Three outdoor bodies will tomorrow lobby councillors to grant rights of way to a crag at the centre of an access row.
The Ramblers’ Association, British Mountaineering Council and the Vixen Tor Action Group will hand in evidence that local people regularly walked paths to Vixen Tor, a granite outcrop on Dartmoor that was a haven for climbers and walkers before owner Mary Alford bought the land.
The tor was excluded as access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and has since become a cause célèbre for both climbers and walkers who want to use the site for recreation. Mrs Alford has erected barbed wire and ‘keep out’ signs round the land and has demanded thousands of pounds a year for granting access rights.
Opponents of the landowner point out that she illegally spread manure and seaweed on the land, to change its nature from predominantly moorland to improved farmland, leading to an inspector excluding it from open access maps.
Now, campaigners are changing tack and demanding the local authority recognise four rights of way on to the land at Vixen Tor. In June last year, the RA launched a survey to find out the extent of public use of the land before Mr Alford closed it.
The resulting evidence will be presented to Devon County Council’s public-rights-of-way department in Exeter tomorrow by Jim Harrison, of Vixen Tor Action Group and the BMC; John Skinner, Devon area access officer for the RA, and Justin Cooke, head of the RA freedom-to-roam team.
A spokesman for the RA said: “These rights-of-way claims will be supported by boxes of evidence, including written statements from members of the public asserting that four footpaths leading to the Tor were regularly and well used before access was barred by a local landowner in 2003.
“Historically, Vixen Tor and the surrounding land have been popular with local people, walkers and climbers for generations before closure.
“Since then, the current landowner has refused a grant from the national park authority to voluntarily allow access and has continued to block public access by surrounding the Tor with barbed wire and erecting ‘keep out’ signs.
“However, the Ramblers’ Association and British Mountaineering Council have worked with local people to collect a substantial body of evidence spanning some 60 years. This shows how Vixen Tor has always been a popular walking and tourist destination and that the public have used the same footpaths for that time and so they should be added to the definitive map of public paths, thus opening up Vixen Tor for all to enjoy.”
Several organised trespasses of the tor have failed to budge Mrs Alford’s stance. She maintains she should be paid £30,000 a year for granting public access rights.