The Kinder Mass Trespass

9th Dec 2017

Lost Lad Summit

Earlier this week it was reported that Donald Trump has issued proclamations rescinding protections on two US national monuments.  I have written a piece about this called ‘What About Us?’ which I’d love you to read here.  The future of these precious wilderness areas suddenly looks very precarious and we can only hope the law actions being brought by a collective of organisations will be successful.  It also got me thinking about our own wild places, and how protections we hold dear allow us great freedom while also protecting these special places for the future.  We are in a privileged position, but the fight to get these protections was long winded and involved the common people finding ways to apply pressure in a society dominated by wealthy land owners…….   

It was 1932 and a man called Benny Rothman was troubled.  Benny lived in Manchester and loved to head from his home into the nearby hills of the Peak District (he used to cycle out on a bike made up of recycled parts).  He was passionate about these special places and felt everyone should be able to access them freely. But at that time it wasn't so easy.  Landowners controlled the land and refused access to all but a small amount of terrain.

At that time in the Peak District there were only 12 legal paths or, to visualise it another way, of the 150,000 acres of land available only about 1,200 were available to walkers.  As the popularity of walking grew and these paths became busy and congested, walkers gradually began to stray from the paths and saw nothing wrong in doing so.  This wasn't, unfortunately, a view shared by landowners who would send staff armed with sticks, dogs or sometimes guns to chase them off.

A group called the British Workers Sports Federation (BWSF), of which Benny was a member, used to hold an annual camp near Rowarth and, after a particularly unpleasant confrontation with landowners staff during their Easter 1932 camp, they hatched a plan for a mass trespass of Kinder Scout.  Word spread widely and so, on 24th April 1932, about 400 walkers set off from Bowden Quarry near Hayfield.  

In William’s Clough they encountered a group of the Duke of Devonshire’s men and a scuffle ensued. One of the Duke’s men was said to have been slightly injured, but the ramblers continued their walk.  They reached the top of Kinder Plateau to join a group of protestors who had walked from Edale and together they celebrated their success. 

The group then returned to Hayfield only to be met by police officers who had turned out in force.  Benny and 5 other organisers were arrested and locked up in the Hayfield Lock-Up before being moved to New Mills police station for charging.  When the case was heard in Derby court 5 of the 6 were handed prison sentences ranging from 2 to 6 months.  

The harsh sentences caused a public outcry and gradually a flood of public opinion turned into a tidal wave.  A few weeks later 10,000 ramblers assembled for a protest in Winnat’s Pass near our home village of Castleton and similar protest events gradually cemented a change in public opinion and the policy makers began to take note.  

The Kinder Mass Trespass is widely credited with being the catalyst for legislation which, in 1949,  led to the formation of our national parks and the impetus to form some long distance footpaths including the Pennine Way.  Further changes to access laws came as a result of the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CROW Act) in 2000.  

The first U.K. national park became the Peak District National Park in 1951 and over the years others were quickly added.  We now have 15 national parks along with 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) stretching across the British Isles.  The AONB designation came about as a way of protecting naturally beautiful landscapes which were unsuitable as national parks due to their small size and lack of wildness. 

The land within the national parks is owned by a number of stakeholders including farmers, the National Trust and the thousands of people who live in them.  The parks are devolved bodies and each has an overseeing body called a national park authority.   Sometimes these authorities also own pieces of land, but they primarily work with all landowners with their main aims being, put simply, to conserve and promote these precious areas.

This individual approach is important because many national park also have their own unique features and, therefore, their own management requirements.   The Broads, for example, contains Britain’s biggest wetland area while the Cairngorms is the largest park and also contains both our highest mountain range and largest forest area.

Peak Mountaineering is based in the heart of the Peak District National Park and, although we operate all over the UK and love and value all these special places, we freely admit to having the biggest part of our hearts saved for Britain’s oldest and busiest park.  Of course, the Peak District was where the Kinder Trespass kicked off the long journey to national park legislation and, within its nearly 200 square miles of open access land, it is a land of contrasts ranging from the famous gritstone of the Dark Peak to the limestone packed White Peak.

The Peak District is managed by the Peak District National Park Authority which, like all the authorities, comprises a number of unpaid staff (appointed by the Secretary of State and local and parish councils) along with a number of paid staff.  Between them, they steer the future direction of the park while also dealing with the day to day management.  The benefits of the parks and AONB’s is of huge national importance.  They reap massive financial benefits for the economy while also providing a vital recreation area for both the home population and tourists.

It is surprising, therefore, that the budget (which comes directly from central government), is lower than you might imagine.  It is also significant that, although the importance of the parks to the UK economy has grown, over the last few years the park authority has had to survive on a shrinking budget.  In the Peak District, for example, the 2010-11 annual budget was 8,298,814 while for 2017-18 it is 6,474,218.  Amazing to consider, when lined alongside alternative examples such as the Royal Opera which will receive funding of 4,400,000 over the coming year.  I’m not saying it is wrong that the opera will receive this, but it shows how good a job the authority do of juggling a lot of balls with a limited number of hands.

Our national parks and AONB are treasures for everyone to enjoy and their national and worldwide significance is huge.  They provide remarkably good value for money, provide homes, recreation opportunities, they are part of our national heritage and are a source of huge pride for UK citizens - who would have thought though, that the trigger for their formation all that time ago, could have been a group of disgruntled Manchester ramblers!

Posted by Paul   

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