As a fully-paid-up member of both the Woodlands Farm Trust and Ramblers, the dispute about the blocked section of the Green Chain Walk through the farm fills me with dismay. I can understand the concerns on both sides, but get really worried that they don’t seem to be talking constructively and collaboratively about the problem, and that positions are becoming more entrenched.
I learnt about the latest development when my copy of the Autumn 2012 edition of the Ramblers’ magazine Walk arrived, with the latest South East Walker newspaper. In an article titled Mind the gap, Des Garahan (twitter @ramblerdes), a member of The Ramblers’ Board of Trustees and Campaigns Officer for Inner London Ramblers, presents the Ramblers’ point of view. It appears a classic case of the kind of situation that Ramblers exists to fight – an unsympathetic landowner preventing access to a public path ….. and that path is now the weakest link in a significant walking route that is seen as one of the enduring achievements of the 1970s.
The article recognises the complexities of the impasse – the disputed path is not a public right of way, but a permissive path, albeit one that Woodlands agreed could be part of the Green Chain Walk when the route was first established. It continues:
Inner London Ramblers feels it now has no option but to begin the ponderous process of claiming the path as a public right of way and get this stretch of the route included on Bexley’s Definitive map. Despite a reputation to the contrary it is rare that we resort to the legal process. Contact has been made with the borough and the Green Chain Walk users group and both are very supportive of this action.
However when the locked gate that blocks the path was left open it caused a lot of problems for the farm. The gate is at the furthest reaches of the farm, out of site of the farm buildings where most of the volunteers work. Consequently there is no-one nearby to prevent the acts of petty vandalism that have happened, such as starting fires. More seriously farm animals have been attacked on a number of occasions by dogs who were allowed to run free by their owners – again originating from the same gate. The farm has been willing to open the gate for walking groups who contact them in advance on 0208 319 8900, though this doesn’t help the casual walker. The farm has started a petition in support of their position that the path should be closed, which visitors to the farm’s recent Summer Show were asked to sign.
It’s the casual walker following the Green Chain Walk sign posts who suffers most from this dispute; the sign posts all point towards the locked gate. On the farm side this could mean that a rambler walks a mile across the farm only to find their way blocked and have to re-trace their steps. On the Dryden Road side it’s a walk of a couple of hundred yards along a narrow track, impeded by brambles, nettles and fallen trees to the locked farm gate. There is an alternative route via Footpath 245 near the Green Man pub – linked to on the previous e-shootershill post on this topic – but there’s nothing on the Green Chain Walk to indicate this. On both sides of the gate the path is becoming overgrown and impassable through lack of use and maintenance.
I wonder what ideas the Farm and Ramblers have investigated that would resolve the dispute to everyone’s satisfaction? One suggestion was that there should be a notice board at the locked gate with a phone number to call to ask for the gate to be unlocked. I guess that means that the farm would need to have someone to answer the phone and walk down to the gate, though that’s surely possible. Maybe a local householder would agree to be a key holder? Could the gate be unlocked when farm volunteers are working nearby? And could the signposts and Green Chain Walk publicity material show the alternative, Footpath 245, route for times when the gate is unavoidably locked. (I found Footpath 245 itself a very enjoyable walk, almost as good as the beautiful track through the farm’s meadows).
As someone who donates to both Ramblers and the Farm I would rather they got together to talk about possible ways to resolve the dispute than waste the two charities’ money on the legal process.