National Trust – Don’t Forget About Access!

They say a week is a long time in politics. And though the recent upheaval the pre-June 23rd UK seems almost a forgotten and distant era though only a month ago. As Brexit becomes ever more the political reality, more and more organisations, like the National Trust, who spoke out in favour of a Remain vote begin to switch focus to attempts to steer Brexit in a positive direction. This is the thinking behind National Trust’s new push to radically renew the system of farming subsidies in the UK.

The trust have released a six point plan for subsidies, shifting away away from production and acreage-based grants to refocus on protecting, restoring and enhancing the natural environment.

The six points are summarised here, but are given in more detail on the National Trust’s Future of Our Farming news article:

  1. Public money must only pay for public goods.
  2. It should be unacceptable to harm nature but easy to help it.
  3. Nature should be abundant everywhere.
  4. We need to drive better outcomes for nature, thinking long-term and on a large scale.
  5. Farmers that deliver the most public benefit, should get the most.
  6. We must invest in science, new technology and new markets that help nature.

I fully agree with each of these points. It’s great to see one of our biggest national conservation charities (and also one of our biggest farmers) making such a bold intervention in this debate.

However…!

I do feel National Trust have missed a very important Point Seven from their list of six:

Facilitating improved access to the countryside for the British public.

 Public funds should be used to facilitate public access

While great strides have been made in opening access to our uplands, moorlands and other ‘open countryside’ to outdoor recreation in recent decades, people are still broadly excluded from a great deal of our lowlands and other areas subject to farming. These area, and the farmers and landowners who manage them, receive a huge amount in subsidies – around £2.5-3 billion in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments alone. This money comes from the public in the form of taxation – yet the public is excluded from the vast majority of farmland. Attempts to increase public access are heavily resisted by farmers and their representatives. This can be witnessed in the negative response from NFU Cymru to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Green Paper on countryside access.

Of course, a great many farmers and landowners do an awful lot to help walkers and others in the countryside. And many involved in outdoor recreation need to change their attitudes, especially with keeping dogs on leads and respecting property by doing no damage. But all in all farm land presents a potentially incredibly valuable, but under-utilised recreational resource. And one we are all paying to keep going.

DSCF4427.jpgEven the Public Footpaths that do exist in farm land are often treated with contempt by farmers. On a recent walk near Wirksworth, on the edge of the Peak District, a Public Footpath through a farmyard had been completely blocked with taped fencing and locked gates across the legal Right of Way. Being so far from an alternative route I had no choice but to find a way of scrambling over the barriers, and hoping not to meet what was likely to be a hostile farmer. At another point (within a few miles) I came across the pictured sign on a gate – no problem I thought, I have no intention of leaving the path. The only marvernsfarm.jpgtrouble was the path went straight across the middle of the field and hadn’t been maintained. Crops were growing on it, so that the path was invisible. So I had the landowner was making it very clear to me I must stay on the path, while giving me no option but to guess where it was and walk straight through their crop!

The fields in the second picture are by the Malverns, leading up to one of the railway stations walkers can use to access this great range of hills. But the Rights of Way crossing it have been ploughed up, leaving it unclear where a walker should go to either stay on the correct path or even use a route which the farmer might prefer. So the walker is left in the uncomfortable position of just having to strike out across a field and hoping for the best.

Positive Benefits

Although the benefits to outdoor recreation are clear (and all that entails for both physical and mental wellbeing), there are other benefits to increased access to our countryside, and ones that should benefit farmers too.

“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” Sir David Attenborough

I love this quote. It sums up so much about what I believe is great about getting people into the countryside. The charge is often made that people from outside the farming/conservation/upland/rural (delete as applicable) communities don’t understand them, leading to conflict, misunderstand and failed policies. Well, how can people be expected to understand something they are actively excluded from? Unless we stand helping people enjoy, responsibly, their countryside, to see it as theirs to protect, how are we to spread the vital messages we to about the issues such areas face?

With such an adversarial situation between outdoor advocates and the farming sector both sides can come across as intransigent. Organisations like Ramblers and Open Spaces Society get criticised for a ‘militant’ approach to the policing of Public Footpaths, especially in opposing changes to the direction of paths. Again – when such paths present one of the few legal ways to access much of our countryside, when our rights to use these was so hard fought for, and when (as described above) they are still so often abused by some (but nowhere near all) landowners, how can we expect otherwise. By having a more liberal approach to  accessing the countryside (see my ideas below), maybe all can work more positively together in the future, with changes being made through cooperative partnerships, rather than through often hostile relationships.

What Access?

