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Jack & Irene Candy Bequest

Jack Candy, who died aged 95 in 2017, was a long-standing member and supporter of the OSS, serving as our Southampton local correspondent from 1999 to 2012. With his wife Irene, he was a champion of community heritage and open spaces in Southampton. Jack generously left us the residue of his estate, for the establishment of a fund in memory of Irene and Jack Candy, to be used for the general charitable purposes of the society but not to be expended on administrative expenses. This has enabled us to appoint Frances Kerner as our commons re-registration officer, researching lost commons for registration before the cut-off in December 2020, starting in Blackburn with Darwen and Lancashire. A short biography Born in …read more

Seventieth anniversary of ‘a people’s charter’

This year we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.  Our general secretary Kate Ashbrook, explains what it achieved. This is not just a Bill.  It is a people’s charter—a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. So concluded Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, as he moved the second reading of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill on 31 March 1949 (column 1493). These are uplifting words, which capture the spirit of that post-war period.  The act, which received royal assent on 16 December 1949, was …read more

Walking well in Carmarthenshire

We have recently learnt of a group in Carmarthenshire called Walking Well.   It is a Welsh Government initiative designed to help those who want to get fitter, or just to stay fit.  Carmarthenshire is extremely rural with a low population, and there are a large number of paths for the poorly-resource county council to deal with.  Nigel Bailey, a walk leader with Walking Well, has sent us a report. In Llanwinio, an exceptionally lovely community in Carmarthenshire with five villages, many paths have lately been reopened and signed, thanks to the rangers of Carmarthenshire County Council.  Nigel is delighted with the progress made.  He explains that Walking Well is a friendly group, not aggressive about covering long distances or going …read more

Our treasured landscapes

We shall be submitting evidence to the government’s review of England’s designated landscapes; this nicely coincides with their seventieth anniversary next year. On 27 May the environment secretary Michael Gove launched a review of the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), to be led by author and journalist Julian Glover. We welcome this move. The terms of the review are encouraging. The minister has emphasised that it is not intended to weaken or undermine existing protections or geographic scope, but the aim is to focus ‘on how designated areas can boost wildlife, support the recovery of natural habitats and connect more people with nature’. The review will consider, among other things, the existing statutory purposes of national …read more

Give open spaces at Christmas

We have a Christmas gift solution that will be appreciated for a whole year. The perfect present for someone who may enjoy walking, riding or cycling outdoors, be that in their local park or further afield on our amazing commons, village greens or path network. Membership gift vouchers for the Open Spaces Society start at £33 and you can be confident that the money will be supporting a dynamic, campaigning charity, fighting for the right for us all to enjoy paths and open spaces all through the seasons and for years to come. OSS is a small, unique charity campaigning to save open spaces and paths in England and Wales since 1865. Every day, precious open spaces that matter to …read more

Beef up the bill

In her Opinion article in the autumn issue of Open Space magazine, our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes about the Agriculture Bill. Last summer the Dartmoor Society (a voluntary body) hosted a visit to Gidleigh Common on north-east Dartmoor.  Those present were shocked to see the land there smothered in purple moor-grass and gorse, where once there had been heather.  Now the vegetation engulfs the rich collection of prehistoric remains: stone rows, field systems and cairns, and confines right-to-roam public access to narrow tracks. The cause of this degradation is the grazing regime imposed by Natural England: a reduction in livestock, a ban on winter grazing and a limit on the area of land to be swaled (ie burnt to …read more

John Underhill-Day, 1943-2018

Kate Ashbrook writes: We are sad to report the untimely death of John Underhill-Day at the age of 74. He was an excellent all-round naturalist with expertise in common land, and a good friend to the society. John was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and educated at Lancing College in West Sussex, which he hated. He left at 16 and trained to be a surveyor, but after five years of office routine he escaped to become warden of Coombes Valley, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve in Staffordshire. From 1971 to 1988 John worked at The Lodge (RSPB’s head office) as deputy chief reserves officer and head land agent. He had a major role in the …read more

Our local correspondents gather in the Lickey Hills

Over two days in mid August, 29 local correspondents, trustees and members of staff met at the Hillscourt conference centre, Rednall, on the edge of the Lickey Hills country park south-west of Birmingham.  It was an opportunity to swap experiences and ideas and to learn more about the range of activities in which the society is engaged, and in which local correspondents can get involved. Topics for discussion included the following: Deregulation Act 2015 and how to prepare for it An update on restoring the record and applying for historic paths to be added to the definitive map before the 2026 cut off Opportunities for more public access after Brexit The HS2 project and its effect on public paths Access …read more

Government’s planning charter fails to protect open spaces

We are dismayed that the revised Natural Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was published on 24 July, gives no additional protection to open spaces, beyond a tiny improvement in wording. The society had objected in the draft to the restrictive wording accompanying the designation of land as local green space (LGS).  The draft stated that the designation, first set out in the 2012 edition of the NPPF, ‘will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space’.  Following the society’s objection, those words have been removed from the revised version. However, we are disappointed that there has been no further clarification of the process for designation of LGS nor clarification of the criteria. Says Nicola Hodgson, one of our …read more

Countryside Act at 50

On 3 July we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Countryside Act 1968, an important piece of legislation.  The Open Spaces Society, with the Ramblers, played a major role in its genesis.  Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, explains its history and significance. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, which led to the designation of our top landscapes as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), was pioneering legislation, born out of post-war idealism. By the 1960s there was an increase in leisure time, mobility and income which some feared would become a crisis. Michael Dower (son of John Dower who was the inspiration behind our national parks) wrote in 1965 of the ‘fourth wave’: …read more

What tragedy?

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of an influential article which, wrongly, gave commons a bad name. In 1968 Science magazine published a paper called ‘The tragedy of the commons’ by biologist Garrett Hardin. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, explains. This was about the global population problem, in part inspired by an 1833 pamphlet by mathematician William Forster Lloyd. Hardin repeats Lloyd’s analogy of uncontrolled population growth as a type of common, averring that herdsmen will maximise cattle numbers on a common because the negative effect is shared among all the graziers, leading to over-exploitation and ‘tragedy’. Open Hardin accuses the north American national parks of being ‘another instance of the working out of the tragedy of the commons’ because, …read more

Jerry Pearlman: fighter for commons and paths

Our world of paths and commons would be very different but for the work of Jerry Pearlman who has died aged 84 on 9 March 2018, writes our general secretary. Jerry was honorary solicitor for the Ramblers for more than 30 years; he took on countless path battles and campaigned for freedom to roam on open country. Born in 1933 in Redcar in the then North Riding of Yorkshire, Jerry spent his childhood in Keighley and Bishop Auckland where he went walking in the countryside with his father, Sam.  At that time he decided he wanted to be a lawyer; he took a Bachelor of Laws degree from London University and for 60 years practised as a solicitor.  His great …read more

The government’s 25-year plan for the environment

We are pleased that the government has at last published its 25-year plan for the environment.  It has many fine ambitions, which we applaud, and now we should like to hear more about how the government intends to achieve them.  And of course we are willing to help. Green spaces We particularly welcome the aims for green spaces, such as to: Help people improve their health and wellbeing by using green spaces. Improve existing green infrastructure. Draw up a national framework of green infrastructure standards, with a cross-government project led by Natural England. Work with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see how commitments on green infrastructure can be incorporated into national planning guidance and policy. Make …read more

Roxlena: Long use and the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak

Cumbria County Council has successfully defended in the High Court [Roxlena Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v Cumbria County Council], its decision to make a definitive map modification order (DMMO) for paths in Hayton Woods, east of Carlisle, in response to an application previously made by local people on the basis of long use as of right.  The challenge was brought by the landowner, Roxlena Ltd, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The application paths had been used for a 20-year period which spanned the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001–02 (with which Cumbria was exceptionally afflicted).  Both the claimant and the council accepted that the decision of the county council early in 2001 to prohibit the use …read more

Paths to oblivion

Thirty years ago (3 September 1987) we were present at the launch of the Countryside Commission’s far-reaching policies and priorities for enjoying the countryside, writes our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook. Top priority was to have the entire rights-of-way network ‘legally defined, maintained and available for use before the end of the [last] century’ with up-to-date definitive maps. The commission recognised that ‘the national system of 120,000 miles of rights of way is the single most important means of access to and enjoyment of the countryside.’ Of course the year-2000 target was not achieved, but the commission and its successor the Countryside Agency put money and resources into local authorities and voluntary organisations to work on paths. The condition of the …read more

Parish councils: dealing with highway obstructions under s.130(6)

Town, parish and community councils are likely to take a strong proprietorial interest in their parish rights of way, and in their local highway network generally. They will be aware that it is the highway authority which has a duty to act against any obstruction in a highway, and from time to time they or their parishioners may report such obstructions to the highway authority, expecting action to be taken to resolve them.   But what if the highway authority takes no action, or is insufficiently combative, so that a highway within the parish remains obstructed? Please download our new information sheet, Parish councils: dealing with highway obstructions under s.130(6) of the Highways Act 1980. 

