Cancer claims our former chairman Rodney Legg

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Our former chairman Rodney Legg, the West Country’s rebel campaigner with a national reputation, has died of cancer, aged 64, on Friday (22 July).  Rodney was born in Bournemouth on 18 April 1947.

Well-known in the West Country for his numerous publications, on the history and landscape of Dorset in particular, he was also a national figure, serving as our chairman for 20 years (1989-2008) and on the National Trust council, also for 20 years (1990- 2010).

Through the Tyneham Action Group, which he founded in 1967, he pressed the Ministry of Defence into giving unprecedented public access to the Lulworth military live-firing range, and he persuaded the National Trust to open Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s home at Dorchester, to the public in 1994.  He launched and led numerous crusades in the public interest, fighting them in his own, outspoken and eccentric manner.  He knew every inch of the Dorset countryside
and wrote countless books of walks.

While our chairman he campaigned to save many commons, greens and paths, and in 2004 he won public access to 640 acres of land in Dorset and Somerset (under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000).  He was sharply critical of the secrecy and lack of democracy which pervaded the National Trust, arguing that the trust should publicise all its land on Ordnance Survey maps, open up illegally-blocked paths on its land and allow public access wherever possible, as well as purchasing land, rather than stately homes, for public enjoyment.

Caricature chairman: Dorset cartoonist Danny Byrne captures Rodney Legg in action, sawing and snipping offending vegetation that was blocking Stinsford footpath 8, near Thomas Hardy’s birthplace in Dorset.

Says our general secretary Kate Ashbrook, who worked with Rodney for 30 years: ‘Rodney was an unusual but extremely effective campaigner.  You could never predict what he would say or do, but people always listened to him.

‘Although he was a huge irritation to the National Trust for many years, challenging its stuffy old ways, he made a difference, persuading it to open up secret properties and to become much more welcoming. By the time he stood down from the council the old hostility had changed to a respect bordering on affection.

‘He rarely wore a suit or tie, and arrived at formal meetings as though he was fresh from a Dorset exploration, always with an impish grin.  He was impossible to ignore.’

When Rodney stood down as the society’s chairman in 2009 we presented him with a Celtic head, at his request, to add to his collection.

Rodney will be buried at Higher Ground Meadow, Corscombe in Dorset on Saturday 30 July.  For details of the funeral please contact Kate Ashbrook on or call 01491 573535.

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