Cumbria Common Land Faces Biggest Threat Since Enclosure Movement

I’m appalled that the Ministry of Defence is applying to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop Commons near to Appleby -in what Commons campaigner Kate Ashbrook has described as “the biggest threat to Common Land Since the Enclosure Movement”.

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From the summit of Murton Pike (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Now we walk a great deal on these threatened lands, which are part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It’s stunning scenery and offers real wild walking of the finest quality.

I hope this will be vigorously resisted.

Friends of the Lake District say:

Cumbria County Council has announced a two day public inquiry into the applications by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop Commons, near Appleby in Westmorland.

These commons represent 3% of the stock of common land in Cumbria. 15 years ago the MoD applied to extinguish the common rights over the land to give them more control and flexibility. At that time, they stated categorically that they would not apply to deregister the land as common land. This is now precisely what they have done, with little or no evidence as to why. The applications are strongly opposed by ourselves, the Open Spaces Society (OSS), the Foundation for Common Land, the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners, and the local residents.

The inquiry will take place on 12 – 13 September and will be Barrister led. It will only focus on the legal issues surrounding the applications. This is very complex and the OSS has engaged their own Barrister to present their case which we support. There are issues of principle at stake here, namely the fact that the applications are completely at odds with Government policy on common land, that the MoD expressly undertook not to deregister the commons, and also that we believe the applications do not meet the legislative requirements.

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Murton Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary – The Open Spaces Society writes:

Local and national organisations(1) are campaigning to stop the Ministry of Defence from destroying a vast area of Cumbria’s cultural history.  The MoD wants to deregister three large upland commons(2)and turn them into private land.  Objectors say the deregistration would be unlawful and flies in the face of undertakings made by the MoD, at a public inquiry, to keep the commons registered in perpetuity(3).

MoD will privatise around 1% (4,500 hectares) of England’s total common land(4) if Cumbria County Council grants it permission(5).  This would be the largest enclosure since the major enclosures of commons in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The threatened commons are to the north-east of Appleby-in-Westmorland, in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

If the land is deregistered, it will bring to an end hundreds of years of tradition of upland commoning, and the farming community, which used to have vital grazing rights over this land, would be denied any opportunity in future to graze their stock there.

The land would also lose protection against encroachment and development since works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in addition to any planning permission.

William Patterson of the Hilton Commoners’ Association said: ‘When the MOD negotiated the buy-out and extinguishment of the commoners’ grazing rights (known as ‘stints’) on Hilton Fell, Murton Fell and Warcop Fell, one of the fundamental issues was MoD’s agreement to leave the fells on the commons register.  On the strength of this undertaking, the commoners accepted the buy-out.  It is a breach of trust that the MoD now wants to cancel that undertaking without making a further agreement.  I believe that to safeguard the future of these fells the land must remain on the commons register.’

Julia Aglionby of Foundation for Common Land commented: ‘Common land is the most valuable and protected type of land in England, an immensely precious resource for society that has already been reduced to a mere 3% of England’s area. The MoD’s arguments for deregistering 11,000 acres of commons at Warcop are spurious, legally contestable and not in the national interest.’

Viv Lewis of The Federation of Cumbria Commoners said: ‘The Federation is very much opposed to the MoD’s proposal to de-register Hilton, Murton and Warcop commons.  Common land is important to hill farmers and makes up some of our most treasured landscapes.  If the hills stop being common land and the commoners lose their rights to graze and the sheep leave the hills, what’s to become of the uplands?’

Jan Darrall, of Friends of the Lake District added: ‘The three commons of Warcop, Hilton and Murton amount to 3% of Cumbria’s common land.  There is no foundation for the MoD to deregister our commons and destroy our cultural heritage and to deny local use.  They gave undertakings during the 2001 Inquiry that the land would remain as common land and are now reneging on this so as to have total control over the land for who knows what?  We need to fight for our rich common land to remain for all to enjoy.’

Hugh Craddock, of the Open Spaces Society commented: ‘For too long, the MoD has wasted taxpayers’ money ruminating on theoretical risks to the future of the Warcop training estate which have no substance in reality.  Now the MoD is wasting more money, and other people’s time, on pursuing an application for deregistration of the Warcop, Hilton and Murton commons which is not only unnecessary and misguided, but entirely contrary to undertakings it previously gave.  We shall fight the MoD in its pointless campaign which has dragged on for too long.  We hope that the MoD sees sense and withdraws its application, and focuses its resources on managing the Warcop commons in accordance with the commitments it gave in 2002.’

Additional notes

1          The organisations are: Hilton Commoners’ Association, Cumbria Federation of Commons, the Foundation for Common Land, the Friends of the Lake District, and the Open Spaces Society.

