They will not be moved: Save Beeliar Wetlands

Every evening, when I think it is bedtime, I am waylaid by the Facebook stories which pop up from Western Australia.  There it is early morning and the campaigners against the Roe 8 highway are gearing themselves for yet another day’s fight against the assault on their treasured Beeliar Wetlands.


Beeliar Wetlands. Photo: Jess Hall

I wrote earlier about the court cases against the Roe 8 highway near Fremantle.  On 9 January the intrepid Save Beeliar Wetlands (SBW) lost its appeal in the federal court into the environmental offsets which must be provided to mitigate the loss of the Carnaby Cockatoo’s habitat.  The court claimed it had no power to compel the state government to comply with national environmental conditions.  This seems incomprehensible and incredibly feeble.

Kate Kelly, convenor of SBW, gave a robust retort: ‘It appears that there is nobody who can hold the government to account for meeting its own conditions, other than the community, and that is what we will do.’

Fearless and determined
And so they are, in ever-increasing numbers, fearless and determined.  They lock themselves onto diggers, they climb trees, they pull down the fences.  According to the Roe 8 management plan, those fences should only have been  erected after the animals within had been trapped and removed.  The developers have breached yet another rule and now there are countless dead animals within the site.


The campaigners were encouraged that their 1,000-strong protest on 12 January stopped work that day for about five hours, and they are slowing the diggers’ destruction of the wetlands.  They aim to hold off that devastation until the state election on 11 March.  If Labor or the Greens are elected in place of the Liberals, the road will be halted.

This a fine example of people power defending an irreplaceable landscape and habitat, the home of the Noongar people.


The rally on 12 January. Photo: Wetland Defenders

See here for a great video countering all the arguments given for building the Roe 8 highway.

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Village hall crammed

Dorchester on Thames village hall was crammed.  People poured in, from Dorchester, Little Wittenham and the surrounding communities in south Oxfordshire, to pledge their support for the fight to save their open spaces and paths.


Becky Waller addresses the gathering while people fill in their questionnaires

There were not enough chairs, many of the 180 present had to stand.  They heard from Dorchester resident Becky Waller and me (for the Open Spaces Society) about how they can assert their rights which are being challenged by the landowner, Andrew Reid, with his fencing on land between Dorchester and the River Thames.

We explained how they can register their open spaces as village greens and protect their paths.  Some of the landowner’s lackies were lurking at the back of the hall.  They will have something to tell Mr Reid—that he is in for a bitter fight if he persists.


Dyke Hills, where people have long roamed free

The meeting was extremely well organised.  After our explanations, the group handed out evidence questionnaires for people to confirm their use of Dyke Hills and Day’s Lock Meadow for informal recreation. Many took questionnaires to give to friends who walk regularly in the area.  At the end we answered questions and people left feeling upbeat.

Once the evidence has been gathered, the campaigners will submit the village green applications to Oxfordshire County Council and consider applying to record some of the blocked paths which have been omitted from the definitive map.

With such a phalanx of feisty opponents, Mr Reid had better look out.


Posted in Access, green spaces, National trail, Obstructed path, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, town and village greens, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fenced-out at Dorchester on Thames

The village leaflet for the historic Dorchester on Thames in Oxfordshire describes three short walks. Two of them go south from the village to the River Thames, one via the River Thame and the other direct to Day’s Lock on the Thames Path National Trail.





The weir at Day’s Lock










But those walks, in the shadow of Wittenham Clumps on the far side of the river, are no longer across an open, untrammelled  landscape. Thanks to the activities of the new owner of Bishop’s Court Farm, former UKIP treasurer Andrew Reid, walkers are fenced in and constrained.


New fencing alongside public footpath leading to the confluence of the Rivers Thame and Thames

He is clearly aware that his actions are unpopular; this notice has gone up in the last month.


On Tuesday evening (10 January), on behalf of the Open Spaces Society, I shall help to launch a campaign in Dorchester to restore people’s rights to the paths and spaces south of the village.