Date on which orders under section 119 of the Highways Act 1980 come into effect

Herefordshire Council made a diversion order for Lyonshall footpath LZ3 (part) which was contested and went to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). After written representations the order was confirmed. The Open Spaces Society subsequently wrote to PINS to point out that the inspector had confirmed a defective order. We considered the order to be defective in that article 1 stopped up the existing right of way in accordance with article 3, article 2 required that the new right of way be created to the satisfaction of the council in accordance with article 3, and article 3 stated that the diversion is to ‘have effect’ when the requirements of article 2 had been complied with. We said that section 119 of the …read more

Commons conference in Utrecht

In July our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, went to the biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) in Utrecht in the Netherlands.  Here she describes some of her experiences. This was the 16th biennial, global conference of the IASC, and my fifth.  It was organised by the University of Utrecht and held in its fine buildings in the heart of the town. I am particularly keen to fly the flag for practitioners (ie campaigners).  For some time there has been a divide between researchers and practitioners in the IASC but things are changing.  At the 2013 conference in Japan the society was presented with the first Elinor Ostrom Award for practitioners.  At the 2015 …read more

Shape of the nation

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, considers the effect of the increasing divergence between English and Welsh laws and practices. The 870-mile Wales Coast Path was the ambitious legacy of Rhodri Morgan, the former first minister of Wales who died in May. Now we can walk ‘the shape of the nation’; the path has brought pleasure to thousands, and millions to the Welsh economy. This path is a pioneer. As English and Welsh laws diverge, Wales has focused commendably on sustainable development and well-being. But there are worrying signs as it casts off from Westminster. Foundations Wales is shifting the foundations of our designated landscapes, the three national parks and five areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) which cover one quarter …read more

A commons’ conference companion

The Countryside and Community Research Institute of Gloucester University (CCRI) has published a Commons e-book which is a compilation of blogs written at or about the biennial global conferences of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC).    You can download it here. The book is written by John Powell and Chris Short of CCRI, and our general secretary Kate Ashbrook, with a foreword  by Ruth Meinzen-Dick, former IASC president.  It is edited by Nick Lewis of CCRI. The area of commons management and governance has become more topical over recent years, and some of the key concepts are clearly starting to influence the thinking of some world leaders (for example, the second encyclical published by Pope Francis …read more

Our manifesto for the 2017 Westminster election

This time, because the political parties are focused on Brexit, we have tailored our manifesto to secure the best deal for public access and enjoyment. Public money for public access The Open Spaces Society is seeking a pledge in each party’s manifesto that, in the new funding scheme for agriculture, public money is spent on public benefit. This means providing improved public access, whether by paths or responsible freedom to roam. Public access supports local economies and improves people’s health and well-being. Financial support should be available for landowners who give additional access or improvements to existing access, for example: • new paths to link existing rights of way and enabling people to avoid busy roads • additional rights for …read more

People’s places  

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, reflects on the recent report on parks and green spaces. Our parks and green spaces are at tipping point warns the House of Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee in its report Public Parks. Having received 400 written submissions, including ours, and heard 27 witnesses, the MPs concluded obviously enough that England’s parks ‘face considerable challenges’ but without the protections, priority and money they need to do this. The committee emphasises the many benefits of green spaces—for physical and mental health, social cohesion, climate-change mitigation and local economies. This is not new—many of our founders would surely have recognised these problems 150 years ago. Duty With many others, we called for a statutory duty …read more

Fifty years since the start of commons registration

Fifty years ago today, on 2 January 1967, the commons and greens registers in England and Wales were opened, writes Kate Ashbrook.  This was the start of a period of feverish activity for the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, as we were then known.  The registers were created following the Commons Registration Act 1965, and the society took the lead in making applications.  The registration period was far too short, running only until 31 July 1970, and so we had no time to waste.  During the first registration period, 2 January 1967 to 1 July 1968, people could make applications without having to pay a fee.  After that, for the second period from July 1968 to July 1970, …read more

Our case officer’s diary

Our case officer Nicola Hodgson gives a snapshot of her work for the society, both in and out of the office. As case officer for commons, greens and open spaces over the last 17 years I have experienced a huge volume and variety of issues and shared some of the frustrations, challenges and successes of members of the society. In my daily contact with members and other organisations, the range of inquiries and difficulties is still a surprise, even after all those years.  It may be a simple question about the size of a map required for a village-green application, but it might be a thick bundle of documents to be assessed when objections have been submitted to a green …read more

Access means Access

Whatever we may feel about leaving the EU it does provide a chance to rethink our agricultural-support systems, and to devise a scheme which favours public access, writes our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook. Lord Gardiner, in his reply to our letter to the Prime Minister, said: ‘We will be looking to develop a new approach to supporting agriculture and protecting our precious countryside including issues around cross compliance on rights of way’.  We want to help him. The EU pays British farmers up to £3 billion a year, of which £600 million (20 per cent) is for environmental protection.  Of course this is all public money which should pay for public goods.  Various amenity groups have piled in with their …read more

A fair way to challenge planning decisions that damage our environment and living conditions

As part of the Wildlife & Countryside Link (Link) Legal Group, we are supporting Louise Venn in her court case which seeks to close a legal loophole that is preventing Aarhus cost caps being applied to statutory review challenges in England and Wales. This loophole leaves most national planning decisions immune from affordable challenge and, as a consequence, community groups, residents and local authorities have no way to prevent environmentally damaging developments, allowed by national inspectors even when these undermine local planning policies, because of the very high cost of court proceedings. The case is explained more simply on Louise’s Crowd Justice platform where she is fundraising for the first stage of costs. Louise adds “No other country in Europe …read more

Get in ahead of the Deregulation Act

The Deregulation Act is likely to come into force in England in the next few months. When you apply for the addition of a path to the definitive map, the surveying authority is required to determine your application within 12 months. If it has not done so, you can apply to the Secretary of State for Environment, or Welsh ministers, for a direction to the council to determine the application. Once the Deregulation Act takes effect in England, your application must be made to the magistrates’ court rather than the secretary of state. This is a drawback since current court fees are £205 to commence proceedings and £515 for a contested hearing. So, if 12 months have elapsed since you …read more

Happy centenary to vice-president Len!

Our vice-president Len Clark is 100 today, 19 August.  Our general secretary has written a blog in celebration and we have reproduced it below. Every blog I have so far written to celebrate a friend’s centenary has been posthumous.  This one is different.  Len Clark, loved and admired by the amenity movement, is 100 today—and very much still alive!  From his home in Farncombe, Surrey, he keeps his finger on the pulse and reads everything which comes his way. I visited him a few weeks ago with Fiona Reynolds, former director-general of the National Trust and author of The Fight for Beauty (which Len has read).  I arrived first and Len said to me:  ‘We run two seminars here, one …read more

Threat to public paths in the Rochdale area

Our newly-appointed local correspondent for Rochdale, Yvonne Hunt, looks at the threat to public paths in her area, including the Rochdale Way.   The Rochdale Way and parts of its connecting network of paths are under threat by developers who do not seem to understand their importance. The Rochdale Way is a circular 45-mile (72-km) walking route around the borough of Rochdale which takes in some of its best scenery and most interesting buildings. The area covered includes Hollingworth Lake, Blackstone Edge on the Pennine Way, Watergrove Reservoir, Healey Dell, Knowl Hill, Naden Valley and much more. The way is broken down into sections as the majority of people would prefer not to walk the whole 45 miles in one …read more

Amended guidance on obstructed rights of way in Wales

Our trustee and local correspondent, Peter Newman, has reported on his work to open up illegally obstructed rights of way in Powys: “There are many areas in Powys where the rights of way network in largely inaccessible because of large scale obstruction by illegal wire and barbed wire fences. Powys County Council is largely ineffective at opening up the bridleway and footpath network as it will only work in one parish in an area at a time, ignoring all the other communities. As a last resort, and in order to try and open up some routes for walkers and riders, I have been serving Section 130A notices on the council which is having some effect. The Welsh Assembly Government provided …read more

Space invaders

Public funding is being cut and our green spaces exploited to fill the gap. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, considers the threat to our open spaces and national parks. In London, communities fight motor racing in Battersea Park, and festivals on Acton Green, Clapham Common and Finsbury Park—among countless battles. But we have a new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has made welcome manifesto pledges to ‘strengthen protections for open spaces within the London Plan’ and to ‘open up more walking routes around London’—and many others.  He should outlaw the commercial abuse of London’s open spaces for a start. Slashing It’s not just London of course.  Last year Surrey County Council decided to ‘achieve a self-funded countryside estate’ by …read more

Learning to find our way

The society has established the Find Our Way fund, to support those who are investigating unrecorded historic ways with a view to applying for them to be added to the definitive maps of public rights of way.  This work is now urgent, as applications must be made before 1 January 2026 or the routes could be lost for ever (see here). On Sunday 5 June we held a training session for our members and others near Chepstow.  The seven-hour day was run by experts Phil Wadey (our vice-chairman) and Sarah Bucks and was packed with information. The event proved popular, with 23 volunteers signing up from the Welsh counties of Bridgend, Caerphilly Carmarthenshire, Monmouthshire, Newport and Vale of Glamorgan, and in England from …read more

Commons in a ‘glocal’ world

This was the title of the conference which our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, attended in Bern, Switzerland, in May.  It was organised by the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) and Bern University, to discuss commons at a European level.  Kate tells the story. We should start with some definitions.  ‘Glocal’ means the interaction between global governments, multi-national businesses and corporations, and local communities.  ‘Commons’ at such conferences are much more than our land areas registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965, they embrace common resources—land, air, water, indigenous people, knowledge and much else. I went to the conference with John Powell from the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at Gloucester University.  John is president-elect of …read more

Park sharks

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, considers how commercial exploitation is threatening our parks and green spaces. As I walked through Battersea Park in the February sunshine I found it hard to imagine what it would be like here in July.  Then the quiet roads around the park will be converted into a motor-race track for the international Formula E event and most of the park will be closed to the public. Formula E is not the only threat to London’s parks: Ealing Council is backing a boozy Oktoberfest on Acton Green common, and last year Lambeth allowed a festival on Clapham Common, converting a green space into a mudbath. Such events are in breach of the Greater London Parks and Open Spaces …read more

Commons – global and local

The Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) of the University of Gloucestershire has published its new book, Commons—Governance of Shared Assets, coinciding nicely with World Book Day. It can be downloaded as a pdf  or as epub from the university’s website. The book is a collection of recent blog posts on the CCRI website, centred on the theme of how we manage shared assets and what alternative approaches there might be, informed by research and practice in the governance of common resources. In his introduction, John Powell explains that the whole area of commons and management of common-pool resources has become more topical over the last six years following the award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Elinor Ostrom for …read more

