TLIO camp finds opposition mysteriously vanishing to The National Trust’s privatisation of North Norfolk commons

(see below for press articles about the camp and Natural England’s attempts to exclude the public from these commons and vast areas of coastal saltmarsh)

By Tony Gosling: 10Feb22 BRISTOL: TLIO camp finds opposition mysteriously vanishing to The National Trust’s privatisation of North Norfolk commons

Over August bank holiday 2021 The Land Is Ours campaign ventured East to camp out on disputed common land along the North Norfolk coast. It was the campaign’s first tentative steps back into the world of direct action since supporting Tony Wrench’s Pembrokeshire roundhouse planning bid in Easter 2004.

The vast salt marsh commons in question are supposed to be owned by Brancaster parish council yet the camp site is clearly managed by the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club (RWNGC) who are there in force collecting car park fees. Curious then that it should be another interested ‘charity’ entirely, the National Trust, whose North Norfolk and Broads manager Victoria Egan phoned TLIO’s Tony Gosling up a few days beforehand, politely requesting he cancel the excursion.
The vast commons around Brancaster and Scolt Island were awarded to the coastal parishes in the 1700s but this ‘waste’  has now become some of the most potentially valuable retirement and investment land in East Anglia. A report in the Eastern Daily Press while the camp was taking place put the average Brancaster house price as £800k.
Fourth and fifth homes, according the commoners who steward these 3,500 or so mostly salt-marsh acres, the Scolt Head and District Common Rightholders Association. SHDCRA, pronounced Shackra’s, Their 400 or so commoners don’t just use the land, they are an invaluable reservoir of local history and culture and have watched for four decades since the Thatcher era, with ever more sceptical eyes, as the filthy lucre has rolled up along the unspoilt North Norfolk coast.

But actual common rights exercised, as elsewhere, have been diminishing. Over the decades since the second world war livestock grazing,  reed cutting, even shooting has dwindled and, armed with some of the best-paid lawyers in East Anglia three main institutions have been acquiring slices, and chunks of these unique commons.

Private feudal big guns are to be found at the Holkham Hall estate managers office a few miles East between Blakeny Point and Fakenham backed by the 25,000-acre the Earl of Leicester’s Estate. But despite the Earl’s increasing commercialisation of the area it is so-called charitable organisations, the parish councils and the National Trust that have become the haunts for these Johnny-come lately land-grabbers.

August bank holiday 2021 Land rights Protest Camp at Brancaster Beach Car Park
Land rights Protest Camp at Brancaster Beach Car Park, over the Bank Holiday Weekend. Tony Gosling (right) with other protest group at the Car Park with Brancaster Golf Club in the Background, they are joined by Stephen Bocking (2nd left) Brancaster Parish Council member and Scolt Head and District Common Rightholder
So was the three nights out by the beach to be an ‘occupation’ of Golf Club land? Of National Trust land? Or simply a camp-out on the parish commons? Some say the parish own the land, others the golf club and we even heard it was National Trust land leased to the golf club in a secret deal.
As so many times in the past the only way to uncover evidence would be to spend a few weeks there and discover the supposed owner through court papers. Countless requests from SHADCRA to the private and charitable claimants have failed to produce the required evidence and, lately, the private parties are even refusing to reply to commoners’ letters and phone calls.
The most surprising discovery though relates to the National Trust who arrived in the early 20th Century when they were donated a slice of land near Scolt Island. Despite being a ‘charity’ the NT appear to be increasingly mesmerised by the dizzying financial value of properties with which ‘for the education and betterment of the public’ they are entrusted. The NT’s North Norfolk boss Victoria Egan  is working with and for private locals, lodging claims at the land registry for apparently ‘vacant’ common land around their existing holdings.

