‘What else can we do?’: trespassers demand proper to roam minister’s 12,000-acre property | Entry to inexperienced area

Members of the morris-dancing troupe

It’s laborious to know what entry to nature minister Richard Benyon usually finds in his gigantic Berkshire property when he strolls out on a Sunday afternoon. It’s unlikely, nonetheless, to be a loudly singing group of activist trespassers, dressed up as psychedelic animals and accompanied by an all-female morris-dancing troupe.

However that’s what wandered up his drive on Sunday, when protesters visited the Englefield property, calling on Benyon to open it as much as the general public and lengthen entry for everybody to inexperienced area throughout England.

The Guardian witnessed about 150 folks strolling into the property, together with the morris dancers (who got here in peace, leaving their conventional sticks at house), and Nadia Shaikh, a nature conservationist and one of many organisers of the occasion.

Members of the morris-dancing troupe
Members of the morris-dancing troupe {Photograph}: Peter Flude/The Guardian

“This, what we’re doing now, is a freedom we must always have,” she mentioned. “So we’re appearing as if we have already got that freedom. We wish the enjoyment of assembly within the commons with music and the richness of all these conversations and completely different folks. So yeah, I imply, what else can we do once you ask repeatedly, politely, and it’s nonetheless a no?”

When requested why she selected this specific property, she mentioned: “Nicely, he’s the entry to nature minister! So it appears completely acceptable to come back and expertise the liberty and the land that he has.”

As minister in control of entry to nature, Benyon was concerned within the Agnew overview, which checked out broadening entry to the countryside, however which was shelved with little rationalization. Simply 8% of England’s land has free entry, together with coastal paths and moorlands, and campaigners need this to alter.

The 12,000-acre Englefield property, which has been within the Benyon household for a whole bunch of years and is the most important in West Berkshire, accommodates land that was as soon as a standard, earlier than the Enclosures Act meant it may very well be absorbed into the personal property. It additionally, based on the Ramblers, accommodates misplaced footpaths. That is the place the dancers and musicians have been heading. Though these assembled have been breaking civil legislation by trespassing, the gamekeepers didn’t intervene and watched the unusual, mystical spectacle from atop a hill from their SUV.

Nadia Shaikh (centre), who helped organise the Right to Roam mass tresspass.
Nadia Shaikh (centre), who helped organise the Proper to Roam mass tresspass. {Photograph}: Peter Flude/The Guardian

Nick Hayes, the writer of The Ebook of Trespass who helped organise the occasion, gave a historical past of the land: “Taking a look at 18th-century tithe maps, we are able to nonetheless learn the names of the commoners who held rights to farm the land; and archaeological LIDAR information we are able to nonetheless see the commoners’ plough strains buried beneath the deer park. The ancestor of our present minister for entry to nature, additionally known as Richard Benyon, started the method of enclosing his property in 1802.

“Over the subsequent 20 years he moved a complete village out of sight of Englefield home to make manner for his deer park. Then, in 1854, a stopping order was granted by his associates in parliament to shut the general public street that ran in entrance of his home. At the moment the Ramblers’ ‘Don’t Lose Your Method’ web site reveals a former footpath operating by the property, identifiable on outdated Ordnance Survey maps, however which has since been extinguished.”

The Proper to Roam marketing campaign despatched the Conservative peer an open letter, asking him to open up his property to the general public and, in his capability as entry to nature minister, to open up extra of England for folks to stroll on and have picnics – and even perhaps a bit ceilidh.

The campaigners had beforehand met the minister to debate their concepts to open up a minimum of publicly funded woodlands and the inexperienced belt to walkers. They declare he mentioned their proposals made him really feel “heat and fuzzy inside”.

Protesters playing instruments.
Protesters enjoying devices. {Photograph}: Peter Flude/The Guardian

Of their letter, they inform him they now imagine “this was a heat and fuzzy technique to inform us we have been being ignored”.

They added: “Entry to nature is one thing you, as a serious landowner, have taken with no consideration all of your life. For almost all of England, nonetheless, it’s not a luxurious however an existential necessity they’re denied every single day by a system of exclusion; a system that you could change.”

They claimed they didn’t wish to should trespass on his land however felt “we have now to,” including: “The pressing want for a better public relationship with nature has been repeatedly stifled and ignored in authorities.”

“It feels absurd to make use of the phrase ‘trespass’,” mentioned Sam Lee, a musician and storyteller who held a ceremony beneath the oak tree. “What we’re doing is our birthright.

“We’re right here to playfully go deep into the knowledge, the phrases, the melodies of this land and expertise a way of connection. We wish to really feel freed from the load of disgrace and of indignity of what it’s to be on anyone else’s land.”

The singer mentioned Lord Benyon could be welcome to attend his ceremony, throughout which he advised tales of the land and engaged the group in tune.

“Like everybody right here he’s welcome. This isn’t for him. And it’s not regardless of him. However he’s a welcome participant, as is anyone else.”

The protesters level out that, like most of the decision-makers in parliament, Benyon owns land – so he’s maybe unlikely to behave towards the pursuits of enormous personal landowners.

Protesters marching across Englefield estate.
Protesters marching throughout Englefield property. {Photograph}: Peter Flude/The Guardian

Jon Moses, one other Proper to Roam campaigner, mentioned: “We’re right here at this time to reconnect with a tradition that we misplaced, a preferred tradition of the land that was taken away when the aristocracy closed a lot of England. Over a 3rd of the land in England stays within the palms of the aristocracy, principally in personal estates like this one. And we’re on the land at present of the minister for entry for nature, who after all has no public entry on a lot of his land.

“That to us signifies a system that’s rigged. We’ve been attempting to get … payments by parliament, we have been promised within the Agnew overview, a ‘quantum shift within the public’s relationship with nature’. That overview has mainly been shelved. It’s been thrown out the window, and we suspect the explanation why is as a result of landowners like this are the individuals who maintain all of the playing cards.”

Richard Benyon has argued passionately previously for the significance of inexperienced areas and hyperlinks, stating that inexperienced infrastructure creates “stronger ecological networks, provides folks higher locations to dwell, higher well being and higher high quality of life”.

He has additionally argued for bettering entry to inexperienced area, stating that “analysis reveals that folks in probably the most deprived teams in society are the least prone to journey to entry the pure setting – so there’s much more want to ensure we enhance the standard of the setting the place they’re.”

He has been contacted for remark.