Getting the buzz

The society has long opposed fencing on commons, and we are pleased that an alternative is being developed. Last November we joined a group of commons practitioners on a visit to Epping Forest, to learn about the use of invisible fencing to contain stock. Epping Forest is a 12-mile-long stretch of ancient woodland straddling the boundaries of Essex and the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest.  It is surrounded by conurbations and busy roads, including the M25, has 4.5 million visits a year.  Yet it survives as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and a special area of conservation (SAC) a top European designation. Epping Forest was an Anglo-Saxon grazed common which became a royal forest in the …read more

Our 150th anniversary year

We have had plenty of activities to celebrate our 150th anniversary year, as Britain’s oldest national conservation body. Here are some highlights. Every day we have celebrated an event in our long history with our Tweet of the Day.  These are listed here. We published two books, Saving Open Spaces and Common Land.  A third, Village Greens, is on the way for publication in spring 2016.     In March our general secretary spoke at the People’s Anniversary Walk, organised by our member, the Friends of Panshanger Park, to highlight the need for greater access to this historic park between Hertford and Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. She also spoke at the AGM of the Heath and Hampstead Society in June, recalling …read more

Forays into Scotland

As we researched events in our 150-year history, for the 365 ‘tweets of the day‘ during 2015, we came across two occasions when we had wandered north of the border. The first was recorded in our Reports of Proceedings 1891, with the heading ‘Dumbarton Common’. This considerable area of land was set apart by Act of Parliament in about 1858 as a public recreation ground, and the Corporation of Dumbarton have since maintained it as such. Two railway companies, the Lanarkshire and Dumbartonshire Railway Company and the North British Railway Company, proposed to absorb a considerable area of the recreation ground. The society sent their solicitor to inspect the ground and make inquiries, and he had an interview with the Provost and …read more

Charnwood Forest Regional Park

Chris Peat, our representative on Charnwood Forest Regional Park Steering Group, has sent us this report: The Open Spaces Society strongly supports the development of the Charnwood Forest Regional Park because it will protect and enhance important open spaces within easy reach of the urban areas of Leicester and Loughborough at the eastern end of the National Forest. Members of the OSS may be familiar with Charnwood Forest, which is a distinctive area of upland landscape to the north-west of Leicester. It is valued for its international geological importance, rich biodiversity, landscape beauty, historical importance, and recreational role. The area includes popular public open spaces, commons and country parks, and offers good walking and wide views. It is also a …read more

Croeso i Gymru?

‘Opinion’ by our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, was published in the autumn 2015 issue of Open Space. In spring 1986 I wrote an article in this magazine called ‘When you go off Offa’s …’. I had been walking part of the Offa’s Dyke national trail and then tried to return on a route using connecting paths in Powys and Shropshire. As soon as I left the trail I encountered dreadful problems. Things have improved since then, but the Welsh Government’s green paper on access and outdoor recreation threatens a return to those dark days. Despite positive statements in the paper about the importance of recreation, the government sees only burdens and costs in the public-path network—and in effect dismisses this great …read more

A visit to Ashtead Common

The Open Spaces Society has had a strong connection with the City of London Corporation all through its history, and we helped the city acquire many of its open spaces: Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches and the Coulsdon Commons.  It was therefore fitting that, as one of our 150th anniversary events, we should visit the city’s Ashtead Common in Surrey. We met at the Ashtead visitor centre on Sunday 11 October and the ranger, Andy Thwaites, treated us to a fascinating and well-researched talk.  He had discovered that our former secretary, Lawrence Chubb, had in 1916 written an article in the Journal of the Royal Society for Arts in which he stressed the importance of the London commons ‘which bring …read more

The Welsh consultation on access and recreation

We have responded to the Welsh Government’s consultation on ‘Improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation’.  We have welcomed the proposal for greater access rights but made it clear that this must not be at the expense of public paths.  We have deplored the Welsh Government’s dismissal of the historic value of the path network, and its suggestions that the system should be ‘flexible’, ‘modernised’, ‘streamlined’ and ‘harmonised’.  These are all familiar words to us and are euphemisms for rationalisation and loss of the old ways. We have also deplored the proposal to allow for the prioritisation of recreational routes and access areas.  Highway authorities must maintain the whole path-network, charging offenders for the removal of obstructions and …read more

Derek Smith

A former activist in south Wales and a good friend of the society, Derek Smith, has died aged 88. Derek and his late wife Nina (our local correspondents for the Vale of Glamorgan from 1999 to 2002) were an indomitable pair of path and amenity defenders over many years. Together they saved a pretty footpath at Wenvoe from closure by claiming it as a right of way, a battle which lasted five years. Derek was also a pillar of the Ramblers’ Welsh Council executive committee and of South Wales Area. Derek worked tirelessly for our cause and had a great sense of fun, always ready to laugh at himself too. He spent his last years in Dorchester to be near …read more

‘Invisible fencing’ project at Epping Forest

This video describes the City of London’s innovative ‘invisible fencing’ project at Epping Forest developed since 2011. The project, supported financially by Natural England and in partnership with the manufacturer Lacmé, has enabled the re-establishment of free-range cattle grazing across the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The project has lowered the costs of re-establishing grazing significantly by reducing the requirement for cattle grids and traditional fencing. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, will be visiting the Forest in November to see how they are using this ‘invisible fencing’ and will report back.

A clever solution

Our local correspondent for Leeds, Jerry Pearlman, has told us of an ingenious solution by Leeds City Council to prevent paths being lost in rivers such as the Wharfe. The council had a fund of about £100,000 to be used to reinstate paths which had fallen, or were in danger of falling, into watercourses. Parts of the path alongside the Wharfe in the parishes of Harewood, Kearby with Netherby and East Keswick have fallen into the river or are in danger of doing so. With the cooperation of the landowners, the council has made a number of small diversions to put the path on dry land. They call the diversion order a ‘Water Safety Order’

Help test new self-closing bridle gates

In 2011 The British Horse Society conducted a trial of commercially available self-closing bridle gates. The trial recorded a number of issues which meant that there was an impact on safety and ease of use by horse riders. This confirmed anecdotes that horses and riders were suffering injury; and many were being put off accessing the countryside due to fear of injury. Since then Natural England has been working in partnership with the British Horse Society and a gate manufacturer, Centrewire, to develop modifications and improvements to gates. A new trial has now being organised to look at these modifications and compare them to existing designs. The aim of the trial is to identify features which contribute to safe and …read more

Stepping stones across the River Thame

Our local correspondent Chris Hall writes of the society’s efforts to record a route across the River Thame in Oxfordshire as a public footpath. Three miles east of industrial Cowley, deep and peacefully remote in the meadows of the Oxford green belt, is a legal battleground at grid reference SP 601 005. As recently as 2006 the spot was labelled by the words ‘stepping stones’ on the 1:2500 Ordnance Survey (OS) maps because here people used to cross the little River Thame. In 2002 society member Hugh Crawley claimed a right of way across the river for the definitive map. Ten years later Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) rejected his claim. Hugh, a determined warrior (he landed in Normandy on D-Day …read more

The Elinor Ostrom Award for practitioners: video

The society was proud to receive the first Elinor Ostrom Award for practitioners, two years ago in Japan.  This time, our general secretary Kate Ashbrook was one of the judges.  She went to the biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) in Edmonton, Canada, in May and presented the practitioners’ award to Abdon Nababan on behalf of AMAN, the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago.  You can see the video of the ceremony here. AMAN works across Indonesia to defend community rights to the commons.  It has used a range of campaigning techniques.  For instance, it has lobbied the government to secure the rights and access of indigenous people. Importantly, it challenged the government in court …read more

Beautiful scenery needs to be seen

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, talks to That’s Oxford TV about the society’s work in ensuring that the countryside is accessible to all and remains so.

Commons registration: a half century

Fifty years ago today, 5 August 1965, the Commons Registration Act became law. The Open Spaces Society had pressed for the registration of commons for decades, and it was one of the principal recommendations of the Royal Commission on Common Land in 1958. During the passage of the Commons Registration Bill the society secured a number of improvements. Two in particular were important. One, to section 4, enabled any member of the public to make applications to register land as common (initially this was limited to people with a legal interest in the land). The other was a new section 9, which gave local authorities the same power as the owner to protect unclaimed common land. The period for registration …read more

Silver jubilee of village-green revival

It is twenty-five years since the gates reopened to allow people to register land as a village green where that land had failed to be registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965.  On 1 August 1990, a quarter of a century ago, the society led the way in advising people what they could do, with stories in the national and local press. The Commons Registration Act 1965 required all applications for the registration of commons and village greens to be submitted by 2 January 1970, with a further six months allowed for local-authority registrations without applications.  On 1 August 1970 the registers were closed (although applications could be made for land which subsequently became a common or green).  Section 10 of the act said that the registration …read more

Championing Chiltern commons

As the Chilterns Commons Project comes to an end, project officer Rachel Sanderson reflects on its achievements. In the south-east of England, a large number of small commons provide important recreational facilities for people in urban and semi-urban communities.  Over the last four years, the Chilterns Commons Project, run by the Chilterns Conservation Board, has been championing the 200 or so commons in the Chilterns (see map). The Chilterns are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which stretches from the River Thames at Goring in Oxfordshire north-east to Hitchin in Hertfordshire, covering 324 square miles.  As in many lowland areas, most commoners’ rights were extinguished following the 1965 Commons Registration Act and, of those which remain, only a handful …read more

The Royal Commission on Common Land at 60

Today, 25 July, marks the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment by parliament of the Royal Commission on Common Land in 1955.  The commission made far-reaching recommendations for the future of commons in England and Wales. The society had been pressing for a royal commission for some time.  In October 1953 it asked the Minister of Agriculture for this.  It had been concerned by the tenor of a debate in the House of Lords in July 1953 on derelict land and agriculture in which there was a call to make commons more productive.  Consequently, the society pressed the Ministry of Agriculture for a high-level, broad investigation of commons. The commission was made up of erudite persons, charged to recommend what changes, if any, are …read more

