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85% of Wild Ponies Gone in Natural England Enclosure by Stealth. 1,000 Year Old Forest and Moorland Common Rights Extinguished by DEFRA

Why is so much English countryside being taken out of family hands, out of management and out of access? Private equity lurks…

Following a recent petition to save the now 85% reduced Dartmoor ponies from potential extinction by DEFRA bureaucratising  common rights, its becoming clear this is by no means an isolated land grab.

Demands to take farming, forest and moorland out of production by ‘rewilding campaigns’ is leading to non-productive land being gleefully snapped up by multi-billion dollar private equity funds for ‘carbon offset’ schemes.

Four articles presented here illustrate DEFRA’s snuffing out some of England’s last remaining common rights, in the New Forest, Dartmoor and elsewhere. Then Forestry England’s new programme to take 20,000 acres out of management is further evidence of an unannounced government programme to regulate tenants, contractors, rights holders and private owners off the land.

Finally, for now, something similar is happening across the pond as campaigners are trying to protect wild horse habitat for in the US which is being eroded.

Do please share your theories, suggestions, related stories about this common rights and  land grab… and links in the comments at the bottom. Thanks

1. For 800 years, commoners have nurtured the forest. Now they are being forced out

Rob White March 31, 2024

Gemma Hobbs began directing ponies around the New Forest from her grandfather’s shoulders when she was small. It’s been a part of her life ever since – she started saving at nine, and bought her first pony aged 11.

Now 16, she has become a commoner, the third generation to take on this ancient mantle as it is passed down through families. Several times a week, she rides into the forest to check on the animals that roam freely and preserve a National Park.

New Forest commoners are people who live in properties, rent or own land that have rights of common attached. Among them are the right to graze livestock like ponies, cattle and donkeys, the ability to let out pigs to feed, and to cut down trees for fuel, although Forestry England now provides the firewood in order to protect the forest.

In exercising these rights, commoners are crucial in preserving the forest. Their cattle, ponies and donkeys eat gorse, grass and other greenery so animals and plants can thrive. Their pigs hoover up acorns, saving livestock from internal bleeding and even death. Without them, it would be a wilderness.

“The New Forest ponies and cattle are known as ‘the architects of the Forest’,” explains Paul Walton, of the New Forest National Park Authority. “The commoners have been grazing their animals on the open Forest since before the Norman Conquest in 1066, and play a vital role in maintaining the landscape and rare wildlife which makes the New Forest so special.”

But their way of life is under threat. Because the right to common is tied to property and the land itself, the practice is directly affected by rising house prices and rents, and the influx of second homeowners. If commoners – who have been there for centuries – can’t afford to live there, then it can no longer exist.

An ancient right

One night, a neighbour called about a pony who had given birth. Gemma and her mother immediately rode in, only to discover an abandoned, orphaned foal. They adopted Velvet and bottle fed him from birth.

If that was commoning in its purest form, it’s a world away from the blindings and beheadings that these same forest floors bore witness to a millennium before.

At the start of the 11th century, the New Forest was a dangerous place. William the Conqueror declared it a Royal Forest in 1071, with a strict set of laws to ensure nothing interfered with the hunt.

Suddenly, the people who’d lived there for generations could be blinded for the crime of “disturbing a deer”. Shooting at one meant being blinded by law enforcement, while killing one attracted the death penalty. It was illegal to gather wood or build a fence, even on your own property. Centuries of tradition changed overnight.

As the early thirteenth century began, England was a febrile place under the widely unpopular King John. In trying to reclaim land he’d lost to the French, he hiked taxes and alienated the rich landowners he relied on to govern. When Magna Carta followed in 1215, it couldn’t prevent all out civil war and a legitimate threat to the monarchy.

Following his death a year later, many landowners switched sides to back King Henry III, who was just nine when he inherited the throne. A plan was needed for rural England and in 1217 the Charter of the Forest arrived and New Forest commoning began.

It would be another seven centuries before these ancient rights were even updated and they remain in place today. There are now around 650 commoners, with Gemma among the latest recruits.

“My grandparents and parents were commoners, so it started through that,” she says. “I remember sitting on my grandad’s shoulders, waving my arms and directing ponies so they didn’t run us over.”

She looks in on the ponies every few days, then in the autumn helps round them all up, check their collars, get their tails trimmed and give them a routine health check. It means she has little time for the usual socialising and hobbies of a 16-year-old.

“Animals get the time most of the time,” she says. “It’s unpredictable when you have animals out in the forest, particularly when we have sick animals. That’s twice a day every day, making it a priority. Commoning is more of a lifestyle than just a hobby.”

It’s an ever-changing, sometimes harsh environment. So far, she’s had a pony, Duchess, go missing – two years later she still hasn’t been found. Velvet, the orphaned foal, turned out to have a sibling, so they now have Whizz for company too.

Her mother, Sally Marsh, says she’s delighted to see Gemma following in the tradition.

“It’s lovely. Obviously I had a big passion for it as a child. You never know with the kids these days. With social media, the world has changed so much, but it’s still in the blood and from an early age, she’s wanted to be on a pony and help.”

The threat to commoning

Commoners’ rights are irrevocably tied to houses and land, but that is what is putting their lifestyle at risk. Wealthier people are now moving to the area and buying the land and property. In doing so, they take it away from commoners but have no intention of commoning themselves.

The average house price in the New Forest is over £600,000, higher than in any other National Park. According to Rightmove, the average rent is over £1,600 a month. Many commoners see this as an existential threat.

Andrew Parry-Norton, chair of the Commoners Defence Association (CDA) and a commoner himself, is one of them.

“We’re facing money coming down from London, paying £42,000 to £45,000 an acre. That means properties of over a million pounds. These new people aren’t going to common and most wouldn’t even understand how to look after the land.

“For younger generations of commoners [who inherit land and property], the temptation is there to take the money. Unless we can offer them a financially viable future, with properties they can afford, they’re not going to stay and do this.”

This isn’t a new problem – the CDA itself was set up in 1909 in response to people coming to the area wanting to buy land.

“All the commoners got together as it was a collective problem,” he adds. “There’s nothing like a collective enemy to bring people together. It’s like a trade union to preserve commoning and their rights.

“It’s a constant battle, but it’s our livelihood and it creates what we see in the landscape of the forest right now.”
An accidental commoner

Dr Gale Pettifer is also a commoner, albeit inadvertently. When she bought her property in 2012, she didn’t realise it had common rights until she saw the deeds. She’s enjoyed it so much since that she’s completed a PhD on the politics of “inclosure” in the New Forest.

“This is a completely different way of interacting with livestock,” she says. “You can’t pet them, so I know my ponies, they don’t necessarily know me. Lots of my friends ask what’s the point, but it’s about the conservation of the New Forest and carrying on the tradition. I absolutely love it. It’s taken over my life.”

