Monday, August 13

Kinder Trespass person required - Apply Within. Vixen Tor a blight on CROW

Dartmoor has always been very welcoming to walkers. Indeed it's one of the few areas, particularly amongst UK National Parks that has a policy of positive encouragement for wild camping.

Open access is a well-established tradition, enshrined both in tradition and more recent statute.

On the remoter part of the high moor, about mid between Princetown and Tavistock lies an area of high ground topped by one of those natural features unique to Dartmoor. The place is named Vixen Tor, and for many years has been a favourite focal point both for walkers and climbers due to its impressive rock pile.

Local legend has it that a witch called Vixiana lived in a cave at the foot of the tor, alone but for her seething hatred of fellow man. Your typical witch I guess. Her speciality was to lure passers-by to their deaths, sucked down into the deep Dartmoor bogs. And by crikey they can be deep.

As is the way of these things, she eventually met her own demise in the self same way following the arrival of a local man, endowed with a little piskie magic of his own.

But some say Vixiana has managed to finally clamber out of her black bog bound grave and is once more involved herself in the affairs of travellers who visit this area.

In 2003 a year a local farmer, a year after buying a piece of land including the Tor, closed the area to public access. The reason given was that "on the advice of her solicitors who fear she may be sued by climbers or walkers if they should fall from the rock. This despite there being no legal precedent anywhere in the UK of such an occurrence. Thus bringing to an end 30 years of de facto public right of way (probably over 100 years)"

Unsurprisingly this action did not sit well with a number of local and national organisations, including Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA), the Ramblers Association and The British Mountaineering Council (BMC).

Informal and formal steps were taken over the ensuing years. And as feelings became heated once more the sight of mass trespass, an approach which many of us probably thought only of historic interest post the renown Kinder Trespass in 1932 was once again happening. Regularly.

Mediation seemed to achieve little until in 2006 a breakthrough was announced when the landowner finally overcome their concern with the potential litigation risks and kindly offered to offer a ten year access period for the mere pittance of £380,000.

Yes that’s right. £38,000 per annum, or approx £3.50 per visitor based on one commentator’s calculations. To visit the top of a hill. Bargain.

Needless to say the offer was a little over the DNPA figure of £1,500 p.a. and around about there the whole process, already littered with legal action and increasingly bad feeling, ground to an interminable halt.

Enter stage left. A Channel 5 TV programme mid 2006. "At War With Next Door" produced a former Bosnia peace negotiator Colonel Bob Stewart experienced in finding solutions for difficult and intractable real life situations, "to knock heads together and find solutions"

On the plus side there was public access on the day filming took place. But it dissolved into farce bordering on the dangerous as allegedly "…security guards, drafted in for the day by the owners, were told to move people off the property. The owners had agreed to a 11am - 4pm timescale for the Open Day. The climbers were told to come down immediately and when they asked if they could complete their route, apparently one of the landowners was heard to ask if the security men could pull them down. The climbers were subsequently forced to retreat, after having to leave gear in place and very upset at the aggressive attitude they had encountered" (source)

And the situation today?

Little progress from the DNPA who recognise they are flogging a dead horse, potentially eating up legal costs in the face of landowner intransigence. Some positive activity on the part of the BMC digging in for the long haul and no stranger to this type of scenario. And a pressure group who despite good intentions seems to have very little activity in the public forum.

And as for the farmer concerned? Well you would have thought their original heartfelt worries over the potential legal matters and costs would have mellowed as other pointless legal activity took its place.

But sadly that seems not to be the case. Which really does beg the $64,000,000 question. Why was access removed, and what is the reason now?

Today Vixen Tor is still a no-go zone. Guerrilla incursions appear to occasionally take place on an individual initiative. But basically an impasse.

There’s a much more detailed analysis well worth reading through here. With minutes of the actual DNPA meetings here and BMC news here.

And of course the "Vixen Tor 4 All" pressure group itself. There's little apparent activity on it. But then again that may be due to the nature of the pressure groups approach. I wouldn't care to guess.

So what does this mean for us as users of the outdoors?

Is the "Get off my land" mentality something that can still continue in today’s apparently egalitarian social climate with increasingly widespread recreational demand.

And if the law and those that are interested in applying it cannot achieve a realistic recourse, what alternative action isvailable?

For once I don’t have any cocky answers. There’s too much bad blood already been split in this affair, and despite much web based research of my own little appears to have been achieved since 2006. But without some positive and co-ordinated pressure I’d suggest nothing much will change in the future?

If you are interested in further info try contacting the Vixen Tor 4 All website. But this is a situation screaming out for another Benny Rothman type of individual, but in tune with modern social mores perhaps. Or is that approach not part of modern society anymore.

The next UK Bloggers Meet is currently considering their next location, and Dartmoor was mentioned. I wonder how it would go down if a small group of net based communicators happened to say, turn up for a night’s camp, possibly bringing along some of our press and media contacts for a taste of what’s still possible in 21st Century Britain. Just thinking out loud of course. Hypothetically.

Naw. You're right. That would be just provocative action surely. After all we just sit and write geeky on-line diaries that no one will ever read or think about.

Don't we?

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Sounds like a plan to me! Count me in.
Provided me knee sorts itself out, I just so happen to be due a trip to Paignton, so Dartmoor could be a 'rest stage'.
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