Lord Eversley’s message to members, 19 July 1915

One hundred years ago, on 19 July 1915 the fiftieth anniversary of the society’s foundation, our president and chairman Lord Eversley gave an address to the members.  It is published in a 16-page booklet marked, for some reason, ‘confidential’.  Here is a summary of what he said. On the 19th of July, 1865, fifty years ago to a day, the first Meeting of the Commons Preservation Society was held, at which I was elected its Chairman.  I have held that position continuously with the exception of short intervals when, as a member of Mr. Gladstone’s Government, it was inconsistent with my official duties that I should do so. He goes on to name others who were involved, such as Mr Fawcett, …read more

The Big Pathwatch

This summer, with funding from the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust, the Ramblers are launching a survey of all the public paths in England and Wales as shown on Ordnance Survey maps. The Big Pathwatch will launch on Monday 13 July and the Ramblers will be providing a handy new, free app for your phone so you can tell them what you find. Anyone can take part. You just need to register for a one-kilometre square and walk all the paths shown on the OS map. You can then report what you find – good or bad – to the Ramblers using the app. The Ramblers will use the results to assess the state of the network and to come up …read more

Talking commons in Canada

The biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) was held this year in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Kate Ashbrook attended,  generously funded by the Elinor Ostrom Award of which the society was a winner in 2013. Here is her summary of her visit. I travelled with John Powell from the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) of Gloucestershire University, with whom I am working on an international online course on campaigning for commons.  He was tied up in meetings some of the time and I was free to explore the area before the conference started. Although the town of Edmonton is not very interesting,  it has the longest stretch of parkland in north America, extending beside the North Saskatchewan …read more

Fighting on

‘Opinion’ by our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, was published in the summer 2015 issue of Open Space. When David Cameron announced on 8 May that he was forming a government, he boasted of his achievements over the last five years and what he would do in the next five. Not surprisingly there was no mention of the environment.  Indeed, it is hard to think of much that the coalition government did do for the environment—beyond the welcome Deregulation Act which will aid the addition of paths to the definitive maps and the acceleration of coastal access. For the government schmoozed with its cronies, the developers.  By the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 it outlawed registration of land as a green …read more

International commons conference in Canada

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, is in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for the biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), 25-29 May.  She has been generously funded by the Elinor Ostrom Award, which the society won in 2013. The society is keen to encourage the IASC to embrace practitioners who are campaigning for the commons, in parallel with academics, since both depend on each other—practitioners need independent, reliable evidence to support their campaigns, and academics need the practitioners to commission their work. Commons are not just land, as we know them in England and Wales, but include air, water, forests, gene pools, the internet and much else, a common interest being the uniting feature. Kate is on …read more

Major victory for green spaces of Wales

The Welsh Government has decided not to ape England’s village-greens law. In December 2013 we learnt that the Welsh Government was proposing, in its Planning (Wales) Bill, to copy the provisions of England’s egregious Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 for greens.  In other words, it proposed that applications for greens should be outlawed when land had been identified for planning, even though that process was often secret and people could not have known their much-loved green spaces were threatened.  We said that these proposals struck at the heart of local communities, preventing them from securing the land they have long enjoyed. We swung into action, urging our members in Wales to tell us of greens which would not have been registered under the new law and …read more

The postwar revolution that altered the English countryside

On 11 May, BBC East marked VE Day: First Days of Peace with a programme on the postwar revolution that altered the English countryside into a landscape that could not only feed the nation but also be seen as a place of leisure. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, spoke to Ben Robinson and you can hear her contribution approximately 24 minutes into the programme here.

Accessing Nature funding programme

This summer SITA Trust will launch its new Accessing Nature programme which will fund capital works to increase and improve opportunities for access to the great outdoors. They will be accepting England-wide applications for a range of projects including, but not limited to: providing access to nature reserves and wildlife areas, creating community pond-dipping areas or bird- watching hides, and installing wildlife interpretation. The SITA Trust team will be developing this programme over the coming months and will open the application process to not-for-profit organisations across England. The programme manager will be Pete Sessions.

The commons’ people

This article by our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, was published in the spring 2015 issue of the Campaign to Protect Rural England‘s magazine Countryside Voice. The name ‘common’ is scattered all over maps of England. But that does not mean the land is common today—rather the word is a memento from a time when much of England was common land. Commons date back to before the Middle Ages, when land tended to be communally shared. People depended on the commons for their livelihoods—grazing animals, digging peat for fuel, collecting bracken for bedding and branches and twigs for repairing their properties, and taking fish, sand and gravel. The inclosure movement—which occurred sporadically at first and then intensely in the eighteenth and nineteenth …read more

Happy birthday Pennine Way

Fifty years ago today, on 24 April 1965, the Pennine Way was opened.  This was the first of Britain’s long-distance paths (now called national trails in England and Wales) and the event took place on Malham Moor with the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, Fred Willey, in attendance.     The path was the inspiration of Tom Stephenson, secretary of the Ramblers and a committee member of the Open Spaces Society.  The opening was the fulfilment of a 30-year dream.  In 1935 Tom received a letter from two American girls asking for advice about a tramping holiday in England and mentioning their acquaintance with the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail.  Tom was outdoor writer for the Daily Herald and was inspired to publish …read more

New book to celebrate our commons

We have published a new book, Common Land, to celebrate the ancient common land of England and Wales. It is written by our chairman Graham Bathe. Says Graham: ‘Most of us are familiar with commons. We may have played on them when young and visit them with our own children. Commons are woven into our culture and are of great beauty and grandeur. They are relics of the magnificent landscapes that once covered much of the countryside. They stretch back into history, to the very dawn of farming itself. ‘Now commons provide many opportunities for enjoyment, and because they extend from cities like London and Newcastle to the great moors of the Brecon Beacons, Lake District and Dartmoor, nobody is …read more

Law denied

While researching our 150-year history, I have been struck repeatedly by the number of times we have taken or backed court action.  So writes our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, in her Opinion in the latest edition of our magazine Open Space. Indeed, had we not gone to the courts to assert the rights of commoners and to prevent enclosures, few of London’s commons would now survive.  Later we used the courts to reopen public paths. More recently we have taken action against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at Wisley Common in Surrey (2004), and backed cases to establish the law on village greens at the turn of this century. The society has relied on the courts to make and …read more

We celebrate our 150-year struggle for open spaces

We have published our new book, Saving Open Spaces, the story of our 150-year struggle for commons, greens, open spaces and paths.  It is written by our general secretary for 31 years, Kate Ashbrook. The society was formed in 1865 as the Commons Preservation Society to rescue London’s threatened commons—Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common and Epping Forest for instance—before going on to found the National Trust in 1895.  It soon expanded its remit to cover the whole of England and Wales, and to embrace all types of open spaces and public paths.  It is responsible for much of the legislation which protects these places today. Charts The book charts the society’s activities through the years—one of the most socially-vital campaigns of …read more

Cock-up of Wales

Two years ago the society objected to the planning application for the Circuit of Wales motor-sports development on common land, just north of Ebbw Vale in south Wales.  At that time the developer, the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, stated optimistically and inaccurately on its website that ‘planning permission is the final hurdle’. Although the development now has planning permission it has not yet gone ahead—because it would take common land.  There are many who claim that the objectors are holding up a development which will bring jobs and prosperity to the area.  Their ire should be directed at the developers who opted to site the motor circuit on a common.  For the applicant has had to find land to offer …read more

Common landscapes

Today a taskgroup of 27 organisations launches its report Landscapes for Everyone (see below) in parliament, calling on politicians to champion our unique British landscapes. We shall be there. Our special message is that we must look after the 2,212 square miles of common land in England and Wales. Do this and we secure a vast range of landscapes and wildlife habitats, we embrace history and culture, and we ensure that the public has places to walk and ride in peace and tranquillity. Our commons come in all shapes, sizes and landtypes — from the moors of Dartmoor to the Lake District fells, from the Norfolk coast to the Chiltern chalklands, from Snowdonia’s mountains to the Glamorgan shore. Even lakes …read more

Our 150th birthday

This year, 2015, we celebrate our 150th anniversary—the first national conservation body to do so. Founded on 19 July 1865 as the Commons Preservation Society we first saved London commons from destruction and 30 years later created the National Trust—and we are still fighting. Now the society campaigns throughout England and Wales to protect common land, greens, open spaces and public paths. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, says: ‘A century and a half ago no one would have thought that today there would be at least 2,212 square miles (an area roughly the size of Lincolnshire) of common land in England and Wales. This is because of the campaigns led by the Open Spaces Society to ensure that commons and …read more

Landscapes for everyone

Great Britain’s diverse landscapes need champions. A consortium of national organisations has taken up the challenge. We have a shared vision of why our unique British landscapes should be protected for the benefit of current and future generations and what Government action is needed. Read more here. The official launch of ‘Landscapes for everyone’ will take place on 20 January 2015 and we will be publishing updates in the new year.

Firle Estate – tax free and for what?

The Firle Estate, near Lewes in East Sussex contains some of the most iconic walking landscape in the country, including the Firle Beacon stretch of the South Downs Way. So it might not surprise you to learn that the Estate has obtained exemption from inheritance tax (2) on nearly all the estate (3) in return for keeping the estate in good condition and allowing public access. This is a considerable tax concession and one that many home owners in the South-East would like to have. But what are we getting for our money? An examination of the agreements made between the estate and the government show that all we seem to have got are two short footpaths: 1) South from …read more

Good Hants, bad Hants?