These are just my initial thoughts on the ways in which our countryside could be opened up more effectively to outdoor recreation through conditionality in subsidies (or even, blue sky thinking alert, because it’s just a good idea!). Importantly, I don’t believe any of these ideas need have any detrimental effect on farmers. They should, at worst be neutral in impact, and at best create additional opportunities for landowners (e.g. chargeable facilities, cafes etc) should they wish to take advantage.

If anyone has any ideas to contribute to this, please let me know – it would be great to collate them!

Maintenance of footpaths – ensuring and Rights of Way running through land are maintained, open, and welcoming should be a clear minimum condition. This is already a legal responsibility landowners have – so it should be happening anyway. There should be a zero tolerance approach to handing over public funds to any landowner not fulfilling such responsibilities.

Increasing opportunities for access on foot – where possible audits of the local area should be conducted to identify gaps in local provision. For example local beauty spots which are difficult to access; under-resourced activities (e.g. a lack of Bridleways for horse riders or cyclists); or areas with a low density of either Rights of Way or Access Land. Where gaps are identifies landowners should be encouraged to work with other stakeholders to set up new routes, ideally as Rights of Way, but potentially as Permissive routes.

Access on/along rivers / lakes – only 4% of rivers in England and Wales hold a IMG_20160508_152818551b.jpgRight of Navigation which is recognised (or unopposed) by all parties. This has a severe impact on water sports, especially canoeing. In return for public fund
to maintain land, landowners should be obliged to allow canoes to pass along their waterways. Although this doesn’t answer the deeply entrenched issue of whether permission is needed or whether a legal right already exists (see, for example, River Access For All) it would at least allow paddlers to canoe along a huge amount of water with reduced conflict with other groups.

Support access to specific environments for outdoor recreation – these could range from rocks and crags for climbing, or the chance for newer sports like paragliding, abseiling etc to be able to use land for their recreational use.

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Thorpe Cloud – Family Mountaineering!

In a couple of weeks I’m off to the Lakes with my family, including a 4 and 2 year old. I’ve been a couple of times the last year or so, but with my canoe club, getting some good long paddles and walks in. But this time I’m particularly excited about theIMG_20160730_135421061.jpg chance to see my kids tick off their first Wainwright with me – a steamer trip to Hallin Fell awaits!

Being so preoccupied with planning a trip to the lakes, I forgot about some of the great family adventure walks in the Peak District. However, last weekend found us in Dove Dale (along with half of Derbyshire – but I love seeing people out!). My four year old was having great fun scrambling on the rocks around the stepping stones, and pointed up at the rocky staircase leading up the flank of Thorpe Cloud – “can we go up there Daddy?” she asked. So we left the rest of the family and our friends to set up a picnic on the meadow, while we headed up the hill.

For a four year old it was perfect – just the right blend of excitement, gradient and achievability. Being a self-declared girly-girl (at four!) it didn’t hurt that the Cloud bares a passing resemblence to ‘the Elsa Mountain’ too! So here’s a map and directions for the walk.

Thorpe Cloud – Route and Directions

ThorpeCloudWalk

Distance – just under 2 miles

Terrain – The way up is steep, some of it on grass, some a bit rocky, but there is hardly any exposure – don’t let kids wander off too far though.

1 – From the car park take the tarmaced path along the river to the stepping stones.

IMG_20160730_140808979.jpg2 – Cross the stepping stones – small children will need a little assistance. Most of the stepping stones are full of fossils, mostly crinoids. Many of the rocks heading up the hill also have fossils in them – and the loose stone too. We found crinoids and various shells just on this small walk.

3 – There is a small rocky staircase leading up the flank of the hill, head up this, allowing younger kids to choose a route up through the limestone. This is the hardest bit of the climb!

4 – Once past the short rocky staircase the route becomes a steep path alternating between grassy and rocky. The path is fairly distinct and winds its way up to a small summit with views across the stepping stones and along Dove Dale.

5 – Follow the path as it leads fairly steeply up the hill to the summit. Thorpe Cloud looks every bit the mini-mountain from here, and is a great challenge for kids – there is no exposure, but don’t let them roam too far from the path!

6 – Explore the summit. The north-west side is just a little craggy, where it feels as though the hill just falls away, which can be a touch scary for younger kids. But there’s plenty to explore and views to see.

7 – If little legs are up to it you can go back down the steep section – but there is a path that leads off to the right down the northern flank of the hill. This is less steep, and possibly quicker as less time will be spent carefully placing each step!

8 – As you come to a dry stone wall the path turns back on itself to the left, heading back to the stepping stones. Don’t cross the walls. There are a couple of sections needing a little care back over the rocks, but these are fun for kids to scramble over.

9 – Back at the stepping stones you can either head off up the dale, if everyone’s legs are still keen, stop for a picnic by the river, or, if heading back stay this side of the river and head along the bottom of Thorpe Cloud.

