An extract from Open Space Magazine: reflecting on forty years

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In the latest edition of Open Space magazine, Kate Ashbrook reflects on 40 years in her post as the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society.  

Forty years on

When I joined the Open Spaces Society as its general secretary 40 years ago, our world was very different, says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary.

We had no right to walk on all commons in England and Wales. Lost commons could not be registered. New village greens were unknown. Consent was not needed for works on commons with no registered rights. Paths were in a far worse state. All this is much better now.

Campaigning was different too. Press releases took time, they had to be photocopied and stapled, envelopes had to be addressed by hand, stuffed, stamped, and posted. Events could not easily be arranged at short notice. Now it all happens instantly, and 24-hour news makes it hard to plan a story for a particular moment.

Kate on Cobstone Hill, Ibstone, in the Buckinghamshire Chilterns. Photo: Kate Ashbrook


When I look back on 40 years (and indeed the whole 159 years of our existence) most of the society’s victories are the things which we prevented: paths not diverted, commons not fenced, open spaces not developed—nothing to see, but extremely satisfying.

From the new government we want changes which bring new public benefits. And we must eliminate the inequalities in access; it is vital to provide access close to home. A mechanism to ensure that new greens are registered more readily, by encouraging voluntary registration by landowners, and mandatory registration by developers, will provide new spaces with guaranteed protection.

Local authorities, when disposing of open space, must be compelled to provide suitable land in exchange, serving the same community. An example is Kilvey Hill, Swansea, where the council proposes to dispose of open space, on many people’s doorsteps, to a crude tourist-development.

The Environmental Land Management Scheme in England, and the Sustainable Farming Scheme in Wales, offer to pay farmers and land managers for new and improved access. It is taking an inordinate amount of time for this to happen—but these schemes should help to give access where people need it.

Photograph of one of the many unrecorded paths over Kilvey Hill; it would be destroyed by one of the luge tracks with high-speed go-carting. Photo: Amanda Leighton


The national trails, the 75th anniversary of which we celebrate this year, are largely some distance from where people live. However, one of the new national trails, the England Coast Path, will provide access for coastal-town dwellers.

There are problems though: English Heritage is set to stop the path from following the foreshore at Osborne on the Isle of Wight, forcing walkers alongside a busy road. This is depressing for the people of neighbouring East Cowes, who have little access, and for visitors.

Forty years on there is still plenty to campaign for. We have always been ready to take legal action where needed and shall raise our game to get results, while remaining nimble, feisty, and fearless in defence of our rights.

Header image: Jamie, Unsplash

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