Hampshire County Council has a long, solid record in good countryside-management. For decades the council has led in providing better access for all and in countryside interpretation. It owns a number of well-managed country parks, commons and nature reserves. It pioneers a lottery-funded project, Providing Access to Hampshire’s Heritage (PATHH), to recruit and train volunteers to research claims for historic paths. With us and others it produced a video on the management of commons. It processes greens applications in an applicant-friendly way. Hampshire exudes good practice. Statements But now it is adopting bad practice. It is depositing statements and placing notices on its land stating that it does not accept that any rights exist there beyond those already recorded on …read more

Wales apes England and proposes law which will destroy village greens

We are dismayed that the Welsh Government proposes to copy England’s law and boost developers in destroying village greens. The Welsh Government in its Planning Bill, published today (6 October), copies England’s Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. It prohibits the registration of land as a town or village green where it has been identified for development. The government also plans to enable landowners to deposit statements with the registration (unitary) authority, challenging people’s use of the land for recreation—just like in England. At present, local people can apply to register land as a green if they have enjoyed it for 20 years for informal recreation, without being stopped or given permission. Once registered, the land is protected from development. We …read more

Saving our green spaces

If you want to save your open space you need to get involved. Our general secretary Kate Ashbrook tells you how.   Communities need to be on their toes if they want to rescue their much-loved spaces from developers. The opportunity to register them as town or village greens has recently diminished in England, and the Welsh Government threatens to follow suit (although we are strenuously resisting this). Town and village greens are land where local people have enjoyed informal recreation, for at least 20 years, without challenge or permission. Once the land has been registered by the county or unitary authority (the registration authority) as a green it is protected from development. Greens were first registered under the Commons …read more

Kent’s coastal access needs your help

Natural England is making good progress with coastal access around England.  A stretch which is nearing fruition is between Folkestone and Ramsgate in Kent.  Kent Ramblers, through its coastal access officer Ian Wild and with support from the OSS, has worked closely with Natural England and we are all pleased with the route which Natural England proposed to the Secretary of State in June. A particularly welcome aspect of Natural England’s route was just north of Sandwich where the proposed route follows the edge of the quay at Richborough Port.  This avoids a very unpleasant stretch of the busy A256 and also allows walkers to see the quay itself which is of great historical interest for its role in the First and …read more

Lettaford saga

Last May our member Sally Button contacted us for help in reopening the Mariners’ Way footpath through the hamlet of Lettaford, near North Bovey in the Dartmoor National Park. The path ran through the farmyard of High Lettaford Farm.  About a month before the gate on the southern side of the property had been locked and marked private and the path redirected.  It seemed that this was connected with the sale of the property by the Landmark Trust to an individual. It turned out that the definitive map showed the path on a route which had clearly never been used, running through an ancient hedgebank. The matter was raised with the highway authority, Devon County Council.  With inexplicable haste, it decided to …read more

Take care of your footpaths

In a recent edition of the Clun Chronicle, Cliff Freund, our long-standing member and former local correspondent for Shropshire, stresses the importance of getting involved, and supporting organisations such as OSS, if you want to protect your local rights-of-way network. Read his article here.

Global commons conference, Canada, 25-29 May 2015

The commons amid complexity and change is the theme of the next global conference organised by the International Association for the Study of the Commons. It is to be held at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, from 25 to 29 May next year. Commons in an international sense are much broader than our ancient commons of England and Wales, meaning the common use of resources—land, water, air and knowledge. The Open Spaces Society has been working with the organisers and others to ensure that the conference is much more than purely an academic event, with significant content concerning practitioners on commons. For the first time, this (the fifteenth) biennial conference will embrace those who live and work on commons …read more

The tide has turned

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes about worrying changes in legal opinion. Fifteen years ago the Sunningwell case clarified the law on village greens in the public interest. Since then a series of cases has gone the same way—but now the tide has turned. Already this year we have had three judgments about greens in the supreme court and one in the court of appeal. All have gone against the public and have endangered both the greens with which they were directly concerned and others for which they will serve as precedents. In the most recent case, known as Barkas, the supreme court has ruled that, where land is held by a local authority under the Housing Act 1985, the …read more

All-party support for village greens in Wales

There was all-party support in the National Assembly for Wales for maintaining the current laws for registering greens.  The debate was initiated on 30 April by Suzy Davies, Conservative Assembly Member (AM) for South Wales West and Shadow Minister for Welsh Culture, Language and Tourism.  Suzy asked the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies, if he would consider introducing a presumption in favour of village greens where local authorities threaten to appropriate land for development. Julie Morgan (Cardiff North, Lab) added that in England the right of local inhabitants to apply to register land as a green has been severely curtailed.  Elin Jones (Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru) recommended that a local authority should consider an application for a green …read more

Hedge removed from Goose Green common

Surrey member Hugh Craddock reports a success in waking up a district council to its duties under the Commons Act 1899. Many commons in west Surrey were put into schemes of regulation and management under the 1899 act by rural district councils in the first half of the twentieth century; Waverley Borough Council is now responsible. But in 2004, Waverley decided to withdraw from management of the 72 hectares of scheme commons to save money. Recently I noticed that the owner of a cottage on Goose Green, part of Selhurst Common near Bramley, had planted a laurel hedge dividing the green in front of his house from the road. Waverley initially refused to take any action. However, I showed that …read more

‘Pathfinder Pat’ dies aged 97, still fighting for rights of way in Kent

We are sad to report that Pat Wilson, our vice-president and local correspondent, who fought for paths and open spaces throughout Kent and Medway for more than 50 years, has died aged 97 at her home in Kent. Pat was our local correspondent for Medway for 20 years. Before that she served as Ramblers’ footpath secretary for Kent. She was the president and founder of the Meopham and District Footpaths Group in north Kent. She died peacefully on Friday (4 April) while still in the midst of her campaigning work. Pat saved countless paths and open spaces in Kent and Medway. In 2012 she claimed more than 120 urban alleyways in Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham for the official path-map. Her …read more

War against green space

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes of the unprecedented threats to open spaces.  Our green spaces are being squeezed from both ends.  Government made it harder to register greens and now a supreme court ruling encourages greedy developers to unpick existing registrations. Under the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 land cannot be registered as a green if it is subject to one or more planning-related ‘trigger events’—now government has added new ones.  When will the attrition stop? Using another section of this pernicious act, landowners are rapidly depositing statements, challenging people’s use of land ‘as of right’—and giving them only one year in which to apply to register it. The Welsh government looks set to ape Westminster by introducing similar …read more

Residents save Bucks green

Congratulations to our member the Penn & Tylers Green Residents’ Society in Bucks who have won a five-year campaign to register two verges as village green and have set an excellent example to other communities. The land consists of two, wide, roadside verges leading from the Hazlemere to Penn road (the B474) into Coppice Farm Road.  The society’s aim was to keep the greens free of commercial development, as open, green space for public enjoyment as they have been for 60 years.  When the campaign started in 2008 the land belonged to Wycombe District Council who was proposing to sell the larger verge for property development. The society gathered evidence of use for informal recreation from local people and submitted …read more

Saving Welsh village greens from changes in planning law

The Open Spaces Society opposes the Welsh Government’s draconian proposals in its draft Planning Bill to make it more difficult for people to register  land as a town or village green.  The government wants to prohibit applications where land has been identified for planning, and to enable landowners to submit declarations to the common registration authorities which put an end to the public’s use of the land as of right. We are calling on the government to improve the law in favour of the public, and to amend the greens’ guidance to introduce timescales and greater dialogue in the process and to give registration authorities greater powers to reject vexatious applications.   We therefore propose the following changes in law and …read more

Deregulation Bill will help to get lost paths on the map

The Deregulation Bill, which is due for second reading in the House of Commons on Monday 3 February, will help to speed up claims for historic rights of way in England. The bill follows the recommendations in Stepping Forward, the report produced in 2010 by Natural England’s stakeholder working group on unrecorded highways. The group is made up of representatives of landowners and farmers, local authorities and path-users. It met between October 2008 and January 2010 and reached unanimous agreement on how to streamline the process for recording paths on the definitive map. This is now urgent, since we are faced with a cut-off for claims based on historical evidence on 1 January 2026. The groups also agreed that the …read more

What happened to balance?

When the Commons Bill was published in 2005 we were concerned, among other things, about part 1, which allows for correction and updating of the common-land registers. We feared that in the process we might lose more than we gained. However, ministers continually assured us, and parliament, that the bill was balanced and affected landowners and the public equally: ‘We believe that the bill presents a balance in carefully defining limited criteria, both for the deregistration of registered land and for the registration of new land’ (Lord Bach, parliamentary under-secretary of state for the environment at the second reading in the House of Lords on 20 July 2005). Now all that has gone out of the window.  On 9 January …read more

Unbounded freedom

Andrew Humphries, experienced hill-farmer and teacher, writes about the contribution of the Lake District yeomen.   Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene Nor fence of ownership crept in between To hide the prospect of the following eye Its only bondage was the circling sky. (John Clare 1792-1864) Writing when enclosure and ‘high farming’ were in full flow, Clare expressed the essence of pastoral commons as special places. Despite this, the largest area of unenclosed commons in western Europe exists today in the Lake District; why did this happen?  After the late eighteenth century, self-sufficiency in temperate foods gave way to increased imports; this stimulated large landowners to pursue a highly capitalised approach to agriculture and new techniques of husbandry. In …read more

Bovine TB control and commons

Because of the potential effect on common land, we have responded to a consultation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on proposals for new controls to reduce the risk of bovine TB transmission between cattle herds. We have objected to the proposed amendment to remove the common land pre-movement testing exemption from the TB regulations. The effect would be that cattle could not be moved readily on and off the common, which would have a detrimental effect on conservation grazing and commons management. We believe that there is little evidence that there is a higher risk of contracting TB on commons than elsewhere and we consider that those farming on common land should not be faced with …read more

Chilterns Commons Project competition to celebrate beauty of our commons

The stunning landscape of the Chilterns has inspired artists over the years and, to celebrate the natural beauty of our commons, the Chilterns Commons Project is running a free art competition. Artwork in any medium is welcomed from amateur artists young and old inspired by a common in the Chilterns. Prizes will be awarded to category winners and selected entries short-listed by local judges will be publicly exhibited at Arts4every1 in High Wycombe from 13 October – 14 November 2014. We are delighted that our vice-chairman Graham Bathe, who is also on the steering group for the Foundation for Common Land, will be acting as one of the judges. Visit the Chilterns AONB website for full details of the competition …read more