Natural England have been working closely with the National Trust too on coastal path proposals, unveiled in 2018, but under cover of ‘rewilding’ they aim to exclude walkers from thousands of aces of salt-marsh along the footpath. Local dog-walker Philip Platten, told The Times’ environment correspondent Jonathan Leake, ‘I will be visiting the marshes whenever I want, and I challenge anyone to stop me taking my grandchildren too.’ [see Rebecca Murphy’s May 2018 EDP article below]

NT claims have only been rebuffed by diligent SHDCRA members of the parish councils lodging counter-claims at the land registry along with copies of their eighteenth century enclosure awards. So, unfettered by the mere law of the land these parish councils are gradually being taken over by well-heeled incomers more inclined to turn a blind eye to the NT claims and view them as an ‘opportunity for development’.

But, bulldozer-in-hand, Brancaster’s in-yer-face land-grabbers, sub-letting from the grey-zone ‘twixt parish council and National Trust, have to be the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club who, since the 1990s, have taken the opportunity to carve out their own parking facilities into a large public car park which used to be free but as they have extended it they have also brought in a £4-£8 charge for anyone wanting a few hours or a day on one of the loveliest sandy beaches in the country.

With ten or so TLIO common rights supporters spending the long weekend under canvas on Brancaster Beach car park a whole series of passing locals settled into comfy chairs to tell tales of well-connected outsiders turning up as parish councillors, and suddenly chairing parishes too. Tales of ‘control freaks’ at the RWN golf club causing a exodus of members  to the ‘less anal’ nearby Hunstanton club, and wondering if the tens of thousands in car park profits wouldn’t give a desperately needed facelift for the beach road and parish rather than vanishing into golf club coffers.

Legally the golf club, and possibly the Trust too, should be paying annual compensation for the common land they’ve built on which should be putting the commoners well into the black.
So cash-strapped SHDCRA soldier on, asking for meetings with Trusts, Clubs and Estates who can’t see the point of dealing with anything without legal and financial weight behind it. The doors have been slammed in their face and even individuals who turn up at SHDCRA managing to turn members against the executive of their own association.
According to one frequent visitor to the Norfolk coast, Mike, the parking fines stuffed under windscreen wipers by the golf course aren’t worth the paper they are photocopied on. The wording, he notes, is that used by the National Trust elsewhere along the coast. For all the years he’s been parking there for free, threatened fines have never been enforced.
The National Trust were approached for comment but didn’t get back to us before publication.
Could it be, despite Brancaster Beach car park attendants’ uniforms, like the notorious Bristol Zoo parking attendant ‘Mr S W Barrett of 35 Westbury Lane’ who blagged fees for twenty years from an unofficial space on the downs, that the last decade of receipts are nothing more than a brazen fraud. That the land is ours, it isn’t theirs at all?

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Beach protest over Brancaster land grab claims

By Judy BatesPublished: 01 September 2021

Land rights campaigners held a protest at Brancaster beach car park over the weekend to back local commons rights holders embroiled in a long-running disagreement.

Ten protesters from the Land is Ours campaign camped out on an area of land which is part of a dispute between the rights holders and the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club and the National Trust.

Tony Gosling, who came up from Bristol to lead the protest, said they saw it as something of a feud and an example of private landowners extending their boundaries and grabbing land and rights holders losing out.

Brancaster Marsh Common covers several thousand acres and parts of it have been registered by the golf club and the Trust.The common rights holders and parish council dispute the land ownership claims and are also disgruntled that they are not receiving enough compensation for being unable to exercise historic rights which date back to the Enclosures Act of 1765 and would have made the parish the owner of the land.

Although they don’t own any of the land, the 300-plus members of the Scolt Head and District Common Rightsholders Association (SHDCRA) are entitled to historic rights over the land for activities including shooting, fishing and grazing.

Land rights Protest Camp at Brancaster Beach Car Park, over the
Land rights Protest Camp at Brancaster Beach Car Park, over the Bank Holiday Weekend

They claim that if they are not able to carry out these activities they are entitled to compensation and feel they are also entitled to a portion of any income from the land.

The beach car park is one area under dispute. It is run by the golf club which, according to the rights holders, also claims to own it.

Rights holder and parish councillor, Stephen Bocking, said that although the club had registered the land it occupies it has never produced the deeds to prove ownership and all SHDCRA receives in compensation is £100 for some fencing on the land.

