A mass trespass on the Duke of Somerset’s South Hams estate has been announced by local residents calling for a greater right to roam.
The Totnes Trespass Group is demanding more of England’s countryside be made publicly accessible.
As part of the national Right to Roam campaign, members have planned a mass trespass on Sunday May 8 on the Duke – John Seymour’s – Berry Pomeroy Castle woodlands, which remains largely off limits to the public and used for pheasant shooting.
The Duke of Somerset owns around 2,800 acres of land in Devon and another 3,400 acres in Wiltshire where his Ducal seat Bradley House is situated.
Britain’s 24 non-Royal Dukes own over one-million acres of land between them.
Currently 92 per cent of England’s land is privately owned and not available to access, according to Caroline Lucas, MP for Bright Pavilion.
Totnes environmental campaigner and author, Guy Shrubsole, says large swathes of private woodlands remain out of bounds to walkers, with “estate owners using them instead for releasing and shooting pheasants, a non-native species of game bird”.
An estimated 50 million pheasants are released into the British countryside every year – equivalent in weight to the total biomass of wild birds in Britain, he added..
Guy, who is taking part in the trespass, said: “Regular access to nature is vital to people’s physical and mental health, yet so much of England’s countryside is shut off behind fences and intimidating signs.
“We have a right to roam over only eight per cent of this country, so we’re asking the government to extend that to cover more landscapes closer to where people live, like woods and green belt land.
“Many woodlands – like those owned by the Duke – are off-limits to the public because they’re brimming with pheasants put there for a few days’ shooting, with hugely detrimental impacts on the environment.
“Isn’t it time big landowners made a little less room for pheasants, and a bit more room for us peasants?”
Frankie Gould, of Totnes Trespass Group, said: “Since our local group started trespassing last year we’ve visited many woods that are off-limits to the public, shut away behind barbed wire fences and keep out signs.
“Yet the landowners of all the woods we’ve visited have benefited from publicly-funded woodland grants. Public money, but no public access - how is that right?
“The Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust give the public full access to their woods - why shouldn’t big private landowners do the same?”
Although the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gives a legal right of public access to mountains, moorland, heaths, commons and the English coastal path, campaigners have asked for it to be extended to cover rivers, woods and green belt land.
The Right to Roam campaign is organising a series of mass trespasses between May and September in response to the Government’s shelving of the “right to roam” report into widening access to the countryside.
The Agnes Review had included a potential expansion of the much fought-over “right to roam” which campaigners fear will not now go ahead.
Anyone wishing to join the South Hams peaceful mass trespass should meet at The Plains, Totnes at noon on Sunday May 8, bringing food and drink for a picnic.
For more information visit Eventbrite at bit.ly/totnestrespass
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