10 – When you reach a stone bridge over the river cross it and head back to the car park.

(Mapping comes from OpenStreetMap)

Kinder 1932 – Separating the Myth

The Kinder Mass Trespass. It’s the most well known of all the protests in the rambling/outdoor movement – it’s possibly the ONLY well known aspect of the movement full stop. And therein lies the rub. As its centenary begins to approach (the event was 84 years ago now, in 1932), it’s status becomes ever more legendary. But are we celebrating the reality of the event, or a myth? The tweet quoted above, from the Peak District’s Chief Executive (who has been doing a great job in representing and promoting the Peak District), got me thinking about the debates about the event’s place in rambling history.

mass trespass - libraryemsSo first, some of the contentions any rambler will hear…

  • The Kinder Mass Trespass was the first major protest in the rambling movement – MYTH! Many protests and trespasses had taken place in the 50 years before Kinder (1).
  • The Kinder Mass Trespass was the largest major protest in the rambling movement – MYTH! Some protests, especially those in the North-West, attracted tens-of-thousands of protesters – and got quicker results too (2).
  • The protest helped create or protect Public footpaths for us all to enjoy – MYTH! Public footpaths were already well-protected in law – the Kinder Mass Trespass was concerned with the Right to Roam over open countryside away from the footpaths.
  • The protest helped create our National ParksMYTH!
  • The protest was a major step on the journey towards securing the Right to Roam? MTYH? Ah, well, here’s where it gets interesting!

The Kinder Mass Trespass is now well established in the public’s eye as THE major event in the rambling movement’s long fight to secure a Right to Roam (a fight that still isn’t fully won). Evidence of this can be seen even in information available on the Ramblers website repeating many of the myths above (read on to see why this is especially ironic!). However, once you dig deeper there is a lot more controversy surrounding the protest’s actual role in helping secure greater access.

The Case For

While the Kinder Mass Trespass was a long way from being the first or biggest such event, it probably can be credited with being the first to bring the issue of countryside access to a wider audience. Previous events had either been galvanising to local communities or to those campaigning for increased countryside access. Kinder changed that. This was arguably not through the effects of the trespass itself but through the official reaction to it, especially the harsh jail sentences handed out to the people involved.

kinder trespass - matt bowdenThe draconian punishments given to the ring leaders pushed countryside access into the national eye, far beyond its usual reach, helping creating a surge in interest. Although protests rallies had already been held at Winnat’s Pass (close to Kinder) for many years, the interest generated by the court cases saw crowds surge to over 10,000 in 1932. Many of the new attendees were reacting to what was seen as an example of a ruling class determined to stamp out any claim to the countryside by those in the industrial towns and cities.

Over the years the legend of the Kinder Mass Trespass grew, becoming the poster child for new generations of ramblers, angry with a lack of progress in achieving the aim of a Right to Roam. This is arguably the protest’s lasting legacy, providing a ‘foundation myth’ to spur on new protest movements throughout the 1900s. Although many of these movements never forgot the role of other protests, or the role of other organisations, in the access movement, the Kinder Mass Trespass was always the go-to event to help the public understand the context of their actions, especially in press reports.

The Case Against

tomstephensonAt the time of the protest almost all the leading access campaigners of the day were against it. The Rambers Association, the Open Spaces Society, and leading campaigners such as Tom Stephenson all opposed the protest. Many other stalwarts of the rambling establishment were also critical, claiming the after-effects the protest would set the movement back by decades. Many people involved in the access movement had been attempting to engage with government and landowners to change the laws regarding access to open countryside, and were fearful that the protest would set this back. Some of the criticisms bordered on sour grapes, criticising the protest for not reaching the actual summit of Kinder for example. The leaders of the trespass were also criticised for being agitators, rather than ‘true believers’ in the countryside access cause, seeing it a convenient excuse to engage in a bit of a ruckus with those in authority.

These arguments against have created a powerful counter-argument to the more commonly understood narrative of the primacy of the Kinder trespass’ role in opening up the countryside.

Protest vs Dialogue

The disagreements over the impact and legacy of the Kinder Mass Trespass point to a wider debate regarding the best method of achieving change: a process of dialogue and engagement with authority, or one of actively rebelling against that authority. Tom Stephenson is the epitome of the dialogue approach. Over decades he worked tirelessly to campaign for the political change needed to open up the countryside. He led organisations like the Ramblers Association, and worked as a civil servant, drawing up plans for the Acts pennine way sign - Andrew bowdenof Parliament needed to turn the outdoor access movement’s aims into reality. Many of the things we take for granted in our countryside now come as a direct result of Tom Stephenson’s (and many other’s) work – in particular National Trails and our National Parks (3), but he was also a key player in the groundwork for defining the Access Land that was finally approved through Parliament in the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, years after his passing. All involved in outdoor recreation owe Tom Stephenson a debt.