Sir Robert Hunter, 1844-1913

6 November 2013 is the centenary of the death of Robert Hunter, the society’s solicitor from 1868 to 1882. Robert Hunter was an early luminary of the Commons Preservation Society (CPS), as the Open Spaces Society was first known. He later became solicitor to the General Post Office and founded the National Trust. He was knighted in 1894. Born in Camberwell, south London, in 1844, Hunter excelled at school and enjoyed a happy upbringing. He graduated from University College London in 1865 with firsts in logic and moral philosophy. It is fortunate for the open-spaces movement that, after considering a career in the church, he opted to become a lawyer. Competition In 1866 he spotted a competition which appealed to …read more

We object to Defra’s plans to justify development

We have objected to plans by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for ‘biodiversity offsetting’, by which alternative sites and habitats are provided to replace those lost through development. The society responded to Defra’s consultation Biodiversity offsetting in England, green paper. We believe that offsetting will lead to a net loss of open space from people’s localities and that the green space will be shifted somewhere else, further away and less convenient. It’s impossible immediately to create a new natural habitat. Heaths, moors and woods can take decades to grow and become ecologically rich. It is facile to suggest that such sites can be replaced. In any case, open space is particularly valuable when it’s close to …read more

Kate Ashbrook shortlisted as Outdoor Personality of the Year

We are delighted that our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, has been shortlisted as Outdoor Personality of the Year in The Great Outdoors (TGO) Awards which are run annually by TGO magazine and voted for by members of the public. Kate became general secretary of the society in 1984. A former member of the Countryside Agency board, she is President of the Ramblers, a trustee of the Campaign for National Parks and the Dartmoor Preservation Association and member of the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management. She was a member of Natural England’s stakeholder group on public rights of way, and is patron of the Walkers Are Welcome Towns Network. The Ramblers’ One Coast for All has been …read more

Inclosure revived

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes about the revival of the inclosure movement.  A century and a half ago we thought the inclosures were coming to an end—about the time that the Open Spaces Society was formed. Indeed, I said as much in Japan recently to an international audience on commons, and commiserated with those nations that are going through the pain we suffered in our inclosure movement: wild land developed or fertilised, rivers dammed for reservoirs, forests felled, indigenous communities dispossessed. In reality, we now face a revival of the inclosure-movement. The list of the government’s anti-green attacks on access and open spaces lengthens by the day. Dilution The planning minister Nick Boles (who led the mean-minded attack on …read more

Public paths in parliament

The draft Deregulation Bill, which contains measures for public rights of way (clauses 12-18 and schedule 6), has been published for parliamentary pre-legislative scrutiny. The bill aims to streamline and speed up the procedures for claiming paths for the definitive map. It follows the recommendations of Natural England’s Stakeholder Working Group on unrecorded ways, published in Stepping Forward. We are a member of the group and are pleased that the government has adopted its package of measures. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 contains a provision which, if implemented, will mean that from 1 January 2026 any unrecorded path which existed before 1949 and for which there is only documentary, not user, evidence can no longer be claimed …read more

Village greens legislation update

Growth & Infrastructure Act – update 2 September 2013 The government has published further guidance to reflect a number of significant changes to the law on registering new town and village greens under the Commons Act 2006, made in April 2013 under the Growth and Infrastructure Act. It replaces the interim version published in May 2013.  The  guidance, which is available to download here will take effect from 1 October 2013. The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 means that, in England, it is no longer possible to apply to register land as a village green if it has been earmarked for development.  However applications which were submitted before 25 April 2013 will be processed. More information here.   Before applying to register land …read more

New streamlined planning guide launched online

The Department for Communities and Local Government has launched a test website for its new National Planning Practice Guidance. In making the announcement, Planning Minister Nick Boles claimed that the new on-line guidance will give much needed simplicity and clarity to the planning system and bring about better community involvement. The ‘user friendly’ format is being tested with the intention of making planning practice guidance more accessible and will also make it easier to keep up-to-date. None of the current planning practice guidance will be cancelled until the final online guidance is in place. The on-line resource will be open for public comment until 9 October with a final go-live planned for the autumn. The new National Planning Practice Guidance …read more

Section 56 and all that …………

Alan Lyne, our local correspondent for Carlisle City, tells of his success in getting rights of way opened with the threat of a notice under section 56 of the Highways Act 1980. Trawling back through the Redspearlands Footpaths Group’s archives, Alan came across the papers from a meeting of the Cumbria County Council Development Control and Regulation Committee on 19 February 2008. There was a report written by the then Head of Transport and Spatial Planning, setting out the options for the committee to consider as a means of solving three long-standing cases of obstruction. One of these was the river crossing for BW114036 at Roewath Bridge, near Stockdalewath. The proposed solution consisted of, initially, steps down both embankments so …read more

OSS wins Elinor Ostrom Award

We have won a prestigious international award for our work on common land. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, received the first-ever Elinor Ostrom Award at a global conference in Japan last week. The award was established by 15 institutions in memory of the renowned academic expert on commons, Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University, who died last year. It promotes the work of practitioners and scholars who are involved in the field of commons, and celebrates Ostrom’s writing on the value of common resources and international collective action. The Open Spaces Society is one of eight award-winners for its ‘long stewardship of the commons and its impact on commons policy and management both in the UK and Japan.’ The society was …read more

Bernard Selwyn (1925-2013)

We are sad that our vice-president Bernard Selwyn died on 14 May after a short illness. He was 87. Bernard was a chartered surveyor with the Greater London Council. He was a member of our executive committee (1982-2006), our parliamentary agent (1993-2005) and our spokesman for London. Bernard was immensely generous. In 1994 he suffered a serious leg-injury when a police-car careered into him while he was walking in London. He fought for, and won, compensation which he gave to the society. He also bought us a complete set of Ordnance Survey Explorer maps when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act’s right to roam meant that we needed the new series showing commons and other access land. His work …read more

The Growth and Infrastructure Act – the effect on greens

On 25 April the Growth and Infrastructure Bill received royal assent and is now the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013. Despite all our efforts, the provisions relating to town and village greens were not amended. The Bill was guillotined when it returned to the House of Commons and MPs did not even get the opportunity to debate the damaging amendments which were added late in the day in the House of Lords. In summary, the effect of the new Act on greens law (in England only) is as follows. While applications for greens which have already been submitted will be processed, it is no longer possible to apply to register land as a green where the following circumstances, among others, pertain. …read more

Our VP Edgar Powell retires from Worcestershire LAF

Edgar Powell, our vice-president and local correspondent for Worcestershire and part of Herefordshire, has retired from Worcestershire Local Access Forum (LAF) on which he has served for ten years, six of them as chairman. The LAF made a presentation to Edgar on 14 March. Its chairman, Gerry Taggart, paid tribute to him: ‘The LAF was created in 2003 and Edgar was elected as its first chairman. He did two three-year stints. In the early days he put in a huge amount of work for the LAF. The LAF was something completely new, albeit with guidance notes provided by the government. So Edgar was instrumental in drawing up procedures to be followed. ‘He is an expert in all things connected with …read more

Development is all

Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, writes of the government’s attack on the law of prescription, and on our open spaces. Four days after the first reading of the government’s Growth and Infrastructure Bill, with its pernicious attack on town and village greens, I went to Westminster Abbey to celebrate the life of our early activist and National Trust founder Octavia Hill.  A tablet, carved by Rory Young, was unveiled in the nave to commemorate her, 100 years after her death. National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins read from Octavia’s Space for the People, which she wrote in 1875 while campaigning (unsuccessfully) to save Swiss Cottage Fields, London, from development. ‘There on a summer Sunday or Saturday evening, you might see hundreds …read more

Dick Hutchins—access man extraordinaire

Dick Hutchins: born 28 April 1915, died 19 January 2013  RN (Dick) Hutchins has died aged 97.  He was a member of the society since the 1930s—while studying law at the London School of Economics he learnt about the campaigns for the right to roam (then gathering a head of steam) which inspired him to join us.  He also joined the Ramblers in its foundation year, 1935, and walked in the countryside most weekends. After the war, where he served as a staff officer in Britain and then in Sierre Leone, he became assistant solicitor to Derbyshire County Council.  When the seminal National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 was passed he wrote a learned commentary on it, …read more

The spirit of Kinder lives on—81 years later

The first in what is hoped will be an annual celebration of Kinder Scout and the mass trespass will be held at New Mills Town Hall on Saturday 27 April. The Kinder & High Peak Advisory Group has decided that such was the enthusiasm engendered by the 80th anniversary celebrations last year, the event should become annual to keep the spirit of Kinder and the trespass alive. Kinder 80 group chairman Roly Smith said: ‘The amount of interest in our event last year convinced us that we should have an annual event to keep this tremendous interest going.  So we are proposing an annual Spirit of Kinder Day, the first of which will take place at New Mills on April …read more

Last chance to grab your greens – do it now!

Our new-year message. We have made a last-minute call to communities to apply to register land as town or village greens.  The government’s Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently in the House of Lords, emasculates the process. The government falsely claims that greens registration is a barrier to development and wants to stop this.  Clause 14 of the Growth Bill says that once land has been earmarked for development, even if that has been done in secret, it cannot be registered as a green. Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘Although we are fighting these proposals, along with many other organisations and individuals, we must prepare for the worst.  The Bill could become law within three months, and then it will …read more

What future for Helredale’s open space?

