s brilliance and persistence.

web bolt cutters 2

Reopening the illegally-blocked Framfield footpath 9

Jerry was a leader in the campaign for the right to roam and drafted the bill which later formed the basis for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; he attended the sessions in parliament as the bill ground its way through, briefing MPs and Peers with clever arguments.  He also exposed the iniquity of inheritance-tax exemption whereby landowners were let off paying tax if they opened their land to the public.  In his 1992 booklet ‘Give us some quo for our quid!’ he showed that the land thus ‘opened’ to the public was largely kept secret by the owners, was tiny in amount and only temporarily available.

On Pen-y-Ghent smaller

Jerry on Pen-y-Ghent with his wife Bernice, daughter Debbie and son-in-law Andrew Hougie, and grandchildren Alex and Jacob

Jerry was a powerful advocate for national parks and especially his beloved Yorkshire Dales.  In 1966 the Pearlmans bought a cottage at Stalling Busk in Raydale, and for 18 years (1983-92 and 1998-2007) Jerry served as a secretary of state appointee on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, a record for this park. His service culminated in a term as deputy chairman.

He was a vice-president of the Ramblers (2005) and president of its West Riding Area (2004), a trustee of the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, a founder member and trustee of the Yorkshire Dales Society, and former chairman of the Open Spaces Society and of the Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Access Forum—to name a few of his many positions.

Grand National
Those who attended Ramblers’ general council in the past will remember Jerry’s interventions, always witty and thought-provoking, often controversial and influential in the debate.

Rucksack summer 1980 JJP

From Rucksack, summer 1980.

He loved gadgets and, in the days before the mobile newsflash, would intervene ‘on a point of information’ to tell us who had just won the Grand National which he had been surreptitiously watching on his tiny television.

grand national

Grand National

In semi-retirement Jerry took up a new career as a cruise-ship lecturer.  He offered a choice of five talks.  Number one was advertised as ‘Some Environmental Legal Nutcases: This is my “lead” lecture telling the story of three unusual individuals who used the law and history to win environmental victories.  It is quite funny and always well received.’

He loved music.  When his youngest grandson, Jacob, was born in 2003 Bernice went to assist Debbie, leaving a spare ticket for Glyndebourne which Jerry offered to me.  The Marriage of Figaro on a summer’s evening with delightful company—who could ask for more?

Jacob (smaller)

Jerry with his grandson Jacob, setting off on his first solo walk from their cottage in Stalling Busk, May 2017

I shall remember Jerry with affection and admiration.  He was clever, witty, opinionated, fun and immensely kind and generous.  He was certainly unique.

Jerry Pearlman, 26 April 1933 – 9 March 2018.

See also the Ramblers’ blog, which has a shorter version of this obituary.  I have also written Other Lives for the Guardian which you can read here.
Posted in Access, campaigns, commons, National parks, Obituary, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The men from St Giles

St Giles’s church in Oxford is commemorating the 18 men from the parish who died in the first world war.  The church stands in the ‘V’ at the junction of the Banbury and Woodstock Roads but it was originally (1086) outside the built-up area of Oxford, in the parish of St Giles.

St Giles church

St Giles’s church, Oxford

Information about each of the 18 men from the parish is displayed on the 100th anniversary of his death.

Thomas Parker George

Thomas George who died on 12 March 1918 aged 48

There is also a map showing where each of them lived,

Where they lived

where they died, and the place of burial or memorial.

Where they died

It is a painstaking and sensitive piece of work.



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Aberdeen ambles

I was in Aberdeen for less than two days for the Ramblers’ Scottish Council in March this year, but I still managed to fit in three walks as well as attending the lively and inspirational indoor sessions.

I arrived on Friday evening and the first walk was on the drizzly Saturday morning, to Hazlehead Park.  This is the largest park in Aberdeen, covering 180 hectares.  It is also one of the oldest properties in the city, originally part of the old hunting forest of Stocket. This land was granted to the city by King Robert the Bruce in 1319 as the Freedom Lands, which were the responsibility of the mediaeval and, later, royal burgh of Aberdeen.

1a Hazlehead park

Hazelhead Park

Near the café there are stones which record episodes in the life of Robert the Bruce.

1 stone

A stone depicting an episode in Robert the Bruce’s life

In the North Sea Memorial Rose Garden there is a moving memorial to the victims of the Piper Alpha oil-rig disaster in 1988.



3 Piper alpha








2 Piper Alpha plaque







Each of the 167 victims is named on the sides of the plinth.

4 Piper Alpha names

At the entrance to the garden is a fine, Gill-like sculpture by Richard Robertson, Freedom with the Dove of Peace (1953).

5 dove of peace

From there we went into Countesswell Woods, which were amazingly tranquil considering they are close to the city.

6 Countesswell Woods

We returned via the Walker Dam, a reservoir reconstructed in the 1830s to provide a water supply for the mills and bleachfields.

The second walk was before breakfast on Sunday, led by Scottish Ramblers’ convenor Alison Mitchell who lives in Aberdeen.

First we visited Johnston Gardens, which is intricately laid out with winding paths to make it seem much bigger than one hectare.

7 Johnston gardens

Johnston Gardens

Then we visited Kepplestone and saw some rather dour houses which sell for around £1 million.

9 expensive houses

Kepplestone Gardens

We passed the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum.

10 gordon highlanders

Gordon Highlanders museum

A bit further on we came to Rubislaw quarry.  Some of us could not resist scrambling up the bank to peak at the quarry through the wire-mesh fence.  We couldn’t see much.