She agrees that commoning is facing challenges and it’s part of the reason she’s joined in

“It is hugely under threat from the encroachment of leisure and recreation. It was primarily a working landscape; now there’s more and more pressure to become profitable with more and more leisure activities. Housebuilding brings pressures, more cars, more speeding, more pony deaths.

“I realised there must be other properties like mine, and people buy them and don’t exercise these rights. If I don’t, that’s how these things get lost, the rights and the knowledge.”

Inevitably, house prices are part of the conversation.

“If you’re on an average income, you’ve got no chance of buying anything in the Forest.”

That is vital to the preservation of commoning, because the rights are linked to property and land: once you sell up or leave, you relinquish your rights. There are programmes such as the Commoners Dwelling Scheme, which allows genuine commoners the right to apply to build a home outside the New Forest and carry on commoning.”

She adds: “If you want to save the forest, you have to save the commoners. If the commoners are under threat, so is the forest.”

As part of the next generation, it’s a very real fear for Gemma. She wants to set up on her own one day, but worries she won’t be able to.

“That’s the goal, but it’s really impossible. The prices have gone up because of Covid and people having second homes. Younger generations are more involved as they’ve grown up, but the price of land and housing has become extortionate.

“It’s always been part of my life, it would be like a big chunk of me missing.”

Sally says the family could only afford their current property because of the Government’s Right to Buy scheme.

“It’s growing increasingly frustrating for us. The bugbear is people from London and Cheshire buying these second homes which they barely use and using paddocks as glorified gardens. Bit by bit the forest has been eaten away. None of it would be here without the commoners.

“I haven’t got the money to buy these places and we can’t compete. Commoners are becoming a rare breed, like the ponies, because we’re being forced out of it.”

Priced out

The idea of a local tradition under threat from rising house prices isn’t unique to the New Forest. Young people in Cornish towns like Newlyn, St Mawes and Padstow are being priced out of their home towns, putting older industries like fishing at serious risk.

It’s a familiar story – an influx of tourists leads to the purchase of seaside boltholes and money-spinning holiday lets, pricing the locals out and leaving age-old traditions on life support.

Tim Bonner, CEO of the Countryside Alliance, says rising property prices is one of the countryside’s biggest drivers in social change.

“Incomers can have a positive impact on the local economy, but increased demand for rural housing has created an affordability crisis in some areas. This is not just about the increased cost of housing, but also rural wages which remain stubbornly low. The result is that young people in particular cannot afford to live in the communities that they were born and brought up in.”

Back in the New Forest, rising house prices may be both a past and present danger, but another ominously clouds the horizon of post-Brexit Britain. In the EU, commoners were paid annually for every animal under the Basic Payment Scheme. It was around £200, but it has already been halved, and will keep falling until 2026 when it stops completely.

There are options for future funding, but not until 2028 – and it will still depend on a consensus between various groups with a stake in the forest. Even if a solution is found, there’s a two-year funding gap to survive.

Seemingly under threat from all sides, can commoning survive? Andrew is convinced it can, and that it will.

“Commoners are resilient and we will get through this. We turn a negative into a positive, like when they built the A31 through the middle of the forest. Now, if disease breaks out among the animals, you have a barrier between the two sides and we can contain it.”

He adds: “I don’t feel there’ll be many full time commoners left, but people will carry on. We’ve got some who are nurses or lawyers and keep a few ponies and cows as a hobby. And there are also die-hard commoners who will work in a factory if they have to, just to subsidise their commoning.”

However, he does say it needs to be monetised.

“The Government should pay for it. But when people pay for something, they appreciate it more. If people had to make a contribution to visit here, not much, just 50p or £1, that ought to be put back into the forest.”


2. Petition launched to save the Dartmoor Hill Pony as 85% in two decades

Campaigners worry if no action is taken, the Dartmoor Hill Pony could become extinct

Ella Sampson 05 Apr 2024  Petition website

A plea to preserve the Dartmoor Hill Pony has gained significant momentum as a petition garners close to 100,000 signatures.

The petition, titled Save the Dartmoor Hill Pony, was launched by concerned campaigners.

It urges the government to intervene and halt the alarming decline in the population of Dartmoor Hill Ponies, a distinct breed known for their resilience and adaptability to the rugged terrain of Dartmoor in Devon.

Campaigners have stated that if no action is taken, the breed is at risk of extinction.

Shockingly, statistics reveal that two decades ago, there were approximately 7,000 Dartmoor Hill ponies grazing the moors, but today, only around 1,000 remain.

Charlotte Faulkner, representing the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, expressed grave concern saying: “The Semi Wild Pony are unlike any other ponies in the world, their rare genetics enable them to thrive and survive on Dartmoor in all weathers. If the ponies are gone, so much more will be lost, impossible to replicate what we have now.”

She also said: “As the dodo was the wrong animal in the wrong place at the wrong time, it became extinct. The ponies are the right animal in the right place so let’s make sure they do not become extinct.”

The petition calls upon the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to ensure that Natural England refrains from taking any actions that could further diminish the Dartmoor Hill Pony population, echoing recommendations from an independent review.

The petition stresses the urgent need for protective measures to safeguard these cherished animals.

Recent developments within DEFRA have shed light on the government’s recognition of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association as the official breeders’ association for the semi-wild Dartmoor Hill Pony population.

The association has been carefully compiling a register of Dartmoor Hill Ponies on the commons, with over 700 ponies already registered, microchipped, and undergoing genetic testing.

Furthermore, in late 2023, DEFRA acknowledged the endangered status of the Semi-wild Dartmoor Hill Ponies, adding them to the Native At-Risk list.

The Dartmoor Review, published in late 2023, emphasised the genetic importance of Dartmoor’s pony population and highlighted the necessity of conservation grazing. Recommendations from the review stress the need for protective policies to prevent further decline in Dartmoor Hill Pony numbers.


3. More than 8,000 hectares ‘left to nature’ under new forest management approach

Forestry England said the nature restoration project will be rolled out across areas in Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Dorset and Somerset.

Rebecca Speare-Cole 20 May 2024

More than 8,000 hectares of land will be left to nature as part of a new forest management approach to boost wildlife and biodiversity.

Forestry England, which manages more than 250,000 hectares of land across the country, said the restoration project will be rolled out in areas of four forests.

The land managers will carry out a mix of activities to help nature recover in Kielder Forest in Northumberland, Newtondale in North Yorkshire, Purbeck in Dorset and Neroche in Somerset.

Andrew Stringer, Forestry England’s head of environment, said: “We will intervene less in these four wild areas, giving nature the time and space to reshape the forest landscape.”

We are confident that whatever happens these areas will become more nature-rich, with benefits for neighbouring landscapes

The Kielder Forest, the biggest new wild area, covering at least 6,000 hectares, will be restored to a fully-functioning upland ecosystem, with the expansion of native woodland and scrub and the creation of more open habitats like peatland and natural water courses, the organisation said.

Other activities in the areas could include reintroducing lost wildlife including butterflies, rare plants, pine martens and beavers as well as wild cattle or moving fungi to restore soil.

The areas will welcome visitors but will continue to be a source of sustainable timber through an innovative model of productive forestry, Forestry England added.

“There is an exciting unpredictability about this work in our four wild areas,” Mr Stringer said.

“We simply don’t know exactly how each of them will change over time or the detail of what they will look like.

“But this uncertainty is a positive part of being experimental and allowing natural processes to shape each landscape in the years ahead.

“We are confident that whatever happens these areas will become more nature-rich, with benefits for neighbouring landscapes.”

He added that forestry will “still be an essential activity” but that over time the benefits of less intervention “will be enormous in terms of climate resilience, reversing biodiversity loss, providing greater natural capital benefits to society such as natural flood mitigation, soil health, air quality and carbon storage”.

Forestry England said the project is being funded by the Government and Forest Holidays and its teams will work alongside nature restoration and scientific data-gathering experts to analyse progress.

The soil eDNA baseline data gathered in all four wild areas will be free to access as part of Forestry England’s commitment to open data sharing, collaboration and building a strong evidence base for wilding activities, the organisation said.


4. ACT NOW: Tell Congress to Support Wild Horse and Burro Protection Reforms in 2023

Late last year, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D, AZ-03) and U.S. Representatives David Schweikert (R, AZ-06), Joe Neguse (D, CO-02), Steve Cohen (D, TN-09), Dina Titus (D, NV-01), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-01) introduced a comprehensive bipartisan bill, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 (H.R. 9154), which would protect wild horses and burros from slaughter, prioritize their humane management, restore western habitat, promote partnerships with American veterans and nonprofit organizations, and increase transparency within the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Wild Horse and Burro Programs.

This bill promoted much-needed humane, commonsense, and fiscally responsible reforms that would stop the endless cycle of removals and keep these beloved symbols of freedom in the wild where they belong. While we work to ensure this legislation is again introduced in 2023, please take a moment to keep the pressure on your U.S. Representative by asking them to support messaging in line with 2022’s H.R. 9154, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act!

Petition launched to save Dartmoor ponies from ‘extinction’ after DEFRA further restricts commoners

Petition launched to save Dartmoor ponies from ‘extinction’ after new rules introduced

The petition, titled Save the Dartmoor Hill Pony, was launched by concerned campaigners.

Over 100,000 signatories are calling on the government to halt the decline in the number of ponies that have freely roamed for centuries. Natural England has recently introduced new rules on the moorland

The petition, titled Save the Dartmoor Hill Pony, was launched by concerned campaigners.

A petition has been launched to save the famous Dartmoor ponies – which campaigners claim are at risk of ”extinction”, and some are asking ‘are Extinction Rebellion interested?’

Nearly 100,000 signatures are calling on the government to halt the decline in the number of ponies that have freely roamed for centuries. Figures show 20 years ago there were 7,000 Dartmoor Hill ponies roaming free on Dartmoor in Devon – today there are only 1,000.

Natural England has introduced new rules on the moorland – which mean farmers will now have to pay for grazing the ponies on common land. But a petition launched by Joceline Hibbs is urging people to save the Dartmoor hill ponies from ”extinction”. Joceline said: “The DoDo became extinct through no fault of its own, just the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“This is true of the the Dartmoor hill ponies, except they are the right animal in the right place, for at least over 4,000 years, probably far longer. Help us make sure this government protects them for future generations. Defra must ensure that Natural England do not take actions likely to result in a decline in pony numbers’ as recommended by an Independent Review.”

”We are at a critical point where it is possible that they will disappear completely.” Joceline and 95,320 others are asking Steve Barclay, the secretary of state for Defra, to make sure that pony numbers do not decline. Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, has assured it has not called for a cull of Dartmoor hill ponies and that the importance of maintaining the herd has been recognised.

The petition, titled Save the Dartmoor Hill Pony, was launched by concerned campaigners.

Dartmoor ponies have lived on the moor for centuries – there are records dated back to 1012 AD. All of the moor’s ponies belong to different pony keepers, who ensure that each herd is healthy and the species are vital for the eco-system. But in January this year, Natural England published details of new moorland rules that could pose a threat to them, campaigners say.

These include payments for grazing with ponies and cattle as opposed to solely sheep. Animal welfare groups say this would also mean many Dartmoor Hill pony owners would no longer be able to continue grazing on common land (because of payments and land restrictions) – and the slaughter of the creatures could well follow.

Joceline explains how there are not many semi-wild Dartmoor ponies remaining in the area. She said: “On average there is only one in an area of Dartmoor equivalent to 40 football pitches. We must not let Defra miss this last opportunity to secure a future for England’s only remaining semi-wild pony population the Dartmoor Hill Pony herds on the commons of Dartmoor.

“The semi-wild Dartmoor hill pony is native, rare and endangered, genetically important to the equine species worldwide and a positive contributor to enhancing Dartmoor’s biodiversity in the way that they graze. But Defra’s agent, Natural England, still seeks to catastrophically reduce their numbers. We ask that government, Defra stop this happening.”

Those who have signed the petition are urging for the protection of these now-vulnerable species. One commented: “It is a scandal and frankly outrageous that the body charged with protecting biodiversity is responsible for decimating it including and especially our native ponies.

“Natural England must be investigated because I cannot believe that they serve the UK’s natural environment as they are charged with doing and for which they are handsomely paid by the taxpayer.” Another said: “These animals are native to the moorland, unlike the sheep, and they enhance the ecology, unlike the sheep. We need them to maintain the diversity of our moorland, and because they’re incredible to have around.”

A Natural England spokesman, who insisted on remaining anonymous, told Devon Live: “Natural England has not called for a cull of Dartmoor Hill Ponies. We have always been clear that ponies make an important contribution to conservation grazing on the Dartmoor commons as part of the balance of grazing animals. ”Indeed, some agri-environment agreements on the Dartmoor commons include a rare breed supplement specifically for their native pony herds.

”While these supplements have to date been available for Dartmoor ponies now that semi-wild Dartmoor hill pony have also been included on to the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) watch list we await advice from Defra as to whether the rare breed supplement would also be available for hill ponies.

“The importance of maintaining the Dartmoor hill pony herd has also been recently recognised in the independent Dartmoor Review. ‘Our advice to agreement holders includes encouraging them to include sufficient ponies and/or cattle during the period May to October and to also consider the option of having year-round low level pony grazing.

“While we can advise on the grazing framework for each agreement the agreement holders themselves will need to decide how they accommodate ponies in delivering a balanced approach to the grazing animals they use on the agreement land.”

The petition, titled Save the Dartmoor Hill Pony, was launched by concerned campaigners.

Slaves To Rent: UK housing is worst value for money of any advanced economy

UK housing is worst value for money of any advanced economy, says thinktank

British properties are expensive, cramped and ageing compared with other similar economies, says Resolution Foundation

Mon 25 Mar 2024

The UKs expensive, cramped and ageing housing stock fares poorly compared with other advanced countries, analysis by a thinktank suggests.
Households are paying more than other countries but getting less in return, the Resolution Foundation said.

When it comes to housing, UK households are getting an inferior product in terms of both quantity and quality, the thinktank said.

The Foundations housing outlook used OECD data to compare the UKs housing issues with other similar economies.

It said that while there was limited cross-national data on floor space, homes in England had less average floor space per person (38 sq metres) than many similar countries, including the US (66 sq metres), Germany (46 sq metres), France (43 sq metres) and Japan (40 sq metres).

ACTION ON THE HOUSING CRISIS: This spring The Land Is Ours launched our Campaign To Abolish Eviction

The UKs housing stock is also relatively old, with 38% of homes built before 1946, the report said, compared with around a fifth (21%) in Italy and one in nine (11%) in Spain.

Older homes can be poorly insulated, leading to higher energy bills and a higher risk of damp, according to the Foundation, which is focused on improving the living standards for those on low to middle incomes.

Researchers also considered what it would cost to rent all homes incorporating what owners would pay if they rented their home at market rates to show how the market price of housing varies across different countries.

The report said: If all households in the UK were fully exposed to our housing market, they would have to devote 22% of their spending to housing services, far higher than the OECD average (17%), and the highest level across the developed economies with the solitary exception of Finland.

Adam Corlett, principal economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: Britains housing crisis is likely to be a big topic in the election campaign, as parties debate how to address the problems of high costs, poor quality and low security that face so many households.

Britain is one of many countries apparently in the midst of a housing crisis, and it can be difficult to separate rhetoric from reality. But by looking at housing costs, floor space and wider issues of quality, we find that the UKs expensive, cramped and ageing housing stock offers the worst value for money of any advanced economy.
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Britains housing crisis is decades in the making, with successive governments failing to build enough new homes and modernise our existing stock. That now has to change.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: Housebuilding is a government priority and despite global economic challenges we remain on track to meet the manifesto commitment of delivering one million homes this parliament, and have introduced reforms to improve the planning system.

At the same time as increasing the quantity of homes we are driving up quality, with the number of non-decent homes down by 2 million since 2010.

Our landmark renters reform bill is progressing through parliament and will give tenants more security in their homes, while our 11.5bn investment in the affordable homes programme and 1.2bn local authority housing fund will help build a new generation of affordable and social housing.

Mandelson: Tony Blair banned fox hunting after a £1 million donation from animal rights campaign IFAW

Tony Blair agreed to ban fox hunting after a £1 million donation to Labour from an animal rights group, Peter Mandelson claims

The former business secretary said the group got ‘pretty transactional’

By Jason Groves – published 14 December 2023

Tony Blair agreed to ban fox hunting ‘under pressure’ because of a £1million donation to Labour from an animal rights organisation, Peter Mandelson has claimed.

The former business secretary said the group got ‘pretty transactional’ and it demanded the ban ‘in return’ for the cash – which at the time was the party’s biggest ever donation.

The Labour peer, who is now an adviser to Sir Keir Starmer, did not name the group involved. However, his comments appear to be a reference to a £1million donation given by the late animal rights campaigner Brian Davies, who founded the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Lord Mandelson revealed the pressure Mr Blair was facing during a discussion about political funding on the Times Radio podcast How To Win An Election.

Asked about whether donors had ever tried to buy influence, he said: ‘I can offer you an example from 1997 when an organisation – it was a fund to do with the welfare of animals – got pretty transactional with us. It was the first and last time I can remember this.

‘They wanted a ban on hunting in return for a very sizeable amount of money. And Blair and Co were sort of reluctant obviously to enter into some sort of trade over this policy.

‘However, there were a lot of people in the party who wanted that ban – there were a lot of MPs coming and demanding it – and we got into a difficult situation where frankly we went a little bit too far – further than Blair wanted – in making this commitment in our manifesto.

‘It was, frankly, under not duress but under some sort of pressure. It wasn’t attractive and it’s not been repeated.’

His comments will raise fresh questions about political sleaze. Labour has been trying to woo wealthy donors in the same manner as it did in the run-up to the 1997 election.

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, which led the campaign against the ban on hunting, said: ‘Tony Blair has already admitted that the hunting ban was one of the legislative measures he most regrets.

‘The Hunting Act has failed at every level, not least in the damage it has caused to the countryside and biodiversity. A future Labour government should right the wrongs of the past and remove this running sore in Labour’s relationship with rural communities.’

But a spokesman for Sir Tony said it was a ‘misinterpretation’ of Lord Mandelson’s comments to suggest that Labour’s policy had been influenced by the donation.

They added: ‘There was no such agreement, he is clearly saying there were a lot of people who had passionate views on the subject.’

Labour’s 1997 manifesto pledged to facilitate ‘a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation’.

Legislation to ban hunting was not finally introduced until 2003 and did not come into force until 2005 following a titanic parliamentary battle.

In his political memoir, Sir Tony voiced regret about the ban and revealed that he had deliberately left loopholes in the legislation that would allow hunting to continue provided certain steps were taken to prevent cruelty.

He said he had not realised the ‘primeval’ passions that the ban would cause among rural communities.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare did not respond to a request for comment. The Labour Party has yet to comment on the matter.

UK ‘No Farmers No Food’ campaign launches over ‘green’ taxes and supermarket price fixing, squeezed margins force farmers out as private equity moves in

No Farmers, No Food campaign group wins support as UK producers mull protest action

By Kevin White 8 February 2024 The Grocer magazine

UK farmers have been debating following their European colleagues’ protest action, which led to big disruption in France and across the continent last week

New campaign group No Farmers, No Food is already attracting significant support, as farmers across the UK mull following their European colleagues with protest action.

The group was established on Twitter/X a fortnight ago as a wave of protests spread across the continent over onerous environmental regulations, rising costs, competition from imports and a lack of support from supermarkets.

Farmers across the UK now appear to be eyeing similar action. The new campaign has already attracted more than 50,000 followers on the social media platform and more than 300,000 on Facebook, with countless more farmers and food industry bodies engaging with the movement behind the scenes, said founder James Melville.

Guy Singh-Watson: Supermarkets act now: Get Fair About Farming

No Farmers, No Food is pitching itself as a non-political, non-militant campaign group that seeks to “support farmers and build public opinion and support” around the type of concerns expressed by continental farmers, said Melville – who is the son of a farmer, a media commentator and communications specialist.