The future of the playing field at Helredale, Whitby, North Yorkshire, is in the balance.  Following a disappointing ruling in the court of appeal in October, Helredale Neighbourhood Council (HNC) is hoping to obtain permission to appeal to the supreme court. HNC applied to register the land as a village green in 2007.  It is a four-acre, bell-shaped recreation ground off Helredale Road, the A171 road to Scarborough, on the south-east side of Whitby.  The land is grassed and looks like a municipal recreation ground among housing estates.  Owned by Scarborough Borough Council, it has been used by local people for informal recreation for many years. North Yorkshire County Council rejected the application in 2010 on the advice of Mr …read more

New ammunition for fighting landowners’ path-diversions

Ever since we received a favourable opinion from George Laurence QC on the interpretation of ‘expedient’ in section 119 of the Highways Act 1980 (the section which deals with the diversion of public paths), the Ramblers and ourselves have been looking for a suitable case on which to test this. The case emerged when the Ramblers, Bodicote Parish Council (represented by our local correspondent Chris Hall) and other objectors lost the diversion order for Bodicote footpath 8 and Bloxham footpath 2, which ran past Bodicote Mill in north Oxfordshire (see Open Space spring 2012 page 13).  Bolstered by Mr Laurence’s opinion, Chris had argued at the public inquiry that the term ‘expedient’ in section 119(1) of the Highways Act 1980 …read more

Call to save England’s commons

The newly-formed Common Land Coalition of 16 diverse countryside bodies* has called on environment minister Richard Benyon urgently to implement the law to update England’s registers of common land.  They have written to the minister, and a letter is published in The Times today (Saturday 27 October). Common land is suffering because there is no definitive, up-to-date record of the land and rights.  The Commons Act was passed with cross-party and cross-sectoral support in 2006 specifically to address this and other issues.  Yet part 1 of the Act, which provides for updating the registers, has only been implemented in seven ‘pioneer’ areas (Blackburn with Darwen, Cornwall, Devon, Hereford, Hertfordshire, Kent and Lancashire), in October 2008.  Ministers have recently announced the deferral …read more

Slow down! It’s a common!

This article was published on the Headline Environment website, On the Agenda, 12 October 2012. Responding to a recent Department of Transport consultation, Kate Ashbrook explains why the Open Spaces Society has advocated a 40mph limit on all roads through commons and how this is an important step in maintaining the open and unenclosed nature of common land. It’s not much to ask, that motorists slow down to no more than 40 miles per hour when travelling on an unfenced road across a common. After all, the common has been there for centuries, open and unenclosed. Fast cars are a relatively recent phenomenon. Why should the common’s special landscape be sacrificed just so that we can save a minute or …read more

Common land: a manifesto for horse-riders

We shall today propose a manifesto for horse-riders on common land. Our case officer, Nicola Hodgson, is speaking at the British Horse Society’s National Access Conference at Stoneleigh. Says Nicola: ‘Common land is immensely important for recreational horse-riding. It provides extensive areas of open country where people can ride safely, in wonderful landscapes which have remained largely unchanged for centuries. ‘While walkers have rights to roam on all commons, horse-riders have rights on only some. We should like to see greater attention given to the rights and interests of horse-riders on commons. ‘We therefore propose the following actions: • A universal 40-mph speed limit on all unfenced roads across common land, to safeguard horse-riders enjoying the commons. This would also …read more

OSS again recommended as appointing body to National Trust Council

The Open Spaces Society is a current appointing body to the National Trust Council. A ballot is held every six years for the election of 26 organisations which will have the right to appoint someone as a member of the Council. Our appointee is Beverley Penney who has done an excellent job for us. We are delighted that the Council has recommended that the society be put forward again as an appointing body when members vote on this prior to the National Trust’s AGM in November. We hope that members of the society, who are also members of the National Trust, will vote for us to continue as an appointing body. Without the Open Spaces Society, there would be no …read more

Public Inquiry on Westfield Playing Fields, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

This will take place on December 10th. The Playing Field is a landlocked 2 hectare site, and has been used by local people for over a hundred years for sports and informal recreation. The land comprises the last remaining part of what was formerly Westfield Common. WAG (Westfield Action Group) under its Chair, Harpenden resident Carol Hedges, has applied for Town Green status on the land to preserve it for future generations, and to prevent Harpenden Town Council from crossing it with a major access road. Westfield Playing Field is at the epicentre of an area of mixed housing, and is very much valued as the only safe urban green space accessible to the local community. The land was at …read more

Rights of Way: Restoring the Record

Want to check historic rights on a track but don’t know where to start? Need to find extra evidence before a public inquiry? Worried about your first visit to an archive office? Experienced, but just want to check which Act authorised which activities? Then you need Rights of Way: Restoring the Record, the new research guide by Sarah Bucks and Phil Wadey, out October 2012. For each of the most commonly used documentary evidence types, this book explains where the evidence can be found, why it is of value to proving or disproving highway status, and how to set out an application for a definitive map modification order. There are notes on the national and county archive offices and helpful …read more

Common ground not battleground

Article published on Headline Environment website, On the Agenda, 11 September 2012   Commons are unique and precious places to be treasured by all, says Kate Ashbrook, of the Open Spaces Society, as she welcomes the publication of a revised version of A Common Purpose. Kate Ashbrook writes: Common land has for centuries been a battleground. In 1549 thousands of rebels met on Mousehold Heath near Norwich to demand an end to enclosure. In 1606 a London merchant inclosed part of a common wood near Canterbury, Kent, and built houses around it: angry locals destroyed one of the houses. This century there have been long and contentious public inquiries into fencing of commons to allow grazing, with local people pitched …read more

New edition of A Common Purpose out now

We are delighted that A Common Purpose, a guide to seeking agreement on England’s common land, has been published in a revised edition on the Foundation for Common Land’s website. This follows endorsement by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ National Common Land Stakeholder Group which consists of all the principal organisations with an interest in commons. A Common Purpose provides guidance to common-land managers on how to engage the community and achieve consensus when works, such as fencing or tree-felling, are contemplated. It encourages land managers to take a step-by-step approach to understanding people’s views and to allow plenty of time for discussion and reflection. There are 1,544 square miles (400,000 hectares) of common land in England, …read more

Painting of Hound Tor, Dartmoor, Devon

We are pleased to offer this unique opportunity to own an original painting and thereby support the work of the Open Spaces Society. Our local correspondent, Bob Milton, has kindly offered his original painting of Hound Tor on Dartmoor, Devon, for auction to raise funds for the society. Please send sealed bids to: Ellen Froggatt, Open Spaces Society, 25a Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames RG9 2BA to arrive no later than Friday 31 December 2012.

Walk the Waterways of Finchley

Our member, The Finchley Society, has organised two walks along the Waterways of Finchley on Sunday 15th July and Sunday 22nd July.  Full details are shown on the attached leaflets. Contact for the walks is Mike Gee on 0208 346 5503   Waterways Walk Part 1 6.5mls Waterways Walk Part 2 5.1 miles

Our campaign challenges for the year ahead

‘We should never forget that the Open Spaces Society is a hard hitting, agile and quick reacting campaigning organisation, able and willing to be controversial, radical and perhaps at times unpopular in pursuit of its charitable objects.’ So said Tim Crowther, our chairman, in moving the adoption of the society’s annual report at our annual general meeting on Tuesday 10 July. Tim continued: ‘What we don’t want in our strategy documents is aspirational waffle and jargon-laden claptrap. We must remain clear thinking and clear speaking in our defence of open spaces and public paths in town and country. ‘There are plenty of new issues where we should make our voice heard. The growing controversy over the provision of private, rather …read more

Chorleywood Common

Chorleywood Common is an amazing place.  Within a mile of the M25 and surrounded by roads and railways, it survives as a wild oasis, breathtakingly lovely with its wide open spaces and mixed woodland.  It is a reminder, in miniature, of our pre-inclosure landscapes.  It is enjoyed by walkers and riders, residents and visitors of all ages and is fiercely defended by local people. Not surprising then that the parish council’s plans to fence the common for grazing are deeply controversial.  The parish council owns the 76-hectare common and has produced a management plan, one of the aims of which is to extend the area of chalk grassland by reducing encroachment by scrub.  It is a superb habitat for wildlife, …read more

Cattle-grid blocks bridleway

On 14 March 2012, in a useful judgment for path defenders, two high court judges ruled that a cattle-grid cannot be authorised to block the whole width of a footpath or bridleway—Kind v Northumberland County Council [2012] EWHC 603 (Admin). Capheaton bridleway 11, 18 miles north-west of Newcastle upon Tyne, was recorded as a public footpath until 2009 when the designation was amended to bridleway, following the discovery of ‘historical evidence’ about the route, which is said to be an old packhorse road of some importance. At some time, a cattle-grid had been placed across the whole width of the track. Walkers, and later riders and cyclists, were forced off the highway and into a field to avoid the obstruction. …read more

Linking the Lakes and Dales National Parks

We have joined a consortium with the Campaign for National Parks, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Lake District and many others in support of plans to extend the boundaries of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. This will ensure that the magnificent countryside, much of it common land, between the two parks is designated, including the northern Howgill Fells. Natural England has signed variations orders which need to be confirmed by the environment secretary. Please write in support of the variations, before 16 March 2012. The easiest way is via CPRE which produces a template for you to email to Defra and your MP. If you prefer you can write to Defra, Protected Landscapes Team, …read more

Inland Revenue 1910 Finance Act Maps

The working maps drawn up by the Inland Revenue under the Finance Act 1910 were handed over to the Wiltshire Record Office in 1979 and are now in the custody of the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. The maps are typically consulted by the public for family and local history research and for evidence to support the existence of public rights of way. There is no other comparable national survey of landownership and occupation in our history. Our member Bill Riley, from Bradford-on-Avon, has been using the maps for rights of way evidence since 1979 when only a handful of people knew of their existence. As he explains, ‘The maps contain cogent information to support the existence of public rights …read more