“We just want to get people round a table to talk about it but all we get from the golf club are solicitor’s letters,” he said. One letter arrived in response to the protest action.

Chris Cotton, another rights holder and parish councillor, said that they welcomed the support from the Land is Ours campaigners although they had no idea they were coming to Brancaster until a few days beforehand.

Mr Gosling said they were not there to be disruptive – just to try to bring people together in what had developed into something of a feud.

He said: “It amounts to a difference of opinion between the traditional rights holders and new money which holds the legal clout,” he said.

Mr Gosling said they had an opportunity to chat to those involved over the weekend and hoped their intervention might bring the parties together face to face.

The issue will be on the agenda at a parish council meeting next Tuesday.

The Land Is Ours was founded in the 1990s by George Monbiot, now a leading figure with Extinction Rebellion.

The golf club has also been contacted for comment.

Norfolk salt marshes could be declared off-limits

Rebecca Murphy Published: May 14, 2018

Salt marshes in north Norfolk could be declared off limits to the public under proposals being drawn up by Natural England.The public body wants to exclude the general public from accessing areas of marsh at Burnham Overy Staithe and Wells.

It says the measures, which are included in its proposed route of the England Coast Path between Hunstanton and Weybourne, would ‘have the effect of enhancing existing conservation objectives’.

Local water sports activities are held on the marsh areas of Burnham Overy Staithe

In a report outlining the measures, officials say that the establishment of the England Coast Path could attract more walkers to the area, increasing pressure on birds such as terns, redshank and ringed plover.

Two locations have also been identified as supposedly ‘unsuitable for public access’.

Natural England said it made the decisions following advice from selected ‘local stakeholders and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’.

However, proposals have angered and frustrated many in the coastal communities who have said there has been a lack of prior notice to the proposals.

Burnham Market resident David Baldry has said the proposals are ‘poorly thought out’.

He said: ‘The salt marsh at Burnham Overy Staithe provides for a host of recreational pursuits.

‘In the warm summer months at low tide, many local children go swimming along the creeks after school, mud sliding on the banks, collect samphire, families and visitors to the area explore the creeks and salt marshes – this access to a wonderful wild and natural environment is what draws tourists to Norfolk and contributes so significantly to our rural economy.’

The sand and marshes at Burnham Overy Staithe. Natural England have proposed to exclude the general public from accessing the marshes due to it being “unsuitable for public access

Michael Smith, who lives in Burnham Thorpe, is a common rights holder and would not be affected by the proposals.

He said he accepts the conservation needs at Wells but says there is no risk to public safety on the marshes around Burnham.

The 47-year-old, who is also chairman of the Scolt Head and District Common Rights Holders Association, said he does not feel Natural England is providing answers to questions to his questions.

‘When you ask around there seems to be no local stakeholders who say they have been asked,’ he said. ‘I have asked but they clearly are not preparing to give names.’

Natural England’s response

Natural England have said the proposals will not affect any existing access to the marshes for common rights holders or other walkers who use the area through informal agreements with landowners.

Sarah Dawkins, area manager for Norfolk and Suffolk, said: ‘When developing our coastal access proposals we have to make sure they don’t impact negatively on the environment, or create unforeseeable safety issues for walkers.

‘Following advice from local stakeholders and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, we’ve proposed some restrictions excluding the new coastal access rights from just two areas of saltmarsh at Wells and Burnham Overy Staithe.’

People are encouraged to view the proposals and to comment up until Wednesday, May 16, 2018.

