Natural England’s new boss hurries to fix his footpaths

‘I give a categoric assurance to this committee that the footpaths over my land are clear, open and available.’

So said Mr Andrew Sells, the prospective chairman of Natural England, in response to scrutiny by the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee on 11 December.

He spoke a little too quickly.  Two days later he had hurriedly removed three fences which were blocking Luckington footpath 21 which crosses his land at Sandy Farm, Sopworth in Wiltshire.

Luckington footpath 21 across the field (shown by black line).  The obstructing fences have been removed

Luckington footpath 21 across the field (shown by black line). The obstructing fences have been removed.

It is always useful, when someone is standing for public appointment, to pay a visit to their land and see the state of the paths.  It is surprising how often one finds that they have let things slip.  Mr Sells, venture capitalist and Tory-party funder, was no exception.

Sandy Farm, Sopworth

Sandy Farm, Sopworth

When I walked around Sandy Farm on 8 December, three days before he was to appear before the Efra Committee for pre-appointment scrutiny, I found that the path (Luckington footpath 20) which runs past his house and across a tennis-court had no waymarks at all, despite the council having a legal duty to erect waymarks to enable people to find their way, and despite the route being unwelcoming to walkers.  

The footpath across the tennis-court

The footpath across the tennis-court.

Worse still, though, I found that an adjoining path, Luckington footpath 21, was obstructed by fences, again with no waymarks.

Luckington FP 21, blocked

Luckington FP 21, blocked.

Prompted by my briefing, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, a member of the Efra Committee, questioned Mr Sells about the state of his paths.  At this point he gave the categoric assurance above, and agreed that it would be ‘a very great concern’ if he had paths on his land which were blocked when he was appointed to the post of chairman of Natural England—which has a statutory purpose of ‘promoting access to the countryside and open spaces and encouraging open-air recreation’.

It is surprising that he had forgotten that, in 2008, his agent consulted the local Ramblers’ group about a diversion of footpath 20, and they complained of lack of waymarks, obstructions and an unofficial diversion, none of which had been put right.

Now at last footpath 21 is walkable, and Wiltshire Council checked this last Friday.

Luckington footpath 21 now open

Luckington footpath 21 now open.

The rights-of-way officer tells me that he gave Mr Sells enough plastic waymark-discs to ensure that the paths across his land could be properly marked and left him to it. Unfortunately Mr Sells has used these sparingly and inconspicuously, on the top of posts (some of them very short) and mainly pointing away from his farm as though people only walk in one direction.

The entrance to Sandy Farm. Spot the waymark.

The entrance to Sandy Farm. Spot the waymark.

I’ve asked the rights-of-way officer to return to Sandy Farm and to let me know when the waymarks have been installed properly.  Natural England’s boss will soon have paths to be proud of.


About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, Natural England, Public paths and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Natural England’s new boss hurries to fix his footpaths

  1. keithbadger says:

    Spot on; bravo!

  2. Phil says:

    Do we know whether he claims benefits, sorry subsidy, under the Common Agricultural Policy, too? That would be taking money from the public purse while denying access to public facilities.

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