Mr Reid has put up barbed-wire fencing across paths which people have used for decades, he has filched the width of some of the existing recorded routes, and has restricted access to popular open spaces including the magnificent Dyke Hills, a significant iron-age earthwork and scheduled ancient monument.


Dyke Hills, where people have long roamed free

On 1 November Oxfordshire County Council received notices from Mr Reid declaring that he accepted no routes on his land as public highways other than those on the definitive map (section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980), and that he was bringing to an end any period during which the public might have enjoyed informal recreation on any part of his land (section 15A(1) of the Commons Act 2006).  These declarations constitute a challenge to people’s use of any routes as of right, and to any land as a village green (land on which local people have enjoyed informal recreation for 20 years without being stopped or asking permission).

Ticking clock
The declarations set the clock ticking in the case of land which might be eligible for registration as a village green: local people have until 31 October 2017 to gather evidence and put in an application to Oxfordshire County Council for greens on Mr Reid’s land. They intend to apply to register as greens land at the eastern end of the Dyke Hills, and the meadow close to Day’s Lock, which have been fenced off. They have evidence of use of both areas for the past 20 years.

As for the paths, they aim to apply to record the full width of the paths which are already shown on the definitive map, with the aim of getting the fencing moved off the public highway, and they want to claim other, unrecorded routes which have been obstructed by fencing.


The fencing has reduced the width of the footpath


Unrecorded path across field has been obstructed







At the public meeting on Tuesday evening people will come with memories of their enjoyment of the land and use of the paths.  With the local activists, I shall lend a hand to those wishing to complete evidence forms and will help to give the campaign a good start.


Posted in Access, green spaces, National trail, Obstructed path, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, town and village greens, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The road to nowhere: save Beeliar Wetlands

Campaigners against the Roe 8 highway in Western Australia (WA) are celebrating the news that Labor MP Mark McGowan, leader of the opposition in the WA parliament, has announced that Labor will cancel the road scheme if it is elected in March.  Now the campaigners need to ensure that the current premier, Liberal Colin Barnett, does not allow more destruction to occur before the election—and they are trying every tactic: court action, peaceful direct-action, petitions, the lot.

The government wants to drive a four-lane, five-kilometre highway through the irreplaceable Beeliar Wetlands, south of Fremantle near Perth.  The Beeliar Regional Park is on the Interim List of the Register of the National Estate, its vegetation communities are of international and national significance.  The park consists of two chains of wetlands made up of 26 lakes and wetlands stretching 25 kilometres along the coast and covering an area of about 3,400 hectares.


These are the remnants of the once extensive wetlands in the Swan coastal plain, which have been largely bulldozed to allow for development.  This ecosystem supports the endangered Carnaby’s cockatoo and Rainbow bee-eater, among many other rare species, and is a rich diversity of habitats, being wetland with connecting bushland.


Carnaby’s cockatoo

It is the home of the indigenous Noongar people, who hunted and fished here for generations, and has immense social, cultural and aesthetic significance.  The Noongar, for years harassed by governments, feel desperate that their lands are being stolen; see here for an appeal to the Australian government from a local Noongar woman, Corinna Abrahams.


These wetlands are a fine example of the commons which I learn about at international conferences and which we must protect, for those who live there and those who visit.

The Roe 8 extension is part of the $1.6 billion Perth Freight Link, the largest road-infrastructure project ever to be undertaken in Western Australia; it has backing and funding from the national government.  Roe 8, which would run between the towns of Jandakot and Coolbellup, is intended to provide a transport corridor between the industrial area of Perth and the port at Fremantle.  Despite the environmental importance of the Beeliar Wetlands, the government claims the road will not have a serious impact and that the plans for mitigation are adequate.

Successive governments have known that the environmental arguments against the scheme are powerful, but chose to ignore them, continuing to develop the plan and spend massive sums on it before they had the necessary permissions.  In September 2013 the Environmental Protection Authority, which should know better, recommended approval but there were 165 appeals.