“What we’re trying to do is create a set of campaigns and messages the public can understand, based on what is sometimes a very, very, complicated set of issues that are differing from farm to farm,” he added, pointing to government bureaucracy and the treatment of farmers by supermarkets as key areas that needed to be addressed.

But he stressed organising protests “was not our job as a very new organisation”.

“It’s up to individual communities and farmers to decide what they want to do,” he added.

Guy Singh-Watson: Get Fair About Farming: Silence of the supermarkets

The formation of the group comes amid growing calls for organised farmer protests in the UK. Farmers in Wales are understood to be particularly open to protest action.

More than 1,000 farmers met at Welshpool livestock market last week to discuss the impact of proposed new Welsh government sustainable farming rules, which NFU Cymru warned could devastate the nation’s farming sector.

Plans by the Labour administration could lead to a 10.8% cut in livestock numbers and an 11% cut in labour on Welsh farms, equivalent to losing 5,500 jobs – costing the sector almost £200m. However, the Welsh government stresses the plans are subject to a consultation and could still change.

Kelly Seaton: huge financial pressure being piled onto farmers

Farmers at the event expressed dismay at the plans, said north Wales-based livestock farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, who is also among the supporters of No Farmers, No Food. Further meetings were expected in Wales this week.

“There are definitely whispers around protest action and an appetite for it. But we’re not quite there yet,” Jones told The Grocer.

“This is a movement of frustration, with many farmers feeling like enough is enough – the situation many are finding themselves in is unsustainable.”

Some farmers were “raring to go” on protests, he said.

However, Jones – who has also highlighted the plight of farmers on his YouTube channel – stressed the “need to keep the public on board” and for any potential action to be co-ordinated, respectful and peaceful.

“There is no point in fragmented protest,” he added. “But if we do see protests it demonstrates we are at rock bottom.”

With Tata steel having just confirmed the closure of the two blast furnaces at Port Talbot, here are a few important data points.
First, UK steel-making has collapsed faster, over the past half century, than ANY other country in the world save for Venezuela.
Pretty shocking👇

Blockade: EU Farmers topple and torch John Cockerill’s statue; Welsh Farmers organise

Farmers bring down Cockerill statue in Brussels protest as 1,000 tractors block roads

Protest on day of EU summit comes as France lays out concessions to protesters leading to union bosses to call on farmers in the country to go home

Emmanuel Macron has said that Europes farming sector is facing a major crisis and needs to profoundly change its rules after more than 1,000 tractors brought part of Brussels to a standstill, calling on EU leaders to do more to support them with rising costs and environmental rules.

Background from The Guardian: Carbon offsets overstate climate benefit by 1,000%, study finds

Farmers in several countries across Europe have been blocking roads for days as part of protests, with France particularly hard hit. Speaking after a leaderss summit in the Belgian capital, the French president said that Europe is not deaf to the plight of farmers and that simplified regulations across the EU would help. The statement came after France laid out plans for some concessions to the protesters, leading to unions to call on them to go home.

Earlier in the day, farmers threw eggs and stones at the European parliament, started fires near the building and toppled a statue of John Cockerill a British-Belgian who helped Belgium’s industrial revolution who the protesters potentially mistook for someone connected to the EU. Small groups tried to tear down the barriers erected in front of the parliament a few streets from where the leaders summit was taking place but police fired tear gas and sprayed water at the farmers with hoses to push them back.

Major thoroughfares in Brussels were blocked by around 1,300 tractors, according to police. Security personnel in riot gear stood guard behind barriers where the leaders were meeting at European Council headquarters.

Background from BBC: Carbon offset, tree planting schemes pricing out farmers

If you see with how many people we are here today, and if you see its all over Europe, so you must have hope, said Kevin Bertens, a farmer from just outside Brussels. You need us. Help us!

Farmers from Italy, Spain and other European countries took part in the demonstration in Brussels, as well as continuing their protests at home. In Portugal, farmers made their way to the Spanish border at the crack of dawn to block some of the roads links between the two countries.

One of Belgiums biggest supermarket chains Colruyt said on Thursday three of its distribution centres were blocked by protesting farmers, leading to disruptions in its supply chain. Centres located in Ollignies, Ghislenghien and Halle in central western Belgium, which supply Colruyt’s Belgian shops with dry food, water and drinks, and fresh and frozen products, were no longer accessible.

At the moment, stock is still available in our shops… [but] it is inevitable that products will eventually be missing from the shelves, Colruyt said in a statement, adding that it was difficult to make definitive statements on timing as shops have different stock levels.

Background from Newsweek: Farmers Fight Back Across Europe

Colruyt Group has always focused on sourcing locally as much as possible and succeeds very well in this for many categories, the store chain said. It added it understood farmers concerns but did not see blockades as a solution to them.

In France, where farmers stepped up protests at the start of the week, the impact of dozens of blockades is also being felt, said Eric Hemar, the head of a federation of transport and logistics employers.

We did a poll among our federation members: all transport firms are impacted (by the farmers protest) and have lost over the past 10 days about 30 per cent of their revenue, because we are not able to deliver on time or with delays, he told France Info.

In his latest speech aimed at easing tensions with angry farmers, Frances prime minister Gabriel Attal earlier said France would enshrine in law the principle that it should be self-reliant in food and it will tighten import controls.

Mr Attal, speaking at a press conference, also said the government will stop imposing stricter regulation on its farmers than European Union regulations require.

It makes no sense to ban pesticides in France before such decisions are taken on an EU level. We will end this practice, he said.

Background from BBC: Climate change or market change? Cold callers shock farmers with tree-plant plea

Detailing his agenda to boost Frances agricultural sector, Europes largest, Mr Attal said it was out of the question that France would agree to the Mercosur trade deal with Latin American countries.

He also said France will step up safety checks on food imports, notably to make sure that imported foods do not have traces of pesticides that are banned in France or the EU.

The finance ministry said the new emergency measures for the sector, focused largely on supporting struggling livestock farmers and wine producers, would cost 400 million (340m), plus 200m in cash advances.

Union leaders called on their members to end the roadblocks in the wake of the speech but said this came with the condition that the promises be followed by concrete progress. They said they would give the government a three-week deadline until the start of Frances giant Salon de lAgriculture farming trade fair for the first results to show.

From Monday, were going to get to work in the prefectures and ministries to work on all the points that have been announced, said Arnaud Gaillot, the head of the Young Farmers (Jeunes Agriculteurs) union.

The protests across Europe come ahead of the European parliament elections. While the farmers crisis was not officially on the agenda of the EU summit, which focused on aid to Ukraine, an EU diplomat said the situation with the farmers was likely to be discussed later in the day.

Farmers have already secured several measures, including the blocs executive commission proposals to limit farm imports from Ukraine and loosen some environmental regulations on fallow lands, which several EU leaders welcomed as they arrived at the summit.