12 quarry

11 quarry






We returned through Rubislaw Park where the Ramblers’ chief executive Van Griffiths and Scottish president Ben Dolphin stopped to make a short video with Danny Carden, Ramblers’ Scotland’s communications and engagement officer.

13 Rubislaw Park

Ben Dolphin, Van Griffiths and Danny Carden make a video in Rubislaw Park

While I waited for them I was delighted to see a grey wagtail by the stream.  It was a nice coincidence since last year I saw my first grey wagtail also at Scottish Council, on the River Annan in Dunblane, where I enjoyed a pre-breakfast walk.

14 grey wagtail

Grey wagtail in Rubislaw Park

Most of the walkers had by now returned to the hotel, but some of us went on to Springbank cemetery.  We wanted to look for Nan Shepherd’s grave which we knew to be there, but we had no idea of the exact location.

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981) was born and died in Aberdeen, but spent much time in the Cairngorms and wrote some significant books including The Living Mountain, her impression of the Cairngorms where she spent much time.  She taught English at the Aberdeen College of Education.

Springbank cemetery
So in a rare bit of sunshine we split up and scoured the large cemetery for half an hour, but without success.  Although that was frustrating, it was a tranquil and restful experience to wander around this quiet spot—a highlight of the weekend.

15 cemetery

Springbank cemetery

The third walk was after Scottish Council had ended, on Sunday afternoon.  We set off in the same direction as for the first walk, and then on to Den Woods.  The apogee was a point which gave us a view of the Cairngorms and of Clachnaben, a hill with a prominent tor which is threatened with the Glendye wind farm.  We had discussed this during the meeting.

16 Cairngorm view

View of the distant Cairngorms

Then we walked down towards Cult and back past a couple of the March Stones.  These mark the boundary of Aberdeen’s Freedom Lands.

17 March Stone

March stone number 11

As we came back towards the city we spotted some roe deer in a field, a nice end to three, short Aberdeen walks.

18 Roe deer

Roe deer, Craigton Road

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Practice for the Big Welsh Walk

I realised on 1 April that it was only two months until Ramblers Cymru’s Big Welsh Walk in Ceredigion.  In a rash moment I signed up for 20 miles, and I can’t remember when I last walked that far.  So definitely time for some practice.

I set off on an eight-mile walk from Turville.  This was the same walk that I did on 26 March last year though this year it was muddier.   I go anti-clockwise, taking in Ibstone church, Hellcorner, the Wormsley valley, Northend and then along the county boundary with Oxfordshire for some distance before heading north-east to Turville Heath and thence to Turville.

The Chiltern hills are generally less steep and numerous than those in Ceredigion, but there were some ups and downs.  The first hill is at the start of the walk.

3 view to Manor Fm

From Park Wood looking west to Manor Farm

I followed the path through Parsonage Wood to Hellcorner.

5 path to Hellcorner

Parsonage Wood

Then I came to the top of the Wormsley Valley.  Thirty years ago I sat here and looked down on Hale Wood where red kites were first introduced.

4 kite

Red kite

Today the view is entirely obscured by secondary growth of ash.

7 top of Wormsley valley

View west from Great Wood at the top of the Wormsley valley

To start with I kept my binoculars in my backpack, the aim being to keep walking.  However, when I reached Hale Wood I heard a bird calling and out came the bins.  I managed to spot a treecreeper, which began to sing (quite like a chaffinch), and there was another one singing further away.

9 where treecreepers were

Hale Wood, treecreeper country

The second hill is the bridleway up to Northend.

10 next hill, to Northend

Looking west from Hale Wood to the track up the hill to Northend

It’s a lovely old track and should probably be recorded at a higher status than bridleway.

11 the old track

Turville bridleway 8

I then walked along the edge of Northend Common and saw my first goldcrest of the year (late, I know).

13 goldcrest tree on Turville Heath

Goldcrest tree on Northend common

As I mentioned last year, Turville footpath 24A, from Northend to the county boundary to the west, has been fenced in.  It seems pointless and has resulted in the path becoming extremely muddy.

14 FP24a muddy and fenced

Turville footpath 24A looking north-east. Mud

The path continues in a straight line, diagonally across part of a field, to join the bridleway on the county boundary at grid reference 728926.  It has been waymarked as a dog-leg along the hedge, an irritating mistake which I have reported to the council.

15 TUR FP24a wrongly waymarked

Wrongly placed, misleading waymark

It was good to see a pair of yellowhammers flying in and out of the hedge.

16 yellowhammer hedge

Yellowhammer hedge

The county boundary used to have hedges on both sides, but these have been reduced to a lone tree.  I am glad it is still there.

19 county boundary looking N

Looking north along the county boundary, Turville bridleway 1A. Oxfordshire is on the left, Buckinghamshire on the right

I followed the county boundary past Turville Park Farm, and then turned north-east up Turville footpath 23.  This path is always marked out with different cultivation either side.  This was the third main hill on the walk.

20 boundary path nr Stonor

Turville footpath 23 runs north-east between the two cultivation types

At the top, a fine oak tree in the field south-east of Turville Park is reminiscent of the old parkland.

22 oak in Turville Park

Oak tree

Some Jacob sheep and lambs were a cheering sight.

22a Jacob sheep

Jacob sheep

And then it was back over Turville Heath, past Turville Court and through the woods to home.

23 nearly home

Nearly home, looking north from the edge of Churchfield Wood above Turville

I certainly could have gone further, but whether I could have done that distance one and a half times over to make the total 20 miles, in hillier country, I’m not sure.  Oh well, there are still two months to go before the challenge of the Big Welsh Walk!



Posted in Birds, Bucks, Chilterns, Public paths, Ramblers, Turville, Wales, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment