Dear Ms. Shoard: yes, there is a reason

The majority of the country\’s woods, especially in lowland areas, are in private hands, and walkers are systematically excluded from most of those.There is no good reason why this should be so.

The reason being this rather ancient English idea of \”private property\”.

What\’s mine is mine and I might and may decide to let you have some of it but that is my decision, not your\’s or the law\’s to force me to do so.

13 thoughts on “Dear Ms. Shoard: yes, there is a reason”

  1. Walkers are NOT “systematically excluded” though, are they? How many woods are really fenced off and patrolled by security guards?

  2. “What’s mine is mine and I might and may decide to let you have some of it but that is my decision, not your’s or the law’s to force me to do so.”

    Quite, and we don’t want the proles trampling all over the bluebells.

  3. Open access has worked with few problems in Scotland because the population density is much lower (5.2 million people on 20 million acres) than in England (51.5 million people on 32 million acres).

  4. I’m not really convinced by the apostrophe in “your’s”. Are you by any chance a grocer?

    Tim adds: Probably. It is a possessive and yes, it does look wrong. So I dunno. The vainglory of those who are sometimes paid for their writing, see, we don’t need to know the rules, that’s what subeditors are for.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    Is the reason so much wood land is in private hands because asses like the person writing this tripe were allowed to tramp all the way through them until they were ruined? Certainly it is the case that so much wood land was preserved because it was privately owned and people like to hunt deer. The rest was cut down for one reason or another.

  6. “rather ancient English idea of “private property””

    By ancient you presumably mean pre-16th century (during and after which most enclosures happened, and before which most land was not private, for the peasants could wander at will on it with their pigs?)

    The broader point is,
    1) private property rights over most land were created by acts of parliament (Enclosure acts) and can thus be (partially or wholly) reversed by acts of parliament. I said “Can” not “should”
    2) property rights have never conferred on the owner unlimited powers over that property. I can’t mine or build skyscrapers on my land.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of private property, but we can’t claim it’s some ancient and absolute English common law right which has existed since time immemorial.

    Tim adds: Actually, we can, for “time immemorial” means since 1189 in English law. And no, peasants really couldn’t wander at will in the forests of the time. Property law of the time is absolutely jam packed full with detail about who owned what: dunnage, scunnage, acorn collecting, rights to windfall wood but not trees, and they’d rip the ears off anyone who took one of the King’s deer. That feudal law say many “properties” on what we now call “a property” doesn’t change that these things were highly codified and woe betide those who transgressde.

  7. It is the fact that we have such laws as “property rights” that we became prosperous. Where no such rights exist there is usually no real progress, if I can steal your property, solid or intellectual, you are not really going to bother with any worthwhile activity. I was surprised a little while ago to see that squatting in someone’s house was legal.

  8. The history of enclosure in England is different from region to region. Not all areas of England had open-field farming in the medieval period. Parts of south-east England (notably parts of Essex and Kent) retained a pre-Roman system of farming in small enclosed fields. Similarly in much of west and north-west England, fields were either never open, or were enclosed early. The primary area of open field management was in the lowland areas of England in a broad band from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire diagonally across England to the south, taking in parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, large areas of the Midlands, and most of south central England. (from wiki)

  9. @Robert Edwards

    Wild boar are timid creatures. You can walk over land that’s crawling with them and never know they’re there, unless it’s an occasional pair of haunches disappearing into the distance. Mind you, they’re lethal if cornered or injured. You really want fighting bulls to keep people away. They have a strong sense of private property and will express it robustly.

  10. Neal (#7) said “property rights have never conferred on the owner unlimited powers over that property. I can’t mine or build skyscrapers on my land.”

    Correct that you currently can’t, not without permission. But it’s not true that you “never” could.

    As to when you could, it depended on where you were. London has had some sort of building controls since “time immemorial” (as Tim says, before 1189). The early laws were mostly about building materials for fire control purposes, but they had pretty strict building regs, including aesthetic considerations, from the 18th century.

    But outside London, it was usually late-18th or early 19th century before the other cities did much more than ban thatch on fire grounds. And outside the cities you could do what you wanted until the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act.

    Mining was much the same. Pre 1947, if you owned the land, you owned everything under it, and could do what you liked with it provided yo didn’t disturb your neighbours.

    Blackstone, the 18th century legal writer, said that you owned your land “up to Heaven and down to Hell”.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    CIngram – “You really want fighting bulls to keep people away. They have a strong sense of private property and will express it robustly.”

    There is a plan by some odd people to reintroduce all five of the extinct megafauna to Britain. A plan I firmly support. Wolves may or may not keep people away, but I think that bears might. And bulls? Please, European bison if you don’t mind. Much more classy.

  12. Tim, Pete and Richard
    Points taken, and I claim no special knowledge here, but I don’t think any of them undermine my points that

    1) Private property rights were (at least in many cases) created by law and by force, and can be reversed by law and by force.

    2) Ownership has often not been absolute – as Tim and Richard agree, there were codified and common law restrictions on what I could do (I can’t disturb my neighbours)

    Thus Tim’s claim that “it’s not for the law to force me to allow you on my land” is wrong. Property rights exist because of law, in many areas that law was very recent (C16th-C19th) and fairly illegitimate, and has very often not been absolute. As Tim says, there were numerous rights of access and use of land by peasants. The fact that these were codified actually strengthens my point – it is within the power of the law to change the codification (as it did in 1947 and the 2000 CROW act).

    My house probably stands on what was once common land. If parliament decides to reverse a centuries old ruling and allow people to roam my land, I have to recognise that that is within the rights of parliament.

    I’m probably more minarchist than Tim, but I don’t think we can use ancient law, feudal or otherwise, to justify our point of view.

    All good stuff though, thanks all

    p.s. I didn’t realise “time immemorial” had a specific legal meaning, but according to wikipedia, “since 1189” is not time immemorial in legal usage (let alone common usage), and hasn’t been since 1832:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_immemorial

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