Kent Ramblers

If You Go Down in the Woods Today

This article is from the December 1991 issue of Kent Area News.  It demonstrates the validity of current concerns about the dangers of woodland sales by the Forestry Commission and it is amusing to look back on how ill-founded were the concerns of critics about the proposals for the "Right to Roam" that eventually saw the light of day in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

If You Go Down in the Woods Today...'ll be sure of a big surprise.  But it won't be a Teddy Bear's picnic - at least, not in Bedgebury.  More likely, it will be even more notices telling you to keep off private land or, equally alarming, off-road vehicles tearing through the forest at dangerously high speeds.

Over 120 people supported the Forbidden Britain rally at Bedgebury on 29th September 1991, defying a depressing weather forecast that happily fai1ed to materialise.  Led by Frank Elliott, local Footpath Secretary for Hawkhurst, and John Trevelyan, Deputy Director of the Ramblers' Association, an afternoon walk visited an area in the forest where the public is no longer permitted to use paths over land sold by the Forestry Commission.  The new landowner did not come out to meet us, neither did we trespass.  But the strength of feeling was obvious, and this has now been made clear in letters sent from Area to the Forestry Commission, to MPs, the KCC and Tunbridge Wells County Councillors.  Reactions to the campaign in Kent, and nationally, are now keenly awaited.

Mixed Reaction by the Media

A barrage of press releases from National Office and Kent Area generated considerable interest throughout the media locally.  Area Chairman Fred Goad was interviewed on Radio Invicta, whilst Area Footpaths Committee Chairman Mike Temple, together with the Chairman of the Kent Branch of the CLA, were interviewed on Radio Kent.  TVS filmed Frank Elliott and David Beskine, Countryside Officer at National Office, at Bedgebury that was transmitted on their Action programme, and Kent papers carried reports of the rally itself.

Nationally, the media response varied between the extremes of support and violent opposition.  Almost all quality papers were sympathetic with the notable exception of the Telegraph which, on more than one occasion, ranted about the RA which hopes ' manipulating gangs of bearded, semi-uniformed thugs in anoraks and cagoules, to terrorise the country into renouncing private property...'.  That gem came from the acerbic Auberon Waugh, but even a leader in the same paper spoke of the '...semi-socialist sentimentality of the men in cagoules'.  When sections of the quality press write in these terms, it is certain that a sensitive area has received a direct hit.  At the other extreme, the Mail on Sunday adopted Forbidden Britain as their current campaign.  And when, on the day before Forbidden Britain Day, BBC's Thought for the Day took public access in the countryside as its theme, we knew right was on our side!

John Trevelyan, RA Deputy Director, speaking at the Bedgebury rally.  Sitting are Frank Elliott (left) and Fred Goad, Area Chairman

Where Should there be a Right to Roam?

The bush telegraph has been bringing messages that the basis of the Forbidden Britain campaign this year has not only made the temperature of some newspaper editors to rise, but that of some Kent RA members as well.  We perceive some misunderstanding about the aims of the Right to Roam campaign.  To quote the broad sheet that every member received, 'at a local level, we shall continue to press for access to individual sites; while nationally, we aim to persuade Parliament to legislate for public access to all open country.  It is not just mountain and moorland which we want to open up for everyone to enjoy, many other types of uncultivated countryside are equally forbidden to the public, such as commons, woodland, riverside, foreshore, heath, cliff and downland'.

The key word in that last sentence is 'uncultivated'.  We cannot emphasise strongly enough that in highly cultivated areas such as Kent, there is no intention whatsoever to campaign for the right to roam over every open field.  That would be irresponsible and, in truth, indefensible.  What we do campaign strongly for in the congested south east, is better access to common land, riverside and woodland.  That is why we are seeking public access to the Chatham Dockyard site on the Medway, a continuous right of way along the Royal Military Canal (another important water feature of Kent) and the preservation of public access to Forestry Commission land threatened with transfer into private ownership.  So no suggestions, please, that we are tearing up the definitive map and proposing to trample over every fanner's private property.  That is simply not within our brief.



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