The campaign group is planning a 'peaceful mass trespass'

The campaign group is planning a 'peaceful mass trespass'

Campaigners are planning what they are calling a peaceful mass trespass on the Brighton Downs to press for better access to the countryside.

Organisers of the event on Saturday also want the chalk grassland of the Downs to be restored.

A new group of activists, Landscapes of Freedom, is campaigning for the right to roam, both locally and nationally.

A spokesperson for the organisation said: “This event is in the tradition of the local campaign of peaceful mass trespasses that were organised to support government proposals for a partial right to roam in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and is in the tradition, too, of the famous Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932.

“The fate of our Brighton Downs sharply symbolises the fate of much of our modern private countryside.

“Within living memory the South Downs used to be a ‘landscape of freedom’, with great open thyme-scented, flowery sheep pastures, rolling, close-cropped, and largely unfenced, over which people could freely wander, while skylarks made music in the heavens above our heads.

“A combination of neglect and aggressive agri-business saw these biodiverse chalk grasslands left derelict, then cleared and destroyed by the modern plough and bulldozer after World War Two.

“Now all that is left locally are some 200 shattered fragments of that previously unitary and open pastoral ecosystem, mostly on slopes too steep to plough, mostly in poor condition, and mostly unknown and inaccessible to us all.

“We lost our freedom to wander. We lost most of this hugely rich ecosystem, this ‘rainforest in miniature’. We were driven from the places we’d played in as children.

“Now we want our Landscape of Freedom back!”

The group pointed out Brighton and Hove City Council is halfway through a public consultation on the future of the 13,000-acre Brighton Council Downland Estate and the creation of a whole estate plan, in partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority.

Dave Bangs, a member of the Landscapes of Freedom group, and co-founder of the Brighton Downs Alliance said: “The partial right to roam, as enacted in 2000, brought relatively little new access land to most of lowland England and Wales, even on target landscapes of heath and down.

“Our woods, our farm fields, our streams and waterlands, and many of our lanes and tracks are forbidden to us. And on our local Downs landowners continue to exclude the public even on some sites where we now have a statutory right of access.

“All sorts of damage to nature and historic landscape features take place unbeknown to us because we have no right to be there. If we cannot walk our countryside and downland we cannot protect it.

“The great majority of us live in cities where we are completely separated from the countryside and nature. Yet the countryside and nature have immense power to give us wellbeing and fulfilment. The land should be our common delight, because our common ancestors shaped and formed it, and we collectively make and consume its products. It is our common heritage.”

Participants are being asked to gather at 10.30am at Waterhall playing fields in Brighton. The destination of the mass trespass will only be revealed on the day. Local transport details and route from train stations will also be shared.

Organisers said it will be an all-day event with a chance to picnic, have fun, exchange views, hear poetry and song, and learn something about local downland and its rich and threatened wildlife. They said all are welcome, including children, but no dogs will be allowed because of the likely presence of livestock.

Any social-distancing requirements will be followed. Participants should be able to negotiate steep slopes and a gate or two, the group said.

Nick Hayes, co-founder of the national Right to Roam campaign, which is supporting the event, said: “Ours is a wild and a beautiful island, but the vast majority of it is unknown to us because, by law of trespass, we are banned from setting foot on it.

“The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave us a partial right to roam over only about 8 per cent of England. That’s why we’re campaigning to extend the public’s right to roam, so that millions more people can have easy access to open space, and the physical, mental and spiritual health benefits that it brings.”

More details of the event and campaign are on the Landscapes of Freedom website.

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