Free Party: a folk history of the 1990s free party movement against the 1986 Public Order Act and the 1994 Criminal Justice Act

Free Party: a folk history of the 1990s free party movement and against the 1994 Criminal Justice Act

Free Party: a folk history – TRAILER

All they wanted was the freedom to party. The State saw them as the enemy within.

A timely DIY indie film that follows the birth of the UK’s free party movement from the late 80s and early 90s and the social, political and cultural impact it’s had on our present times. Many Tories believed the movement’s DIY anti-consumerist lifestyles, prophetic environmental, radical, direct action anti-road protest and animal welfare ethos threatened the foundations of their neoliberal era State. The film explores the inception of the movement, a meeting between urban ravers and the new age travellers during Thatcher’s last days in power, and the explosive years that followed, leading to the infamous Castlemorton free festival in 1992 – the largest ever illegal rave, which provoked the drastic change of the laws of trespass with the notorious introduction of the Criminal Justice Act in 1994. Eschewing tired formulaic filmmaking styles and tokenistic big name DJ sound-bites, this exhilarating modern day folktale is told exclusively by those who were in the thick of it and features interviews with members of Spiral Tribe, DIY Sound system, Circus Warp, Bedlam and many others.

Colm Forde – DnR Creative Director

Dir Aaron Trinder| UK | 2023 | 107 mins

Screenings appear to be announced here on Facebook – please add a comment below if you find anywhere better to find them, thanks.


No Man’s Land? How To Claim Forgotten, Unclaimed UK Land For Free through Adverse Possession laws

Claim Land For Free UK

Claim Land For Free UK

There Is probably Unregistered land In the Image Above.
claim-free-land-uk = Claiming Land By Adverse Possession

How to Claim Free Land Uk – Yes it’s Totally Legal – If you are looking to claim free land in the Uk then you may be in luck.

Yes, this is true. You can claim land for free in the UK through what is known as Adverse Possession. It takes a total of 12 years to get the land title in your name. But it takes only weeks to start using the land and making money from it.

But be in no doubt that you can become the owner of free land in the UK. It takes a matter of years to become the true owner of that free UK land. But this does not mean you have to wait to work that land.

I have now started uploading YouTube Videos @TheSmallFarmerLife Channel. I will discuss everything from what it is to look for land whether that’s claiming it for free which I will be making a Video about.

Videos will be on so many different subjects around starting and running a small farm…!

Now Let’s Discuss What You Need To Know On Claiming Land

How can you claim this land for free you may ask? Well, there are thousands and thousands of acres of land out there in the UK that are unregistered. Now, this does not mean that nobody owns the land. It could just mean that the land has never changed hands since 1990. This is when it became mandatory to register land or property after a sale.

Here is a quick overview of how the process works for Claiming Free Uk Land

More Detailed Explanation On How To Find land To Claim Below

As you can see in the image above there is still 20% of land and buildings not registered in the UK which is around 12 million acres. This is because the whole of the Uk is made up of 59.9 million acres in total.

If you don’t have the time to Adversely Possess Land and have a little money spare to invest in farmland. This is how I managed to get 2.6 acres for free in the space of 4 years. Go check out my post on “How To Find Land To Farm” and see how I did it.

There are so many other reasons that land has not been registered. All land is owned by someone, somewhere. This could even be the crown, but this does not mean that you can still not claim it.

Reasons, why land is vacant and could possibly be claimed, is for many reasons. The land could have belonged to a business that went bankrupt. That nobody knew the land belonged to the business and it was forgotten about.

The land could belong to a gas, electricity grid or railways that run through the country. There is plenty of free UK land out there that has belonged to people who have passed away. This land has just been forgotten about and is just sitting there.

The point being is that there is so much out there that people don’t have a clue who owns it. Meaning you could claim that land yourself for free, it is really quite amazing.

I was even told in the past by one of our council leaders & planning chairman to just go out and claim land free. This is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to get free land. Some councils have land they do not even know they own.

You Need To Be Looking For Land That Looks Like This. This land is just down the road from where I live. I have Seen It Just Get Worse Over Years. I Might Look Into This land.

Claiming Free Land Or Buildings

It is not as easy as walking up to a piece of land and saying “I Claim This Land In My Name”. There is a process that you need to go through to claim the land.

To claim the land in your name and have it registered in your name takes 12 years in total. 10 years to make the claim and 2 years for someone to object (The Rightful Owner). But you do not have to wait that long to use the land. It’s possible you are driving or walking past land, that you could claim and you’re passing it every day.

If you are looking to claim land for free and this can include buildings also. You need to be looking for unkept land, which could be overgrown with weeds and trees. The fencing could be rotting or no fence at all and can come in a small patch or acres.

I have extended people’s gardens through my business. Land that has been covered in nettles and thick brush, with an old shed much further back. I personally would have claimed it all, which was about a 3rd of an acre or more.

I have also claimed free land here in the UK for my customers. This was to extend their gardens and they still have it. They still have the free land attached to their gardens to this day with no problems.

How you should go about the first process. Let’s say you have seen a piece of land that is overgrown. It may have old fencing, that looks like it hasn’t been touched or repaired in years.

Firstly you would like to know if a local owns the land or if it has been registered. Now you can do this by knocking on local doors. You could also do a quick Land Registry Search for the registered keeper.

If no one knows who owns the land and you cannot find a registered keeper. This is a good start to staking your claim to that land.
Staking Your Claim To The Land

Staking your claim to the land for free is a little scary at first. But it is legal and you are not breaking the law. You will not be arrested and the police will not ever be called it is a civil matter.

That is unless you think you can just steal land in the UK. This is not what we are talking about, we are talking about claiming unused land.

Stealing Land: This is when you know that the land in question is in use by a current owner. They may or may not have registered it but they are using the land all the same. Do not do this there is plenty of land and buildings out there to claim without breaking the law.
Top Tip To Find Land To Claim

You should be looking for lots of potential land plots. Land that meets the criteria I mention in this article. This is the key to finding potentially a couple of pieces of free land.

You do not want to put all your eggs in one basket so to speak. But this does not also mean you have only one piece of land in mind or even a building. Then you should stay away just claim the one piece of land or building you have your eye on.

I am just saying if you make up several signs and stick those signs on land and buildings. If you think could be possible to claim then your chances will become higher. You might end up being able to claim none of them. Then again you could end up claiming them all.?

Make Sure You Have What You Need In Your Vehicle As You Travel Around, Such Things As Keep Out Signs..?

So you want to print out or get yourself some “Keep Out Signs”. Also, place your mobile number on and trespassers will be prosecuted. Then laminate them and get a cheap mobile phone and place the number on the sign also.

Quick tip purchase a cheap mobile phone with a number that you will only use for this purpose. Then nobody will get hold of your personal number and when it rings you will know what it’s about.

A4 paper will do fine to place your keep-out notices on and get them laminated to stop them from getting wet. Make sure you get at least 10 made for the different sites you have spotted as potential plots.