We commemorate our path pioneer, Octavia Hill

The year 2012 marks the centenary of the death of Octavia Hill, an early activist of the Open Spaces Society.  Octavia became involved in the society in about 1875 shortly after her unsuccessful campaign to buy the fields between Swiss Cottage and Hampstead in west London.  She joined the committee of the society, urging it to enlarge its scope to include ‘the acquisition and dedication to the public of open spaces in or near London’. The society was then known as the Commons Preservation Society, and its luminaries included George Shaw-Lefevre (later to become Lord Eversley), Sir Charles Dilke MP, Leslie Stephen and many other Liberal reformers. Octavia Hill is well known for her advocacy for open spaces—‘open-air sitting rooms’ …read more

OSS becomes a company

On 1 January 2012 the Open Spaces Society gains company status, registered in England and Wales as a company limited by guarantee, number 7846516. This follows our special general meeting on 23 November where members voted unanimously that the society should become a company. The society will continue to be known as the Open Spaces Society. We remain a charity too, with the new number 1144840. We have registered our full title, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, as a dormant company. In adopting the memorandum and articles of association, we have maintained as much as possible of our old constitution. The principal reason for the transfer to a company was significantly to reduce trustees’ personal liability. We …read more

Celebrating success in saving and creating spaces for the public

We have launched our first Open Space Award. The society is inviting applicants who can demonstrate an activity that protects, increases, enhances and champions common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public paths in England and Wales, and the public’s right to enjoy them. Details are on our website here or phone 01491 573535. Applications must be submitted by 31 January 2012. A national panel of judges will make a shortlist and visit those sites. The winning project will be announced at the society’s AGM on 10 July. Jean Macdonald, the society’s vice-chairman, said: ‘We want to hear about the good things people are doing which support our aims of protecting, increasing, enhancing and championing open spaces and …read more

Jean Macdonald’s Fun Run

As some of you may recall from an earlier feature, our vice-chairman, Jean Macdonald, took part in the Coventry Big Fun Run on 21st August 2011. Jean has sent us this report. ‘Since I became a trustee in July last year, we have discussed how we might raise funds at almost every trustees’ meeting. This spring, I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth is and do something myself. I originally thought about having a stand at a local show, but thought that might be a lot of effort for not much income. As a walk a lot, a 5k fun run sounded like a doddle. How wrong could I be. When I started training a …read more

Defra drives a bulldozer through village greens law

We have slated the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for driving a bulldozer through the laws for registering land as a new village green. The society has responded to Defra’s consultation on the registration of new town or village greens. At present land can be registered as a green if it has been used by local people for informal recreation for 20 years, without being stopped or asking permission. Once registered, the land is protected from development. The society is angry that Defra presents its proposals as an all-or-nothing package which would, the society says, ‘destructively reform’ the law. The society also objects to Defra’s proposals to: • introduce a ‘character test’ which would severely limit the …read more

New green space – but keep off the grass!

The proposed new Local Green Space designation, in the government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), is a muddle. It confers no right for the public to go there, so it may be that we can only look at it and not walk on it. The society has responded to the consultation on the draft NPPF, in which the Department for Communities and Local Government proposes a new Local Green Space designation ‘to protect locally significant green areas which are special to local communities’. They are to be identified by local communities through the local and neighbourhood plans. Says Nicola Hodgson, our case officer: ‘This new green space designation is so shackled by restrictions as to render it useless. ‘We …read more

The Open Spaces Society’s views on Defra’s consultation on the registration of new village greens, September 2011

We are deeply concerned about this consultation. We have asked our members for their views and are preparing a detailed response before the closing date of 17 October. In particular, our concerns are as follows. 1. A package The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) appears to be presenting a package of proposals, ie all or nothing. We have always accepted, indeed advocated, that some changes are needed (see below), but these can largely be achieved by amending the guidance and regulations not the law. We are concerned that the proposed package is linked to the new Local Green Space designation in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s National Planning Policy Framework. The two designations should be …read more


We have recently been contacted by members of the Open Spaces Society who are unhappy about the Trailblaze project which is currently being trialled by Natural England on eight national trails. The society, while generally welcoming the wider use of paths, does have some concerns about this initiative which are broadly as follows: 1. the encouragement of speed is likely to cause interference with other path users, 2. the additional use of paths at speed is likely to damage the path surface, particularly at the start of trails as many attempts will be started but not necessarily finished, 3. the brightly coloured boxes are visually very intrusive in areas of natural beauty and seem contrary to the ethos of both …read more

Our open day at Northwick Park

On Saturday 3 September the society held its open day at Northwick Park, in the London Borough of Brent. It was hosted by our feisty Northwick Park Group at St Cuthbert’s Hall and 34 people attended. Margaret Roake from the Northwick Park Group gave us a short history of Harrow.  She spoke of how Harrow became popular as commuter land when the metropolitan railway was developed, quoting the rhyme: ‘The richest crop that you can grow, is a crop of houses, all in a row.’ Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, picked up on this when she spoke about the current row over the government’s proposals to dismantle the planning system, and to smother green spaces with housing when ample brownfield sites were available.  Nicola Hodgson, our case officer, talked about …read more

Rus in urbe—come to our open day!

The Open Spaces Society is holding an open day on Saturday 3 September, to explore some of the exquisite countryside around Harrow-on-the-Hill. Our members, the feisty Northwick Park Group, are hosting us at St Cuthbert’s Church Hall, 214 Carlton Avenue West, Wembley HA0 3QY, from 11.30am. In the morning there will be talks about the fascinating history of Harrow and its environs; current issues facing the Open Spaces Society; and the battle to reopen blocked paths across Northwick Park Golf Course and Harrow Schools’ grounds. In the afternoon there is a three-mile (easy) walk, to inspect the blocked paths and to savour the delights of Harrow-on-the-Hill with an informed guide. Features include the plaque to mark the first recorded motor …read more

Rodney Legg’s funeral, 30 July 2011

Surrounded by 80 of his friends, Rodney Legg was buried in a wildflower meadow on a Dorset hillside on Saturday 30 July. A few weeks before he died on 22 July he had chosen the best spot in the lovely Higher Ground Meadow, Corscombe, on the prow of the hill overlooking the Dorset and Somerset countryside he loved. The ceremony was held in a barn, and we sat on straw bales, while swallows zipped in and out. Most people were informally dressed: ‘Come as you are’, Di Hooley, Rod’s companion, had told those who had inquired about dress code. It seemed right; after all, that’s what Rodney did. The ceremony was conducted by the Revd Stephen Batty of St Aldhelm’s …read more

Sponsor our vice-chairman in Coventry’s Big Fun Run

Our vice-chairman, Jean Macdonald, is taking part in Coventry’s Big Fun Run on 21st August and hopes to raise money for the society by doing so. Read more here Jean says: ‘Although I do a lot of walking I have never done any running so this is a first for me. It is a genuine challenge and I hope to raise the profile of the society, as well as raise some money for a cause that is dear to my heart.’ Please click on the donation button below to sponsor Jean and support the society. Please complete and return the form below if you would like us to be able to claim Gift Aid on your donation. Gift Aid Declaration …read more

Authorising structures on rights of way

Defra’s good practice guidance for local authorities on compliance with the Equality Act 2010. Click here to download The Open Spaces Society’s introduction to the Defra guidance Click Understanding Defra Structures – Version 3e to download.

A framework for green space

In autumn 2010, the Department for Communities and Local Goverment (DCLG) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) agreed to ‘create a new designation to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities’.  However, by April 2011, the government has made no progress whatever in developing its ideas. The Open Spaces Society asked its members to advise on what they would wish such a designation to achieve.  In our information sheet, A framework for green spaces, we have distilled the responses we received. Read it here.

Defra study of Women’s Institute Survey on Town and Village Greens

Please click on the link below to download a copy of Defra’s study of the character of greens based on a semi-randomised representative sample (200) of information gathered by the Women’s Institute across England. Please click here

Friends of the Lake District – Our Green Heritage

Friends of the Lake District are offering a new opportunity for communities to take part and receive dedicated help for their green space. They are inviting communities to participate in a 3 year funded project focusing on local heritage green space. This is a follow on to the highly successful Our Green Space project. What would your community like to do? . Repair historic features such as a maypole, well or stone wall boundaries . You have a project in mind but you don’t have the funding to do it . Develop and implement a management plan for the green spaces . Better understand what you can or cannot do . Create a wildlife area or pond . Involve the …read more

British Bike Association on rights for cyclists

There are an increasing number of cyclists in the United Kingdom. This is because bicycles provide economic, ecological and environmental benefits over other forms of transport. Bicycles are used for travelling to and from work, for recreational use and even for delivery purposes. Many cyclists are afraid of vehicular traffic, so choose to cycle on the footpaths. This is against the law. Bicycles, by law, are defined as carriages and, as such, must be ridden on the road. Since 1999, cycling on the pavement is punishable by a fixed penalty notice of £30. The fixed penalty only applies to footpaths running alongside a road. It does not apply to country footpaths, parks or car parks where there is no road. …read more

Message from India

In January 2011 the Open Spaces Society’s general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, attended the global conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) in Hyderabad.  She was the guest of IASC and of the co-host, the Indian Foundation for Ecological Security.  She gives a snapshot of her eight days in India here.

BBC Radio Oxford interview

On Sunday 6 February our general secretary had an hour-long interview with Bill Heine on BBC Radio Oxford. She chatted about public paths, forestry privatisation, village greens, common land and campaigning. You can listen to it here: BBC Radio Oxford interview.

Ten-point plan for candidates in Westminster election, May 2010

We published our ten-point plan for candidates in the general election, and asked them to sign up to it. Action plan 1. A right of appeal, and a requirement to provide suitable alternative land, before public open space is taken for another purpose 2. Law change to give county and unitary authorities a duty to take action against unlawful works on common land 3. Legislation throughout England and Wales to enable people to reclaim ‘lost’ commons for the common-land registers 4. A timetable for processing town and village green applications, so that legitimate applications are swiftly resolved (and mischievous ones swiftly rejected) 5. Requirement to include on planning-application forms questions about the existence of public rights of way, common land …read more