Unlawful fence across Brecon Beacons commons must go

25 September 2011

The Welsh Government has refused retrospective consent for a four-and-a-half-mile-long fence across common land in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The fence runs from near Pontsticill Reservoir in the south, crossing the hillside via Upper Neuadd Reservoir, passing just to the east of the famous summits of Pen y Fan and Cribyn and then cutting down through Cwm Cynwyn.

It was erected by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) during the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic, but it should have been removed within five years and was not. Therefore, since 2006 it has been unlawful since it required consent from the Welsh environment minister under section 194 of the Law of Property Act 1925.

In September 2009, the Brecon Beacon Commoners’ Association applied for consent for the fence to remain. The Open Spaces Society, Ramblers and National Trust were among the objectors. The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and the Countryside Council for Wales asked for the decision to be delayed while they negotiated a management agreement for the land, but eventually the commoners pulled out of the negotiations and the case was decided by Mr Stephen Jones on behalf of the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development.

Mr Jones needed to be satisfied that the fence ‘would benefit the neighbourhood’. He rejected the application because the fence ‘is visible from close views and…it visually divides the extensive landscape of the commons’. He continued: ‘The fence acts as a barrier—both psychological and physical—to members of the public gaining access to land either side of it…the expected ability to roam anywhere over the commons is adversely affected by access across the fence being available via specific locations only.’

He was also concerned that the applicants had given no indication of the management regime to be adopted if the fence was to be retained, nor of the levels of grazing and the effect on the vegetation. He did not consider that the arguments which were put forward by the commoners on the management of the commons justified overriding the general rights of access to the commons or the objections to the retention of the fence on visual grounds.

Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘This is an excellent outcome. The fence, which strides across the superb open landscape of the Brecon Beacons National Park, is an eyesore and a severe impediment to public access. It is not the right solution to the management of the commons.

‘We recognise that the area needs to be grazed and we have urged the Welsh Government to support traditional management regimes such as shepherding; these would create employment and remove the need for any fencing. We still hope that this will be possible under Glastir.

‘Meanwhile, the fence is unlawful and must go. We are sending a formal complaint to the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority’s enforcement officer and asking that the authority takes steps to ensure that the ugly fencing is removed forthwith,’ Kate concludes.