Brexit means…[insert plan here]

We may have already accepted that many of the Leave side’s, erm, lets say, ‘aspirations’ regarding post-Brexit Britain were, charitably, bluster. However, this doesn’t seem to be stopping a whole plethora of organisations from getting early letters-to-Santa into the post regarding the future of the country. In no field is this more clear than in the realm of farming subsidies – even before the referendum this was recognised as an emotive subject on all sides of the debate, with no-one happen with the current wasteful system.

The National Trust kicked off the calls for change post-Brexit in August. I covered this in a previous blog post, asking them not to forget about the role for improved countryside access. Since then there have a range of alternative ideas for reforming subsidies. These ideas, to no-one’s surprise, treat farming as the ultimate guinea-pig, a convenient test-bed for often highly ideological economic, social and political pet theories. I’m not sure, as an example, many of the farmers who voted for Brexit would be hugely impressed with Ryan Bourne of the IEA’s (a fundamentalist Free Market think-tank) proposal to simply cut all subsidies and throw farming to full global competitive forces (or, in simple terms, destroy UK farming).

In addition to Bourne’s Free Market views there have been  proposals to protect smaller farms from CPRE; the predictable counter-arguments from the NFU and Country Landowner’s Association (CLA) and a new collaboration (of RSPB, WWF, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust) building on National Trust’s initial ideas with a new plan for a Green Brexit*. The partners have produced a glossy leaflet, outlining a new five point plan titled ‘A New Policy For Our Countryside‘.

Of course, my own blog on this issue was also an attempt to throw my own prime passion, countryside access, into the mix. And thankfully, as always, The Open Spaces Society have been making just that argument to government too. Their call is for the subsidy system to benefit access to the countryside, through more effective maintenance of current routes, and increased dedication of both new footpaths and Access Land. All of which is great (as usual OSS are leading from the front on this), but doesn’t really go far enough for those of us looking at a severe lack of access for our boats and bike as well as our boots.

Brexit means… working together

 

As already mentioned, most of the calls for change represent very narrow views, aligned closely (soley) to the organistion involved’s own work and interests. I listed some ideas for access in the last blog and I have a tonne more, But this post isn’t about simply throwing more ideas in the mix, but about encouraging organisations and campaigners to work together for change. And not just with others who are tightly aligned (as per the Green Brexit Coalition), but with others too.

If we want government to listen to any of us, we need to speak with more than just one voice. In 2013 our forests were threatened with a massive sell-off. In response the government recieved a loud, resounding chorus of criticism with just one message – over our dead bodies. I’ve no doubt that the government’s change of heart was driven, at least in part, by the huge diversity of voices telling them the sell-off was unacceptable.

Outdoor recreation, environmentalism and heritage often conflict with each other. This is senseless, and only serves to weaken each message. I’d love to see a Venn Diagram of people interested in the environment and involved in outdoor recreation** – I’ll bet you’ll see something looking more like an eclipse than two separate circles! So why do we not all work together more? Of course there are issues where interest may differ – but these are all surmountable through a cooperative approach and, even if not, still more binds us together.

So my message to all those who love our countryside – whether on foot during a challenge walk, with a passion for creating new habitats, or for protecting our rural heritage (or, as many of us will be, all three) to work together. It’s great that RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust are working together – but bring Ramblers, OSS and others with you! Together we’ll build a case government can’t ignore!

Brexit means… engaging

Leading on from this call for a coalition for the countryside is another point – both obvious and more tricky. We must also bring farmers with us too. Here I do think there is in many ways a disconnect between the different communities involved in protecting our countryside. I certainly don’t feel I know enough about farming. But we must seek to engage and understand the farming community if we are to develop a future for the countryside which genuinely does increase wildlife protection, rural heritage and access to the great outdoors. Imagine how strong our case will be if it represents not only a united from from heritage, conservation and access campaigners – but also has farmers championing our cause too!


* Good news for anyone who had that in their Brexit bingo. I got stuck with Sloppy-Brexit.

** This research document doesn’t have any Venn Diagrams, but does show that outdoor recreation and environmentalism come from very similar roots, and are very inter-twined – so why do we then go on to self-identify ourselves as one or the other?

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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!

Mind the Gap?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the EU referendum. It still hasn’t really sunk in. But I’m still surprised everyday by some of the comments people make about the EU, highlighting just how deep the gap between perception and reality is. People rejoice at the end of Barmy Brussels Bureaucrat’s Bendy Banana Bans (that never existed). Two people I know have suggested we can finally go back to the halcyon days of pre-decimal money and Imperial weights and measures, as the EU took these away (decimalisation happened before we even joined the EEC – and the EU specifically protects many Imperial measures – pints as an example). One comment on a heritage thread on Facebook looking at the potential impacts read: ‘since when did the EU care about our heritage’. The sheer ignorance of this statement left me (and, by the other replies, many others too) a bit lost for words.

IMG_20160625_133917861_HDRThe weekend after the referendum, and my wife and I were in glorious Edale, Camping at Coopers Campsite, our first night under canvas together since our first child came along, almost five years ago exactly (and at the same site too!)  After a good old moan in the car we promised to not let the referendum darken our weekend. And this it didn’t, with a great walk up Grindsbrook, and a hunt for the true summit in the mist, working our way round the pools in the peat created through the fantastic restoration efforts of the Moors For The Future project. We found it, after two trick cairns distracted us, but if that’s the true summit these days I’ll eat my hat!

On Sunday we went to Bugsworth Basin, on the the way out the peak towards the conurbation of Greater Manchester to test-paddle our new inflatable canoe before we stick the kids in it! If you don’t know it, pay it a visit, it’s a lovely place. Built to connect the Peak’s limestone quarries to markets in Northern England, the basin was a thriving inland port, providing an interchange between the tramways running up into the hills and the canal network to Manchester and beyond.

bgsworthbasinIt is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, but was for many years derelict, taking a huge restoration effort, especially from a group that has now become the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust and the Waterways Protection Group. As with so many sites on our canal system, it was saved and reopened to boats by the (ongoing) hard work and dedication of volunteers. It’s now a great place to canoe from – not least as it’s about the only place you can easily get to anywhere near the Peak District without someone telling you you are trespassing by daring to paddle (more on this in future posts!). Bare in mind a Canal & Rivers Trust licence or British Canoeing membership is needed!

When we parked up I got out the car and the first thing I saw wIMG_20160626_122534706as a sign stating the project had been supported with funds from the European Union. The referendum debate, and the comments on heritage protection were staring back at me. Along with the additional irony that someone has tried to cross out the EU logo – matching experiences in many areas of the country benefiting from the EU voting to leave (see Cornwall and Wales). Of course, it is true to say the UK government can continue to fun projects like these directly. If the economy doesn’t take a hit (such a massive if right now…) it may even have more money it could allocate. I also don’t know how much the EU put in – or how it compares to funds from other sources. But this does show that it is entirely fair – and necessary – to ensure that we put pressure on the government to ensure the UK’s exit from the EU does not result in a reduction of funds for such projects. For those of us who love the great outdoors this covers a huge range of issues – from heritage, rural development and conservation funding through to legal protections for our natural environment.

There have already been great posts on the potential impacts, along with suggestions for ways forward, from the BMC (see the BMC’s article) and the Wildlife Trusts (with a great infographic). It’s vital we support these organisations in representing outdoor recreation and environmental protection.

You can also, to help Bugsworth Basin, join the charity which currently runs and enhances the site, or even volunteer to support them. You’ll find more details on the Bugsworth Basin Heritage Trust website.