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Mass trespass on estate in Devon

The protest marks the start of a month-long nationwide campaign.

On 8th May a mass protest organised by protest body Right to Roam trespassed on the Duke of Somerset’s South Hams estate. Participants picnicked and marched through the estate. It is reported that the action represented the start of a month-long, nationwide campaign by the pressure group, which wants to see more private land accessible to walkers.

Guy Shrubsole, a Totnes-based campaigner, posted a picture of piled rubbish in the woods, reporting that he had found ‘a mass grave of scores of discarded pheasants, wire mesh fencing, and fly-tipped rubbish’ on the Duke’s private estate.

Shooting UK spoke to hedgelayer, conservationist and Shooting Times contributor Richard Negus who commented: “They do have an argument here that shooting and some farming has some dirty linen that it needs to start washing. In shooting and land ownership we have to be squeaky clean and get rid of the bad elements.

“However the only argument Right to Roam is making here is that they went into a wood and if the photos are to be believed, found some bad stuff. But their actions clearly highlight that these people have no regard for wildlife. At this time of year wildlife is at its most fragile and certainly doesn’t need trampling over. The fragility of the landscape, especially on arable land in southern England, is very delicate.”

Dr Mike Swan of the GWCT added: “Of all the times of year to hold a protest it is not during the current ground nesting bird season. This action may have led to birds being pushed off their nests and exposed to predators such as crows. In addition if they have been disturbed there may have been nest desertions.”

On Twitter Mr Shrubsole wrote: “We’re here to draw back the veil of secrecy that hides how landowners – not ramblers – trash nature.” Which as Richard Negus agrees is a bit like a burglar saying he burgled your house to do you the favour of showing just how vulnerable it was.

Richard Negus also commented that it is curious that groups like Right to Roam get angry about land use if it belongs to a duke, an earl or a Tory MP. “So essentially it is a politically-led movement.”

In 2021, the Treasury commissioned Lord Agnew to lead a review into access to nature. However, on 20 April 2022, it was disclosed that the government had shelved the review.

Leader of the House of Commons, Mark Spencer, said in explanation:  “I think we are blessed in this country with hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpath to allow people to access the countryside. We have to recognise the countryside is not just a place of leisure, but it is also a place of business and food production.”

Spencer made the remarks after the Green MP Caroline Lucas asked why the responses to the Agnew report into making more of the countryside publicly accessible would not be published.

Geographer Lewis Winks, who took part in the event, said: “The argument that the public can’t be trusted in the countryside is rife within the environmental movement, yet plays straight into the hands of those who seek to keep us out while trashing nature. Keeping 92% of land beyond our reach isn’t working great for nature either, is it?”

Deerstalkers also pointed out that roe deer are likely to have young at this time of year and that disturbance can cause them to abandon dependent offspring. The event was organised online using social media platforms and a series of other similar events are expected throughout the month of May.