Says Adrienne Yentis
A friend of mine recently was riding on the heath
and she came across a group of cattle strung out across the bridlepath with no way through – the only way off was to turn round. Fortunately her horse
remained calm throughout. But you can imagine how a nervous horse might react ........... read more
Shocking. Unbelievable. Scandalous.
New Natural England boss only removes fences blocking public right of way after protests
He is not fit for the job
Campaigners had identified problems with the public paths on the land of Andrew Sells,
new chair of the government body tasked with promoting countryside access.
Photograph: Rosemary Roberts/Alamy
The major Conservative party donor chosen to chair Natural England, which is charged with promoting access to countryside, has been drawn into a row over the public paths on his own Wiltshire farm. One path running through the tennis court of Andrew Sells's farm was unmarked, while another was blocked by fences, until a few days ago.
Andrew Sells, an investment banker and venture capitalist who describes his donations as "serious money", was approved on Friday by MPs to lead the nation's statutory adviser to government on the natural environment.Venture capitalist Andrew Sells is the new chair of Natural England.
Sells, who has lived on the farm for 22 years, told the Guardian he had been unaware that one of the paths on his land had not followed the official route. "I looked into this as a matter of urgency and have now re-established the route of the official footpath. A Rights of Way officer has confirmed on Friday that the footpaths are open, accessible and correctly marked. Walkers are very welcome to use them."
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society who walked the paths on Sells's farm immediately before and after the changes, said: "Mr Sells has scrambled to get his paths in order in double-quick time. Since telling MPs last Wednesday it would be 'a very great concern' if he had obstructed paths on his land he has removed three chunks of fencing which were blocking one path." But Ashbrook said the new waymarking of the paths was "scanty" and placed on top of posts, rather than on the side where they can be seen by walkers from a distance. The waymark by the tennis court was "barely visible", she added.
While local authorities are responsible for waymarks on rights of way, Ashbrook said: "Since Natural England has a statutory purpose of 'promoting access to the countryside and open spaces and encouraging open-air recreation', one would expect the access provision on land belonging to the chairman to be exemplary."
Part of the fencing around Andrew Sells' property removed to make it accessible to public.
Photograph: Kate Ashbrook
In 2008, the footpath secretary of the local Ramblers group highlighted footpath obstructions, lack of signposts, a broken stile and an apparent unofficial diversion on the farm. Sells said: "As far as I can recall this has never been raised with me by Rights of Way officers in the 22 years I have lived here. I am grateful this was brought to my attention."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said Sells was selected "following a rigorous selection process chaired by an independent assessor". During the session with MPs on the environment, food and rural affairs select (Efra) committee to scrutinise his appointment, Sells said he had given about £140,000 to the Conservative party over the last five years, which he said was "serious money but does not put me in the Lord Ashcroft league". He said he would not give further donations to any political party and was stepping down as a trustee of the right-of-centre thinktank Policy Exchange.
Sells told the MPs: "I am an accountant and have spent years in finance, but as a boy I worked on a farm in East Anglia." He added: "I am passionate about the countryside."
<< This public footpath on Andrew Sells' property wasn't marked.
Photograph: Kate Ashbrook
The committee chair, Anne McIntosh, asked Sells: "[Chairing Natural England] is quite different to the work you have done before, which I could call high finance. What makes you think you are suitable for the post?"
Sells replied: "A year ago I took a job part-time at the Department of Work and Pensions that was very different to anything I had done before. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed working in a topic I knew nothing about at that stage."
On Friday, the MPs report concluded: "We are satisfied Andrew Sells has the professional competence and personal independence required for the post of chairman of Natural England. We wish Mr Sells every success in his new post."
Sells was until recently chair of the Garden Centre Group and has also chaired the property developer Linden Homes. The Defra statement said he "has planted thousands of young trees and created acres of wildlife habitat where none existed before" at his farm.
Says Linda Wright
We moved to a Shropshire location a year ago having surveyed the local OS map and noted the significant number of bridleways around the property. Sadly the map appears a total fiction. Scarce any of the bridleways are usable ........... read more