In July 2015 the state government confirmed that conditional environmental approval had been granted, but the pressure group, Save Beeliar Wetlands (SBW), challenged this.  In December 2015 SBW won in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the environmental approvals by the Environmental Protection Agency were invalid.  The Court of Appeal overturned this in August 2016 and on 16 December SBW was refused leave to appeal.  (The Australian court system is different from ours, with the High Court being the highest court.)

Constant watch
Meanwhile, protestors who keep a constant watch on these precious lands and camp around the perimeter, got word that the bulldozers might move in.  They were right: on 6 December the police issued ‘move-on’ notices to protestors.


On 19 December a huge swathe of the bush was cleared—despite the high temperatures, over 40 degrees centigrade, when such activity would normally be banned because of the severe fire risk and threat to the fauna inhabiting the bush.  The protestors have stood in the way, chained themselves to fences and generally tried to stop the work.

But the Liberal government seems hell-bent on getting on with the destruction before the election.  Labor and the Greens are opposed.  (See here for an article by Lynn MacLaren, Green MP in the Guardian.)

The protestors have made a fresh appeal, which is being heard imminently, into the environmental offsets which must be in place when threatened species are affected—in this case Carnaby’s cockatoo.  SBW argues that the offsets offered by the state government are insufficient, having gathered evidence by helicopter, and is now appealing under the federal act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.  The previous cases have shown that the WA Environmental Protection Act does not require the EPA and government to follow its own policies, and SBW hopes that by invoking the federal act it will not only save the wetlands but set a precedent for the protection of nationally-important sites.


The state has agreed to halt work until Monday (9 January), allowing a short time for the case to be heard and judgment given.

There are sustainable alternatives, which the government ignores.  Objectors such as Rethink the Link have shown that the PFL would lead to gridlocks from east Fremantle to north Fremantle, bringing traffic and pollution into the city, with no easy connection to the port.  It would be far more sensible to provide a new port to the south, at Kwinana, and serve it by rail and roads in the industrial areas.

If Roe 8 is built it will be the road to nowhere.  All power to the campaigners in their efforts to stop this road.  This is a international battle of international importance—the commons of the Beeliar Wetlands are for the Noongar and the flora and fauna, for ever.


Photo: Ian Munro

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Bucks gets its skates on

In my blogs about path check in Piddington and Wheeler End I expressed some frustration with the online system for reporting path problems to Buckinghamshire County Council, the highway authority.  However, I had a much better experience this week.

I reported a recently-installed stile on Turville footpath 22 at grid reference SU 747919.  It is an obstruction to free passage: the gap between the top step and the rail is too large and there isn’t anyway room to swing your leg over because of the dog-door. I found it awkward, and for many it would be impossible.


Also, there is dangerous barbed wire close to the upright posts.


I sent my report at 6pm on Tuesday 2 January.  I received a response at 10am on Wednesday 3 January from rights-of-way assistant Sophie David. She had already written to the landowner (the Gettys of Wormsley I presume) and offered to provide a gate to replace the stile.  Service indeed!

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Come on Archers, register your greens

When the commons and village greens registers opened 50 years ago today, on 2 January 1967, the Open Spaces Society, Ramblers and other groups worked tirelessly to record every piece of land in England and Wales which might be eligible as a common or green.

The registration period was a miserable three years, after which it was too late, and so it was vital to give every possible bit of land a chance.  The registers also recorded common rights and ownership of commons and greens.

The Open Spaces Society provided a great deal of guidance to the complex forms, as well as its own forms for people to gather evidence of common or green status.  The voluntary bodies sought publicity for the task, anxious that local communities should get involved in registration.


Ilkley Moor, Bradford, common land registered by the Open Spaces Society

The Archers on BBC radio 4 likes to publicise things that affect countryfolk.  However, despite the Open Spaces Society’s best efforts, the Archers resolutely refused to register Ambridge village green, or any common within its parish.