Now you have your little signs and place them on the entrance to the land. If nobody calls, to say hey what is your number and sign doing on my land, within a couple of weeks. This is a good sign for you that nobody in the area actually owns it. If they do call move on what have you lost a printed piece of paper?

After a month or two of your sign being on the entrance to the land and in full view. Then you need to go and start to clear the land and patch up the fences and do this on the cheap. You can stick a couple of goats in there if it is only long grass and nettles they will have it down in no time.

If it’s used as a tip it could take more time, or you could just put a gate up and stick a sign up and wait longer. But the sooner you start to sort the land out the better chance you have to get free land.
Use Free Or Reclaimed Timber And Materials

Use reclaimed timber to repair fencing and gates. All the while you are doing this take images and take notes also. Make sure the images have a date stamped on them. This is what most mobile phones do nowadays anyway and even the location also.

Using reclaimed materials or even free materials to fix the fencing and gates is a great way to save money. There are lots of places to find free materials. Including Facebook Market Place, FreeCycle, Gumtree, Preloved

Check Out My Post On How To Find Cheap Or Free Building Materials

Just Because it has A Gate Doesn’t Mean You Cannot Claim It,

Making Your Claim Stronger

Now you have started the process then you can rent the land out your free land for grazing.

People will pay for grazing horses or as allotments and you then collect rent. Keep all the receipts for the rent of the land. If you have been collecting rents for the land you are claiming and have been doing so for several years. You are really looking good to eventually register the land in your name.

If you really wanted to and felt that you would like to farm it. Then you could start to farming the land yourself, it is totally up to you.

But if you do all this work and then someone turns up a couple of years into the process. This is unlikely if you have already been renting it out for several years. Make sure you are keeping the records for proof, showing you have been caring for the land.
Temporary Title Claim To Land Or Building.

After 5 years you can put a temporary claim on the land. This is all explained on the Land Registry website. The Land Registry will also confirm that this is totally legal. This makes sure nobody comes along after you gave been there for several years and tries to stake a claim also.

At this time you might be saying this is too much time and energy. But just think about it what have you spent up to now? Nothing you have probably made money if you have rented the land out.

This is your money, nobody can take this money from you. Even if someone does turn up and say it belongs to them.

If this does happen, then the person who turns up and says it’s their land. They have to prove it is their land. So do not just take their word for it. If anyone else starts asking questions about you and the land. You do not have to tell them anything, do not lie to them, just do not say anything.

Unless they are just asking you how you grow your vegetables. I mean, be nice to locals, this will prove you have been using and caring for the land. Also making local friends will only benefit you in the long run.

If you tell them that you are claiming the land because it hasn’t been cared for. So you thought I’m having this, then who knows what or who will come out of the woodwork.

People are claiming land in this way every single day. There are even people selling information on how to claim free land. The only information you need I am telling you right here.

Also, it does not just have to be you that has been on the land for 12 years. If you got the land off a person who was on there for seven years. Then you only have to wait another five years to claim it. Make sure you get any evidence they have. Make sure that they have actually been there for along as they say they have.

Making Your Claim

Once you have been on the land for 10 years. You can then apply to have the land registered in your name. The law allows 2 years for any owner who has proof to come forward and challenge this application. Now as I have said earlier they have to prove it belongs to them.

Most times if you have occupied the land for ten years. Then you can be pretty sure, you are in with a good chance that it’s going to be yours. I have heard of people coming to claim the land. Then the person who is claiming the land won and got to keep the land over the challenger.

Even if the land goes back to the original owner and they can prove it belongs to them. You have had at least made some money from the land. How much depends on what you used it for or rented it out for.

You can also put in for planning permission for land. If it does not belong to you, so do not be scared of this. Yes, it’s a big chance if you are trying to get planning for a home. But if you are just looking to put up small barns, greenhouses, and sheds. Then you can easily take these structures down and move them.

The point is that there is a lot of land out there unregistered and registered. They could potentially be claimed totally free. Many places to look are the side of railways, electricity grid land, corners of farmland, old buildings left abandoned, old farmhouses in ruins, land that is just in a weird place and overgrown.

keep looking along the roadsides there is land. Some people may never have left in a will or had a family. Land left abandoned in mountains of paperwork by bankrupt banks & businesses. This will only eventually end up in the Crown’s hands if nobody claims it.

You can go and claim land and buildings today for free. So why not when driving around keep your eyes open? Make a few signs and put them anywhere you think the land is unregistered.

You also do not have to pay the £3 for the title deeds. Just move the cursor over the land you have found on the land registry website. If it has been registered it will say deeds available, if not then it will say none available.

Make sure when you do the Land Registry search for deeds. That you are in the middle of the piece of land. Not near the edge of the land. This way you will actually get to see if the deeds are for that piece of land. Not some other that is next to it.

Small pieces of land are hard to pinpoint for the deeds. The map has around a 20 – 30-meter radius. So it could pick up deeds from land next to it. So make sure you are getting the right title deeds.
If you also like to watch a video on this article click the link

The larger the piece of land the easier it is to make sure it’s not registered land.

Tips For Finding Land To Claim Free

Look for overgrown land. Check for uncared-for fencing. Look for weeds growing through the entrance drive if any. Even if there is a lock on an old metal gate, how old is the lock? Has it been opened lately, you can tell if it has.

How to claim land in 2020

You can get a feel for what to look for. When you really take notice of cared-for and uncared-for land. Look for land that’s scruffy and hilly that cannot be farmed etc. These are excellent targets to claim.
claiming uk land

If you go down this route I really hope you find a piece of land. I am almost certain there is some close to you and you don’t even realize it. Also, the advent of Google Earth is a great tool to look for potential land local to you.

You can look from the air and then go to street view. But remember these images can be a few years old. So once you have spotted your target piece, go out and take a look with your own eyes.

Please do not go and squat on land that obviously belongs to someone. This will do nothing to help you. You will only eventually be moved on and it is just wasted time and energy.

Good Luck With Your Search & Happy Hunting..!

Landowner’s supreme court case threatens 2023 Dartmoor wild camping victory

See also: No Man’s Land? How To Claim Forgotten, Unclaimed UK Land For Free through Adverse Possession laws

Landowner’s supreme court case threatens Dartmoor wild camping victory

See also: Dartmoor ‘robot rangers’ to wear body-worn video cameras after ‘rise of abuse’ by wild campers they are trying to evict  Alexander Darwall is challenging decision last year to overturn ban on wild camping on the moors

Helena Horton Environment reporter – Wed 10 Jan 2024

The right to wild camp on Dartmoor could be under threat again after the supreme court granted permission for a wealthy landowner to bring a case against it.

Last year, the Dartmoor National Park Authority won an appeal against a decision to ban wild camping on the moors.