However, it’s also true to say that protest also plays an active role in delivering change, one that is often under-recognised. For a start, as with the Kinder protest, it brings issues to a much wider audience than they might otherwise achieve. A mass trespass event will always be a greater hook for the press to turn into column inches than the efforts of a civil servant sitting in Westminster defining terms like ‘open countryside’, however vital their work was (and is). Protest can have a galvanising effect, making clear the injustice, and helping promote the cause outside of the narrow interest-groups who initially raise any specific issue. Between the two approaches there needs to be better recognition of the ways each has helped push forwards countryside access, and fewer attempts to play down the achievements of others.

It’s a touch ironic that many of the official organisations that decried the Kinder Mass Trespass originally are now some of the biggest cheerleaders for its recognition – as witnessed by the tweet quoted at the start of this blog. Many in the Open Spaces Society now admit they were ‘on the wrong side’ in relation to the event, National Trust have a ‘Trespass Trail’ available for download. The Ramblers, led by Tom Stephenson for many years, promotes the efforts to preserve the story of the trespass, crediting its role in creating the right to roam. Even the current Duke of Devonshire, whose moorlands the Kinder protestors were fighting to open, admitted at the 2002 anniversary rally to remember the Kinder trespass that his family were on the wrong side of history! A cynic might suggest this is, at least partly, a symptom of the commoditisation of history – the Kinder Mass Trespass sells! But it’s also a reflect that, after time passes it’s easier to see that the efforts of both protestor and peace-maker were both instrumental in the long battle for access to our countryside – a battle not yet fully won!

For my part, as much as I thank those in the trespass for the role they played in securing greater access, I hope people like Tom Stephenson aren’t forgotten.

Don’t forget about the birds?

hen harrier - rob zweersAlmost as a post-script to this blog, there is a current issue that shows the ‘protest vs dialogue’ debate is not only still live – but also still relevant to many of the concerns of the Kinder trespass: protecting/accessing our countryside, the actions of landowners and the Peak District landscape. A recent blog post from the ex-Peak District Chief Executive Jim Dixon picks up on the issues surrounding the campaign for greater protection for the Hen Harrier. The article hands out a severe admonishing to the wildlife campaigner Chris Packham for committing the crime of becoming too passionate about the plight of the Hen Harrier. Chris apparently allowed his passion to spill over into counter-productive anger. Instead of Chris attending events to raise awareness of the issue, it is proposed he simply needs to get out onto the moors and start talk to game keepers – that’s the way progress lies. Through cooperation, communication.

Except, in many instances such an approach doesn’t work. Especially when it comes to Hen Harriers. For a few years campaigners have bemoaned the RSPB for precisely the opposite – for relying too much on cooperation and dialogue by taking part in the Government’s Hen Harrier Action Plan (the Hawk and Owl Trust have also been similarly criticised). However, after a sincere and committed attempt to work with this strategy, RSPB were left with no choice to pull out. You read more about why on Martin Harper’s blog post.

When the sheer determination of some stakeholders to resist change leads to organisations like as RSPB finding themselves unable to continue a dialogue the debate must be seen to be in a bad place. Such situations only serve to push ever larger groups to a more extreme, protest-based angle, as they see no other routes for meaning full progress. I hope, for the Hen Harrier’s benefit, some of the other key players, like the National Parks, DEFRA and others can see this and work positively. Rather than resorting to again distorting the debate by criticising campaigners who are starting to feel like all hope for a positive, consensus-based solution can work. With the Hen Harrier facing such a bleak future this is certainly this is an issue for anyone with a passion for our natural heritage to get involved in – regardless of whether your method of choice is protest or dialogue!

Footnotes / References

 (1) & (2) As an example the Winter Hill Mass Trespass was earlier (1896), bigger (well over 10,000 people) and more successful than the Kinder trespass (at least in the short term)

(3) This is why my own hackles are raised by some of the mythology surrounding the Kinder Mass Trespass – not because I don’t recognise its role, but because I want to see the role of people like Tom Stephenson given more credit!

Picture references: Kinder Trespass plaque via libraryems on Flickr; Kinder Waymarker via Andrew Bowden on Flickr; Tom Stehenson via Tricouni Club; Pennine Way fingerbord via Andrew Bowden on Flickr; Hen Harrier via Rob Zweers on Flickr.

 Some more reading on the Kinder Mass Trespass

Make up your own mind on the 1932 Kinder Mass Trespass with some of these sources!