On 3 June 2013 I shall have worked for the Open Spaces Society for exactly half my life.
I was employed in 1984 as general secretary (I have kept the old-fashioned title, which I like) to develop the society’s role as a campaigning body. It was founded in 1865 to campaign and the very next year it organised direct action, to fell Lord Brownlow’s unlawful fencing on Berkhamsted Common in Hertfordshire. Campaigning is in our blood.
The society has helped to achieve some campaign successes. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 with its freedom to roam on commons and mapped open country; the Commons Act 2006 which strengthens the protection for commons, and new laws for village greens (subsequently eroded by the pernicious Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013). We helped to defeat the infamous Ombersley path-rationalisation scheme and the damaging Bodmin Moor Commons Bill for instance.
We can claim sole credit for stopping commercial interests from obstructing footpaths at Henley regatta (I marched through a hospitality tent in my shorts, with a press photographer, on a summer Sunday, the marquee was shifted the following year).
There are countless paths which have not been diverted out of recognition, because the OSS had the guts to be the only objector; we have claimed land for the access maps and removed unlawful works from commons.
What I particularly enjoy about the OSS is that we can move fast. We are not shackled by bureaucracy such as regional committees and long chains of authority. We can react swiftly to events and are always ready to get involved at short notice.
Despite my 29+ years, I have a long way to go before I can compete with my predecessor Sir Lawrence Chubb. He served as secretary from 1896 to 1948, 52 years, which is surely a record. By 3 June I shall only have only served for 29 years, 8 weeks and 6 days.