Camping had been assumed to be allowed under the Dartmoor Commons Act since 1985, until a judge ruled otherwise last January. It was the only place in England that such an activity was allowed without requiring permission from a landowner.

The case hinged on whether wild camping counted as open-air recreation, leading to a long debate in the court of appeal. Lawyers acting for Alexander Darwall, the landowner, argued it was not, because when camping one was only sleeping rather than enjoying a particular activity.

After the court of appeal decision, lawyers acting for Darwall, a hedge funder and Dartmoor’s sixth-largest landowner, asked the supreme court to hear the case.

Darwall bought the 1,619-hectare (4,000-acre) Blachford estate on southern Dartmoor in 2013. He offers pheasant shoots, deerstalking and holiday rentals on his land.

His attempts to ban wild campers from using his estate without his permission sparked a large protest movement, with thousands going to Dartmoor to assert their right to camp. It awakened a land rights debate in the UK, with the Labour party weighing in. The party previously said it would legislate for a right to wild camp in all national parks. However, it since appears to have U-turned on its land rights policy.

Lewis Winks, from the Stars Are For Everyone campaign, said: “The loss of our cherished right to sleep under the stars on Dartmoor ignited a passionate and broad movement for greater land rights in England. This news is confirmation that reform is both needed and inevitable, and will act as a clarion call to all those who wish for generations to come to enjoy these fundamental freedoms.

“As ever, the right to wild camp is emblematic of the fragility of our wider rights in the English countryside, and Darwall’s latest egregious move illustrates the need for greater legal protections for access to nature.

“We hope that the court sees sense and returns a favourable verdict, enabling wild camping to continue on the commons of Dartmoor.”

Darwall’s legal team at Landmark Chambers said that the high court held that the words in the act “unambiguously excluded a right to camp on Dartmoor” and found in favour of the landowners. The court of appeal held that it “unambiguously included a right to camp” and allowed the Dartmoor National Park Authority’s appeal. “The appeal to the supreme court will determine once and for all this important issue, namely whether members of the public enjoy a right to camp on the Dartmoor commons,” it said.

“The supreme court will be asked to consider a number of principles applicable to statutory interpretation which will be of interest to practitioners. In particular, it will be invited to consider whether the court of appeal took sufficient account of admissible ‘background’ materials (i) in identifying the ‘mischief’ at which the legislation was aimed and (ii) in considering whether the statutory language was ambiguous.”

Norfolk villagers claim Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, has stolen over 3,000 acres of public common land

Locals’ uprising against the ‘Lord of the Manor’: Stately home Holkham Hall at centre of bitter row after Norfolk villagers claim its owner the Earl of Leicester ‘unfairly’ took over 3,000 acres of public land

Ryan Prosser 01 Jan 2024 –

Holkham Hall, which covers 25,000 acres, is owned by Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester

One of the most prestigious stately homes in the country is at the centre of a bitter legal row over the ownership of part of its vast 25,000 acre estate.

Holkham Hall, valued at more than £200 million, is on the north Norfolk coast and owned by the Earl of Leicester and the huge farming estate is run by Jake Fiennes.

But the picturesque marshes of Burnham Overy Staithe, near Brancaster, are at the centre of an extraordinarily fierce row in which villagers are challenging the power and influence of the local ‘Lord of the Manor’.

Locals claim that more than 3,000 acres of land is legally common land. They say the Earl of Leicester, of nearby Holkham Hall, has ‘unfairly’ claimed the part of the area as his own and that the land is being wrongly treated as private property.

Sailors and boat users are charged for moorings and launchings on the popular waterways and the fees are claimed by the Burnham Overy Harbour Trust which leases the land from the Holkham estate.

The eighth Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke – an elected hereditary peer in the House of Lords, who was the Page of Honour to Queen Elizabeth II – insists the land is lawfully part of his estate.

In recent weeks, the dispute has been played out at Norwich Magistrates’ Court but the battle ended in defeat for the villagers, after a tribunal panel ruled against them. But they have vowed to continue their fight.

With average house prices of £1 million, the stretch of fashionable coast around Holkham has been dubbed Chelsea-on-Sea because of the growing number of Londoners buying up second homes or holiday lets.

The Scolt Head and District Common Rights Holders’ Association was set up forty years ago and has always argued that the land belongs to Burnham Overy Parish Council under historic Enclosure Acts that date back to the 18th century.

But the villagers say the Earl unlawfully registered the land to the Holkham estate in 2012 and has leased it to the Burnham Overy Harbour Trust which is wrongly charging people for moorings and license fees to launch boats.

Rod Cooke, secretary of the Scolt Head and District Common Rights Holders Association, accused the Holkham estate and Trust of ‘usurping from property that doesn’t belong to them’.

Common land has been taken from us and is being used as private property and there is not supposed to be any commercialisation of common land and they shouldn’t be profiting from it.

‘What they’ve done is unlawful and there’s no way common rights holders can get justice.

‘We’re perfectly happy to manage the common with everyone, but the Earl of Leicester, who calls himself the landowner, and the Trust won’t talk to us- they don’t believe we have any role in the management of the land we own.’

But Holkham estate says it successfully registered ownership of an island in Burnham Overy harbour, traditionally called the 77 Acres, with HM Land Registry between 2009 and 2015.

It denies any ownership of the Scolt Head Island nature reserve, which it says lies with the National Trust and with Natural England.

Peter Mitchell, managing director of the estate, said: ‘Ownership of the this land was challenged some four or five years after it was registered.

‘Holkham looked back into the estate records and agreed at the time the possibility that the ownership of the 77 Acres may not have been legitimately held by the previous owner, who sold a large block of land around the Burnhams to the Holkham estate in 1922.

‘If that counter argument were shown to be true, ownership would most likely have tracked from its status as unenclosed land into ownership by the parish council or the district council.’

The estate says that it has worked closely with the parish council over the last few years and that the authority came to the conclusion that they ‘neither needed to, nor wanted to, take on ownership’.

‘The Holkham estate therefore decided at that time that it should not transfer ownership to the parish council, but instead continue to take responsibility to manage this important area of natural habitat.’

The Scolt Head and District Common Rights Holders Association reported the Burnham Overy Harbour Trust to the Charity Commission thirty years ago but in 2019 the Commission said it was not going to take any action over the complaints. He said both had been ‘unlawfully contravened by the Commission and Trust’.

Mr Cooke submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Commission asking for correspondence between the regulator and the Trust.

However, it withheld some information, arguing that if it was to disclose correspondence from trustees public confidence in charities could be lost through fear of consequences.

Mr Cooke appealed, but it was this case that was dismissed at a tribunal at Norwich Magistrates’ Court in recent weeks.

‘We could take the Trust to court for trespassing on common land, but when you’re dealing with organisations with thousands of pounds we simply can’t take them on because we don’t have that sort of funding,’ Mr Cooke said.