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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 commoners’ rights were protected and that a right of public access there was secured.
‘During its anniversary year the society will keep up its tradition of campaigning for people’s places,’ says Kate. ‘We aim, among other things, to:
1 provide expert, legal guidance for communities wishing to designate Local Green Space,
2 run a campaign to prevent the commercial use of open spaces,
3 persuade the Westminster and Welsh Governments to implement part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 fully throughout their areas so that the public can reclaim lost commons,
4 secure better laws for the protection of village greens in England, and oppose adverse changes to the greens law in Wales,
5 lobby ministers to make the lavish grants to landowners and occupiers conditional on all public rights of way on their land being unobstructed.’
The society plans a number of events during the year, including a joint Big Picnic with the High Wycombe Society (Bucks) on Wycombe Rye, which the two organisations saved in 1965, an open day at Bursledon in Hampshire and a commemorative tree-planting in Nottingham.
In addition, the society will issue a ‘tweet of the day’, a daily bulletin of one of the society’s many achievements over its 150 years. Look out for the hashtag #saveopenspaces150 and here
It will also publish two books, Saving Open Spaces (about the society) and Common Land, in conjunction with Pitkin Publishing.
The society’s timeline
1865 Commons Preservation Society is founded
1866 Metropolitan Commons Act protects commons in and around London
1871 Society’s campaign to save Hampstead Heath culminates in the Hampstead Heath Act, to keep the heath for ever ‘open, unenclosed and unbuilt on’
1882 Epping Forest is opened as a public park
1895 Society’s founders create the National Trust
1899 Society becomes the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society
1925 Law of Property Act gives right to walk and ride on ‘urban’ commons and better protection against encroachment and development on commons
1927 Society becomes Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society
1932 Rights of Way Act enables people to claim public paths as highways on proof of 20 years’ use
1939 Access to Mountains Act, gives limited access to open country
1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act leads to the designation of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, some access to open country, long-distance paths and official maps of public paths
1951 Country code is published at instigation of society
1958 Royal Commission on Common Land calls for public access to commons and for all of them to be registered
1965 Commons Registration Act provides for recording of commons
1982 Society shortens name to Open Spaces Society
1983 Society’s conference sparks Common Land Forum to determine future for commons
1985 Society formalises its local correspondents as representatives in the regions
1986 Common Land Forum recommends new law for management of and public access to all commons
2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives right to walk on commons and mapped mountain, moor, heath and down
2006 Commons Act provides for correction of errors on commons registers, and better management and protection
2010 Society publishes Finding Common Ground, advice to land managers on how to take account of the public interest in commons
2013 Growth and Infrastructure Act blights village greens
2015 Society celebrates its 150th anniversary.