Locals put boot in as Natural England’s Coast Path threatens access to Norfolk salt marshes

Plans to protect wildlife alongside a Norfolk stretch of the trail around England are angering residents and artists

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor – Sunday April 22 2018

Philip Platten, centre, and wife Christine with other dog walkers on the coastal path. He says he wants to be able to take his grandchildren on the marshes too
England’s ambitious 2,800-mile Coast Path project has become stuck in the mud of Norfolk’s north coast over plans to ban access to the surrounding salt marshes used by ramblers, dog walkers and fishermen for generations.
Natural England (NE), the government’s conservation and ‘rewilding’ quango, says it wants to protect seabirds and wildlife from the surge in ramblers when the coastal path formally opens – by banning access to land around it.
However, the plans, which are part of a public consultation, have infuriated residents, prompting protests along the coast, from the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea to Holt.
‘I will be visiting the marshes whenever I want and I challenge anyone to stop me,’ said Godfrey Sayers a renowned local artist……

3 thoughts on “TLIO camp finds opposition mysteriously vanishing to The National Trust’s privatisation of North Norfolk commons”

  1. Another thought on the subject of ‘opposition’ to the National Trust ‘mysteriously vanishing’ – was the thoughts I thought as I was vanished from last night’s BCC meeting at The Dial House in Brancaster Staithe – by the National Trust (who also own The Dial House)…

    Vanished – I was banished!!


    As a local Norfolk resident, social entrepreneur, and member of the general public living in North Norfolk – why was I banished (or mysteriously vanished) from last night’s BCC meeting – after checking with BCC (Brancaster Commons Committee) first, to enquire whether it was an Open Meeting, (which was confirmed), and whether I might be able to record it, (which was also confirmed before trying to attend the meeting)?

    According to the BCC – and Borough and Parish Councillor Bob Lawton when he arrived – it has always previously been an Open Meeting, and both the Brancaster Commons Committee and Bob Lawton raised this matter with the National Trust.

    From memory (as I wasn’t allowed to record in any way), Bob first stated that fact while we were all ushered to stand outside The Dial House (and the door closed to us), while the two National Trust officials held a private meeting, (possibly via the internet as the gentleman had his laptop in front of him at the table).

    Bob again stated the same when we were ushered back in again too – not that it made any difference to the National Trust – who were by that point adamant, either I left the meeting, or the meeting would need to be re-scheduled.

    (Was it just because I campaigned with the protest last August I wondered?)

    In fact, I had to argue the point that I had not been told to attend – by Tony Gosling (or anyone else), and that Tony didn’t even know that I was there – so Tony/TLIO could not have spoken to the National Trust first.

    And, after indignantly replying that I was definitely NOT the press after that accusation, I explained that I wasn’t a paid reporter – that I didn’t get paid at all for attending this meeting, or other events – and that I wasn’t just TLIO (nonprofit) anyway, I was also Global Ark Projects social enterprise (and also represented other NGOs), I didn’t expect the National Trust to recognise their names.

    I explained that I was there because I cared about The Land – that I cared about The Land very much in fact – and, (as a member of the local public), wanted to know what was occurring here.

    In terms of not being a Common Right Holder, when that point was raised, members of Brancaster Commons Committee very kindly offered me the loan of their Common Rights for the evening so that point was covered – but that made no difference either!

    And when members of BCC said they would walk out too, if I was forced out of the meeting, I thought no, (this was just a locked door meeting, apparently unbeknown prior to BCC members, who’s faces showed the seriousness of their own thoughts as I said no, it was alright, I was going).

    I left, having made a public request for the meeting minutes – promised to follow now by the National Trust via email – and been offered offered a meeting with the National Trust at their offices at Blakeney, as I only live locally in Hindolveston.

    (As luck would have it, Briony Bax, Chair of Brancaster Parish Council heard my name and email address when given to the National Trust, stating that she also owed me an email – as she had specifically requested that the PC meeting I recorded on my mobile phone following the TLIO protest not be shown or seen on social media – and it was posted on the Scolt Head And District Common Rights Association, SHADCRA, Grapevine at Facebook, by Tony Gosling, who suggested I record that meeting, albeit that I had also passed on Briony’s caveat.)

    It was interesting to see the looks on the faces as I walked out through the door, (and I am seriously interested in finding out what occurred after I did so)!


  2. I’m not against car parking charges and don’t think that beauty spots should even have car parking.Why should those who pave over our countryside get to enjoy it also?Cars take up a lot of space and are ugly so a charge of £4 to £8’s is nothing compared with the damage they do.Although the golf course is obviously doing it not make money not as a statement against the car and motorist.

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