Kate Ashbrook in action as she wields boltcutters

Kate Ashbrook in action as she wields boltcutters

Britain’s oldest national conservation body is planning a big picnic to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

The Open Spaces Society will hold the event on Wycombe Rye, which it helped save with the High Wycombe Society in 1965.

The OSS grew from the Commons Preservation Society, which was founded on 19 July 1865. Its founders would go on to create the National Trust 30 years later.

Now the society campaigns throughout England and Wales to protect common land, greens, open spaces and public paths.

General secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “A century and a half ago no one would have thought that today there would be at least 2,212 sq miles – an area roughly the size of Lincolnshire – of common land in England and Wales.

“This is because of the campaigns led by the Open Spaces Society to ensure that commons and commoners’ rights were protected and that a right of public access there was secured.

“During its anniversary year the society will keep up its tradition of campaigning for people’s places.”

As well as the planned big picnic with the High Wycombe Society, the OSS will hold an open day at Bursledon in Hampshire and a commemorative tree-planting in Nottingham.

Kate Ashbrook: 'campaigning will continue'

Kate Ashbrook: 'campaigning will continue'

Ms Ashbrook, who is also president of The Ramblers, said the society will also continue its work, including running a campaign to prevent the commercial use of open spaces; persuading the UK and Welsh Governments to implement legal provisions for the public to reclaim lost commons, and lobbying ministers to make the lavish grants to landowners and occupiers conditional on all public rights of way on their land being unobstructed.

She said the OSS will also provide expert, legal guidance for communities wishing to designate Local Green Space and campaign to secure better laws for the protection of village greens in England, and oppose adverse changes to the greens law in Wales.

In addition, the society will issue a Tweet of the day, a daily bulletin of one of the society’s many achievements over its 150 years, with the hashtag #saveopenspaces150.

It will also publish two books, Saving Open Spaces, about the society, and Common Land, in conjunction with Pitkin Publishing.

The history of the Open Spaces Society includes:

1865 Commons Preservation Society is founded

1866 Metropolitan Commons Act protects commons in and around London

1882 Epping Forest is opened as a public park

1895 Society’s founders create the National Trust

1899 Society becomes the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society

1925 Law of Property Act gives right to walk and ride on ‘urban’ commons and better protection against encroachment and development on commons

1927 Society becomes Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society

1932 Rights of Way Act enables people to claim public paths as highways on proof of 20 years’ use

1939 Access to Mountains Act gives limited access to open country

1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act leads to the designation of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, some access to open country, long-distance paths and official maps of public paths

1951 Country code is published at instigation of society

1958 Royal Commission on Common Land calls for public access to commons and for all of them to be registered

1965 Commons Registration Act provides for recording of commons

1982 Society shortens name to Open Spaces Society

1983 Society’s conference sparks Common Land Forum to determine future for commons

1985 Society formalises its local correspondents as representatives in the regions

1986 Common Land Forum recommends new law for management of and public access to all commons

2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives right to walk on commons and mapped mountain, moor, heath and down

2006 Commons Act provides for correction of errors on commons registers, and better management and protection

2010 Society publishes Finding Common Ground, advice to land managers on how to take account of the public interest in commons

2013 Growth and Infrastructure Act blights village greens

2015 Society celebrates its 150th anniversary.

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