2             Common land is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights.  The public has the right to walk on nearly all commons, and to ride on many.  Any works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, in addition to any planning permission.

The three registered Commons are Hilton, Murton and Warcop. The applications to Cumbria County Council are listed as CA14/3 -CL26 Murton; CA14/4 -CL27 Hilton Fell; & -CL122 Burton Fell and Warcop Fell.

3          A public inquiry, held in Appleby in 2001, led to all grazing rights on the commons being bought out by the MoD.  In return the MoD created some additional access opportunities on Murton Common and undertook not to deregister the Commons.  It also undertook to create new common rights to ensure that the commons would exist in perpetuity.  These limited rights were never delivered by the MoD.

4          Cumbria contains around 31% of the registered common land in England which is mostly in the uplands—the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North Pennines.  The area covered by commons in Cumbria is 112,786 ha and these three commons cover some 4,500 ha.

5          Cumbria County Council is the commons registration authority for the county and has received three applications from the MoD to deregister the commons of Murton, Hilton and Warcop. The Council will determine the applications but the objectors believe that if it approves them, it would not be in accordance with the Commons Act 2006.

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This is a book for everyone who loves the British countryside and walking its long-established footpaths and bridleways.

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Wayfarer’s Dole takes its title from an ancient tradition – In medieval times pilgrims travelling the road through Winchester to Canterbury would halt at the St Cross Hospital, a place of rest and refuge for those on holy journeys, and demand the Wayfarer’s Dole – small portions of ale and bread to ease the hunger and thirst incurred on their travels.

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A Walk in East Devon

I am often asked to suggest shorter walks through the quiet countryside of East Devon. This walk in East Devon is one of my favourites. Good walking at any time of the year.

This walk starts from Joney’s Cross, on the A5032, roughly halfway between Exeter and Sidmouth. There is good car parking at Joney’s Cross, and there are a number of buses every day. If you want to start and end nearer to pubs, cafes, and other facilities, you can begin and end the walk at Newton Poppleford (see below). The grid reference for Joney’s Cross is SY058898. The walk is just over 7 miles. As always you do the walk at your own risk.

 

The pastoral Vale of the Otter

 

Leave Joney’s Cross car park through the gap in the north west corner. Cross the main road (very carefully) and take the lane marked Woolcomb/East Devon Way on the far side of the road, leading out on to the open heathland. Follow this tarmaced lane for a half mile until it makes its final swing  to the left to enter Woolcomb Farm. At this point head right through a gate, continuing downhill.

You have been walking across Aylesbeare and Harpford Commons, important lowland heaths, renowned for their wild life, the home of Nightjars and Dartford Warblers. Note the excellent views over the valley of the River Otter towards Mutters Moor and Fire Beacon.

Continue down the track, which crosses a tiny stream by ford and footbridge, before ascending again up a most attractive green lane. When a tarmaced lane is reached, turn right for a hundred yards, passing a most attractive boarded cottage in the hamlet of Benchams. The lane becomes a footpath soon afterwards. After a hundred yards look for a narrower footpath heading off to the left. Follow this as it winds down through very attractive woodland. The path swings to the left down to a field corner. Turn right here and follow the edge of the field (hedge on your left).

This exits on to a lane just past a group of buildings that once served as a luxury hotel, but which are now private homes. Carry straight on and follow the quiet country lane beyond for a quarter mile. At the next T-junction, turn left for a couple of yards, then right on to a public footpath that climbs steeply up a field, keeping the hedge on your right. Cross the stile at the top of the field, and keep straight on across the next field (part of a fruit farm).

When the far hedge is reached, turn left for a few yards, then hard right down a footpath (signposted as part of the East Devon Way). Follow the path down to a gate with steps. Go through this and at the next junction keep right, following the path as it follows the line of trees. After a quarter mile you pass through an old-style kissing gate, and walk along a surfaced track leading out on to a lane. When this is reached, turn left and follow the lane round until it reaches the main road at Newton Poppleford. Turn right along the main road for a hundred yards, crossing the road and taking the opposite road (Millmoor Road) which goes off at a right angle south of the main road.

Walkers starting from Newton Poppleford begin and end the walk here.

Continue to the end of Millmoor Road. Turn left at the end for just a couple of yards, then right (heading in the same direction) along an enclosed public footpath. This runs past an orchard, and leads through a kissing gate into an open field. Continue following this path, keeping the hedge to your left, through the next four fields. Towards the end of the fourth, just as a cottage comes into view, the path goes left, through a kissing gate and down some steps. The path then swings back to the right. Cross the next field to the obvious gate and fingerpost.

Pass through the gate and turn left down the lane. This was the site of an ancient mill, sadly demolished half a century ago. When you reach the River Otter, do not cross the footbridge, but turn right and follow the river downstream. After 250 yards, the path veers to the right, away from the Otter, entering the trees by some fallen down gates.

Follow the wider track uphill as it veers to the left and enters a field. Continue along the field path, with the hedge to your right. After 250 yards, turn right through a kissing gate, then hard left along the field boundary, with the hedge to your left. After a hundred yards you will come to a path junction. Turn right up a green track until a country lane is reached. Here there is a welcome bench for a rest, with excellent views over the Vale of the Otter. Turn right along the lane and follow this to the junction with a busier road (Newton Poppleford to Budleigh Salterton).

Turn right along the road, staying on the embankment as long as possible, crossing at last (With great care. Please watch out for traffic!) 50 yards on, on the far side of the road, you will see a green lane. Follow this. This is Naps Lane, a beautiful country route, lined with oak, beech and holly. Follow this as it climbs uphill, ignoring all side paths. Look out for the World War Two pillbox in the fields to the left.

Follow Naps Lane for three quarters of a mile. This old route runs through an idyllic pastoral landscape. Eventually, it widens out at a crossroads of paths, with gates into four fields. Keep straight on for another quarter mile until Naps Lane ends at a T-junction by a cottage. Turn right along the lane and then right again at the next road junction.

Continue along the lane for 250 yards. Just past the cottage conversion, still called “The Old Barn”, turn left up a track. This leads to another cottage. Take the path up through the trees to the left of this. The path emerges on to the open heathland of Hawkerland. Walk uphill for just under a half mile, ignoring the several side paths. As you climb, there are wonderful views across much of the East Devon countryside. Eventually, you will approach a road. At this point, swing left back into the Joney’s Cross car park and the end of the walk.

This is a really lovely introduction to the countryside of east Devon, best in autumn I think, but lovely at all times of the year; in Spring when the hedgerows are coloured with primroses and bluebells, on late summer evenings when the call of the Nightjars echo across the heathlands; at harvest time, when the farmers are bringing in their crops, or on cold winters days, when hard frosts make walking an adventure. Enjoy the walk!

The Charm of Birds: Grey of Fallodon

I find that there is something rather sad about the fact that May is slipping away for another year. Northumberland 231

It is, I think, my favourite month. I relish the fresh green of the countryside, the sweep of bluebells under the trees and across open hillsides. The beech tree does two great bouts of magnificence in the course of a year, with its untainted green leaves in May and its beautiful brown and gold in autumn.

And May is the month of full bird song, when the dawn chorus is at its height. When we stayed at Rock, in Northumberland, the dawn chorus was quite stunning – as was the late evening singing of the birds.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling about the month of May.

During a visit to Barter Books in Alnwick, I found a book I had been searching for for quite a while. I had a copy many years ago and it was lost. I was pleased to get it again.

The book is The Charm of Birds by Viscount Grey of Fallodon. The Sir Edward Grey who was the British Foreign Secretary at the 1914 outbreak of the Great War. If you have never read it I urge you to seek it out. Grey was a considerable bird watcher, in the sense that he appreciated them when out for a country walk.

His book is a hymn to all that is best in our country’s nature. You don’t have to be a birder to appreciate it. You just have to love our countryside. He devotes a whole chapter to May.Northumberland 007

But in May we are overwhelmed. New green is spreading everywhere… neither eye nor ear, nor outward nor inward ear of man is equal to it. Each of us can select for especial and particular enjoyment a few things: the tender green of young beech leaves; the scent of mass in whin; a glade of bluebells; a wide field of buttercups under the sun: but when we have done our best, we are yet oppressed by a feeling that we can but take in a small portion of the abundant beauty. There comes upon us also, not only a sense of abundance, but of haste; it is all passing; the leaves darken from day to day; luxuriance remains, but tenderness and delicacy are fleeting. It is only for a short time that new beech leaves are so soft that the wind stirs them without sound. In early spring we long to hurry the season; in May we would say to it, “stay! thou art fair.”Bluebells at Derwent Water 013

And it cannot be stayed…in later years, as the season approaches, experience and age qualify the confidence with apprehension lest clouds of war or civil strife, or some emergency of work, or declining health, or some other form of human ill may destroy the pleasure or even the sight of it: and when once again it has been enjoyed we have a sense of gratitude greater than in the days of confident and thoughtless youth.  Perhaps the memory of those days, having become part of our being, helps us in later life to enjoy each passing season. In every May, with the same beauty of sight and sound, “we do beget the golden time again.”

Despite incredible efforts of diplomacy, Sir Edward Grey could not stave off the Great War. His world changed for ever, though he continued to enjoy his experiences with birds and nature.

On the eve of that war he made his famous remark: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time“.

Sadly, I think they have never been re-lit since.