Forty fighting years

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Today (2 April) Kate Ashbrook celebrates the fortieth anniversary of her appointment as our general secretary. She is the longest-serving chief executive officer among bodies dedicated to the amenities and freedom of the countryside. 

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

In her time in office—an attic in Henley-on-Thames—she has worked for and welcomed remarkable changes in the safeguarding of commons, greens, and public paths, the objects of the society’s care since it was founded in 1865. You can see a full list of Kate’s highlights from the last forty years here.

Kate says ‘We now have a right of access to all registered commons, and many town and village greens are registered and protected against development as never before. That was not true when I took the job. 

‘Public paths do not yet have the protection they deserve. Too often they are closed or moved at the whim of landowners. And there are local authorities whose record in failing to keep these country lifelines open is disgraceful. Worse still the Westminster government is determined to abolish hundreds of miles of unrecorded, historic paths in less than seven years’ time. 

Kate confronts ‘hospitality’ goons at Henley regatta, July 1990, when exercising her right to walk the footpath through a corporate marquee. Photo: Bucks Free Press

‘I foresee plenty of fighting ahead, and I hope to be in the thick of it. 

Kate continues: ‘I am indebted to our staff, trustees, and 45 volunteer local vigilantes spread around England and Wales. 

‘I am proud of them all,’ she says. ‘We back them with training and advice: the law relating to commons, greens, open spaces, and public highways is complex and not easy to navigate. An email to the Henley office from any of our volunteers or other members always gets a swift and constructive response. Our volunteers know that when the chips are down the society is always ready to go to law, to the supreme court if need be. Our record of legal victories is a distinguished one.’ 

Kate was interviewed on BBC Radio Oxford to mark 40 years at the Open Spaces Society. You can catch up with her interview here at three hours and 11 minutes. 

Header photo: Simon Godfrey 

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