Saturday, 18 November 2017

Campaigner pays £250 for gate into fenced-off land

A COUNTRYSIDE campaigner has re-opened a beauty spot in the Chilterns to walkers.

A COUNTRYSIDE campaigner has re-opened a beauty spot in the Chilterns to walkers.

Kate Ashbrook, who is general secretary of the Henley-based Open Space Society, paid £250 for a kissing gate to be installed at Cobstone Hill, near Turville.

The site is public land but was fenced off last September by the Wormsley Estate, which maintains it under a stewardship agreement with Natural England.

The estate cordoned off the summit of the hill with barbed wire to ensure it was grazed properly by its sheep.

But it refused to install a gate despite requests from ramblers, effectively blocking access to the ridge at the top.

Buckinghamshire County Council said it was willing to install a gate as long as someone else built and funded it.

Miss Ashbrook asked Natural England to order the estate to build one but was told it had no legal obligation to do so. She finally decided to stump up for the work herself under the Chiltern Society’s Donate A Gate scheme. Her money paid for the wooden gate and a plaque with an inscription of her choosing.

The plaque bears the words “libertas spatiandi: libertas cogitandi”, which is Latin for “freedom to roam: freedom to think”.

Miss Ashbrook, 58, who is also president of the Ramblers, said she chose to use Latin because she felt it would be more intriguing. It was translated by her partner Chris Hall, with whom she lives in Turville.

The gate is just to the west of Cobstone Windmill, which overlooks Turville and doubled as inventor Caractacus Potts’ home in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Miss Ashbrook said: “This little saga shows how it is extraordinarily difficult to get access to ‘access’ land when the owner doesn’t wish to provide it.

“Just up the valley there is mapped access land at Grays Lane Bank in Ibstone which we can’t get into at all — and the county council doesn’t have the power to enforce the public right.

“Moreover, when public money was given to Wormsley for land management, Natural England failed even to suggest that it should provide a new access point where people clearly wanted to walk. This demonstrates the severe shortcomings of [the stewardship agreement] and the disorganisation of Natural England.

“The Wormsley estate, which is not short of money, refused to spend a few bob on a gate. Now the gate is there, I hope that the residents of Turville and surrounding villages — and everyone else — will enjoy roaming and thinking on Cobstone Hill.”

A Wormsley Estate spokesman said: “There had been a fence in that same spot but it had become dilapidated, possibly by people climbing over it. Once that land had been put into the stewardship agreement, it had to be fenced off for us to meet our obligations. We discussed the matter with Natural England, which took the view that the land could still be accessed by other gateways and stiles.”

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