Inkberrow in Worcestershire, possible model for Ambridge village green. ©copyright David Stowell and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.

Although it is now too late to register common land (Borsetshire is not one of the government’s nine pioneer areas for registration of lost commons under the Commons Act 2006), it is not too late to register Ambridge’s village green—nor even Lakey Hill.

Linda Snell could gather evidence of 20 years’ use by local people for informal recreation, without being stopped or asking permission. Or, more simply, the owner (I’m not sure who this is) could make a voluntary registration under section 15(8) of the Commons Act 2006.  They can ask the Open Spaces Society for help.

Then these areas will be protected for ever, even from the grasping jaws of Borchester Land, and local people will have rights of recreation there.

Come on Archers, catch up with the times.

Posted in Access, common land, common rights, commons, Open Spaces Society, town and village greens | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My bird year 2016

It’s been an unexpectedly good bird-year, considering I did not venture far afield: I saw 120 species and heard another four (Cetti’s, grasshopper and wood warblers and water rail). That is the second-best year since I started keeping records in 2010 (the top was 2014 with 125 species but that included a trip to Scotland).  

My stomping ground was, as usual, around Turville, Otmoor in Oxfordshire and Dartmoor, with the addition of Little Marlow (Bucks) gravel pits, local but newly discovered by me. There were no seaside visits, hence no seabirds beyond those which come inland.

The species count was boosted by helpful people, usually with telescopes, pointing things out to me, such as dunlin and ruff at Stanwick Lakes, Northamptonshire, on 18 March and yellow wagtail at Little Marlow on 16 April.

4 View from hide with blob where ruffs were

View from the hide at Stanwick Lakes. I have marked the location of the ruffs with a red blob.

I saw Dartford warbler and tree pipit on Hazeley Heath, Hampshire on 26 May thanks to Mike Coates from RSPB.

4 tree pipit

Tree pipit on Hazeley Heath

Here are some of my highlights.

The short-eared and barn owls over Moorleys, Otmoor, in the fading light of 25 March.

7 owl country

The meadow, known as Moorleys

Hillbridge Farm on Dartmoor, on the weekend of 23-24 April, with a visit up Tavy Cleave and an early-morning walk yielding pied flycatcher, ring ouzel, redstart and cuckoo.

7 TC

Tavy Cleave

The day of the nine warblers at Otmoor on 8 May, which was particularly satisfying because I identified all nine myself, by sight or song.

Peregrines, on Pooley’s Tower in Aylesbury on 6 May, and on Salisbury Catherdral on 21 June.


Salisbury Cathedral

peregrine platform with circle

Pooley’s Tower, May 2016. Peregrine’s nest circled in red.









My annual pilgrimage to hear wood warblers in White Wood above the River Dart on 27 May.


White Wood

Grasshopper warblers (groppers) on the approach to Tavy Cleave, Dartmoor, in the early morning of 29 May and again on 17 July.


Grasshopper warbler country

The nightjar survey at Barossa, near Camberley in Surrey, on 3 July, with tree pipit, woodcock, nightjar and Dartford warbler.

5 Darty area

Where we saw the Dartford warbler

Solitary bramblings, which I rarely see, among chaffinches on 13 November and 2 December near Turville.

A chance siting of a merlin in the Hambleden valley as I drove to work, a grey shape darting ahead of me.


Hambleden valley

Sand martins at Little Marlow, marsh harriers at Otmoor—and much more.

There are birds that I feel I ought to have seen—this is the first year sans siskin since I started recording, and I haven’t seen a spotted flycatcher since 2014.

I took part in three surveys for the British Trust for Ornithology, my regular breeding-bird survey at Prestwood in Bucks, the house martin survey in Turville, and the River Thame Conservation Trust survey of the Thame catchment.

6 School House with adult

House martin leaving nest on School House in Turville

So all in all a good year of birding.

Posted in AONB, Bucks, Chilterns, Dartmoor, Natural history, RSPB, Turville | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment