Environment

Activists to stage mass protest on duke's taxpayer-subsidised private estate

Activists are planning to trespass on an estate used for pheasant shooting to call for the right to roam in England.

Private sign on a fence

Only 8 per cent of England is accessible to the public. (Image: Pixabay)

Campaigners are planning a mass trespass this Sunday on the Duke of Somerset’s private estate in Totnes to call for greater public access to land in England. 

The duke owns 2,800 acres of land in Devon, the majority of which is shut off to the public for pheasant shooting. An additional 3,400 acres of land is owned by the duke in Wiltshire. 

According to data from the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs, the duke received around £30,000 in public money in 2020 for “forest, environmental and climate services and forest conservation” on his Totnes estate. 

The trespass is being led by the Right to Roam (RTR) campaign, which is demanding an expansion of the Countryside & Rights of Way (Crow) Act in England to allow greater access to land for the public.

Author and environmental campaigner Guy Shrubsole, who is taking part in the protest, said it was time that “big landowners made a little less room for pheasants, and a bit more room for us peasants”, citing access to nature as “vital to people’s physical and mental health”.

Currently, the Crow Act only permits public access to around 8 per cent of land in England, including some moors, common land and coastlines. 

The RTR campaign says this has led to a “postcode lottery” where only those living close to public land, or those able to afford the costs of travel and overnight stays, can access it. 

England’s rules differ from those in Scotland, where the public has the right to roam across all land, including the right to camp everywhere from beaches to mountains. 

Environmental and land campaigners have been lobbying for similar access in England for many years.

Last month, however, the government sparked fury after shelving a review into nature access in England, raising fears that the right to roam will not be extended as a result. 

In response to a parliamentary question on why the review had been quashed, Mark Spencer, leader of the house, said the English countryside is a “place of business” and already has “hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpaths”.

The RTR campaign is organising a series of trespass events in response, starting with the protest in Totnes.

In April, a “Kinder in Colour” trespass marked the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout trespass, which was instrumental in opening up the English countryside to the public. 

The trespass was led by people of colour to emphasise the issue of unequal access to the outdoors – with a 2017 report from Natural England showing that black and Asian people are less likely to regularly visit natural settings.

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