Thursley/Elstead/Ockley/Bagmoor and Royal commons
- Riders are horrified at the prospect of meeting cattle anywhere on the commons
- Riders are going through the motions of getting pedestrian gates replaced by equestrian/wheelchair useable gates but really, what’s the point if you’re too frightened to ride out in case your horse gets spooked by cattle?
- Riders feel that they are absolutely under siege from Natural England and the MoD
Says Sandra Smith, Elstead
Yet another English Open Space is threatened by the seemingly unstoppable forces of Natural England, Wildlife Trusts and the MoD. Surrey is yet again being targeted by this well organized and publicly unaccountable combination.
Natural England plan to give themselves and the MoD a fat special projects grant with HLS to Surrey Wildlife Trust to perimeter fence the glorious open space of Thursley/Elstead/Ockley/Bagmoor and Royal commons, which are used by hundreds of walkers, horse riders and cyclists, and to give SWT a nice annual income to turn out grazing animals (cattle – confirmed, ponies – suspected) over the entire area. This despite their previous attempt less than twenty years ago which was dropped due to the strength of local opposition. Needless to say, riders are horrified at the prospect of meeting cattle anywhere on the commons, and many walkers feel similarly threatened. This area is just too intensively used to be suitable for grazing.
‘Consultation’ meetings (held by Surrey Wildlife Trust on behalf of Natural England), refuse to contemplate any other way of managing the commons. It seems that the consultation process is not at all about what they are going to do, but just about how they are going to do it (types of gate, provision of mounting blocks etc.). Over one hundred and twenty riders and livery yard owners packed the last meeting and voted, several times, their unanimous opposition to free-ranging cattle, after which the SWT manager threatened to stop the consultation ! It seems that local people and local businesses just don’t count for much when it comes to local commons. Riders are going through the motions of getting pedestrian gates replaced by equestrian/wheelchair useable gates (quote Section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925) but really, what’s the point if you’re too frightened to ride out in case your horse gets spooked by cattle?
Some of the bridleways have fallen into disuse because of MoD and Natural England collusion to stop / prevent maintenance and drainage. This unwritten policy, at least, may be changing. Riders have made a good case that grazing cattle are unthinkable because unusable bridleways mean it’s not possible to make a route change if hazards are spotted ahead. There’s some indication now that the MoD will reinstate drain clearance and that Natural England will allow them to do it so we may salvage a scrap of consolation from this nightmare and get some of our bridleways back.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, there’s also an attack on public access on neighbouring Hankley common by the MoD. Riders peacefully proceeding along public bridleways are being stopped and aggressively questioned about permits by Landmarc wardens and the MoD is closing the largest car park/horse box park on the common (they’ve already closed most of the small ones).
The feeling of local walkers and riders in this area is that they are absolutely under siege from Natural England and the MoD and that the only – slim – hope of stopping this vandalism is the inevitable Public Inquiry. What a waste of OUR money !
Says Bob Milton
As common land adviser to Surrey and Hampshire committees, I full endorse the feeling expressed. This is happening in all the Counties in the south of England from Cornwall to Kent.