Rodney Legg

Rodney Legg

The chairman of Britain’s oldest national conservation body is to step down.

Access champion Rodney Legg has announced he will retire after 20 years as chairman of the Open Spaces Society at the end of the month. Mr Legg, a writer and historian, has been on the group’s management committee for almost 30 years.

The 62 year-old, from Wincanton in Somerset, who has written walkers’ guide books for areas from the Jurassic Coast to Hadrian’s Wall, will continue with the society as correspondent for Dorset, covering public-path and common-land issues.

Mr Legg was warden of Steep Holm island in the Bristol Channel, for 24 years and more recently personally identified and claimed 700 acres of open country across the West Country as access land under new legislation.

He said: “Two decades of chairmanship is plenty long enough for any national organisation.

“But though it sounds unacceptable these days, our society dates from the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign and our predecessors seemed to stay for ever. Then we went through a turbulent phase with three chairmen in one year. On the other hand, our chief executive, general secretary Kate Ashbrook, has been in post for a quarter of a century. So together we have brought a bit of old-fashioned stability.

“I’ve also been a member of the National Trust council since 1990 and shall step down from that as well.

“At least I feel I’ve achieved something, by campaigning for public access across a whole raft of their once virtually secret and unknown properties. These days, with Dame Fiona Reynolds and Sir Simon Jenkins in charge, it’s like kicking at an open door, so I’m well surplus to requirements.”

The OSS chairman will step down from his post at the society’s annual meeting on 30 June, which will elect his successor.

Referring to his time on Steep Holm, he said: “I’m certainly not going back to sea. I like to think I shall spend more time with my cats, but in practice it probably means more hours staring at the screen.

“I shall also be walking for a purpose by way of exercise breaks. Wherever I go to prepare walks for publication it becomes clear that there are difficulties with routes plus lost rights of way that need reclaiming. Lots of problems are beyond the scope of my secateurs!

“There remains a big need for the Open Spaces Society to have an active local presence on the ground across the country.”

The society was formed 1865 as the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society and campaigns for the preservation of common land and greens and access issues.

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