As 2021 starts to fade into memory its time to take stock of things and think about the future. This TAG post does just that, but we will also remind ourselves of the value of the lands and why casual access when not in use remains more important than ever.
“In the overcrowded and noisy world we live in these areas offer wonderful calm respite for us. Don’t give in to the greed of the few. We need these spaces.” – Local resident
The above quote was drawn from the 2020 review survey of recreational users conducted by our friends at Byelaws Review. The survey was, we believe, the first and only detailed look at how the community uses the lands and their value. For inspiration and justification for Section 2 of the byelaws – casual access at all times when not in use – the quotes are compelling. Even more so when the simple fact that roughly 8500 people took the time to express in their own words their feelings for the lands.
“It is much valued recreational space and used by all ages for so many purposes. We also help to look after it as we can report any misuse and problems before the military may be aware.” – Local Resident
The reports were split by local constituency and they can be downloaded in the following links:
We would encourage everyone to take a moment to read them, not least of which would be those authoring the new byelaws and specifically those whom responsiblity for access lies within DIO SE.
It should come as no surprise to hear two main and significant areas remain subject to draconian restrictions; Long Valley and Ash Ranges.
The political assurances issued from before the fence went up were clear; recreational access when not in use. The Minister of Defence Procurement has been unequivocal with a directive instructing DIO to do just that.
“To be able to get outside into natural woodland, to see the wildlife and be able to run free. All of this is so good for my physical and mental health, and the same for my children.” – Local Resident
Yet as recently as last month we recorded gates locked during a civilian orienteering event on the 8th and from the 13th of December witnessed more dog walkers & joggers than any evidence of military training – let alone the “dangerous” kind the signs claim.
DIO remain unwilling and unable to follow the very basic of instructions yet seem unconcerned that the DANGER signs are consistently publishing misinformation. TAG firmly beleives signs “crying wolf” fail to support a trusted system of safety – something DIO claim the gates exist for.
“…they [military lands] enable us to get out in the fresh air, give us much needed exercise and pure enjoyment of the outside and nature.” – Local Resident
Its regrettable £250,000 of our money was wasted in this way and the lack of gated access continues to trigger casual access restoration. Equally regrettable is watching a branch of the civil service defy politicians and damage community relations whilst failing to uphold the basic standards in public life.
Elsewhere, the technical area at Ash Ranges remains closed with 331 acres of space denied at a time when the community really needed it. The blame game continues with collective responsibility (closure) being forced upon residents while the culprits (vandals) remain unpunished, a policy that has enraged the local vicar.
DIO have all the provisions in the Ash Ranges and Aldershot byelaws to impose fines on those who transgress yet elect to ignore the responsible users and shut them out.
To see the community treated in this manner is truly disappointing. The local politicians seem to be unwilling or unable to tackle DIO over their behaviour and appear supportive of both collective punishment and the DIO proposed “compromise” with the open spaces replaced by a corridor.
The purpose of the corridor through the ranges is – and we quote the Minister for Defence Procurement again – is to “…allow easier access from Ash Vale through the Technical Area on a designated fenced path and out onto the broader Ash Ranges area”
A casual glance at an Ordnance Survey map and its tightly packed contour lines reveals the route will fail to deliver the promise of easier access. Our friends at Save Ash Ranges have published an analysis here.
“The nature is outstanding …I have always enjoyed the open, rugged beauty of MoD land and ranges; they are simply unique & stunning places.” – Local Resident
In summary, whoever planned the routes didn’t complete basic geography lessons, nor understand what makes a path usable, while drawing some coloured areas on a satellite map. Regrettably, we see little evidence of any diligence being applied here.
More evidence of DIO wasting time and money to justify a very erroneous decision?
Save Ash Ranges believe so and we very much agree.
The Plan to Remove Access
TAG took a deeper look at this back in March. Mark Ludlow is on public record explaining how DIO have worked up the justification to exclude us from the areas we love. According to the minutes of the Hampshire Countryside Access Forum meeting of December 2020 two designations will apply to the lands:
- Protected Areas – closed to all unauthorised persons and;
- Controlled Areas – access permitted when the area is not in use for military training
The justification for full closure?
The need to balance the sometime conflicting requirements of enhanced public access with the conservation piece.
Thats correct…DIO seek to exclude “unauthorised” people because of:
…the problems involved with balancing wider public access and the legislative requirement to protect SSSI, SPA and other ecological areas across the estate.
To date no communication withdrawing the stated intent have been issued or received. So it transpires DIO may try and use wildlife protection to prevent recreation, even if the lands are not in use.
“….The importance that the military place on the mental wellbeing of their people should be reflected in providing access to not only the military but the local community who access this vital resource to enjoy this unique environment to maintain their mental health by enhancing their leisure activities. I use these lands to get away from it all on my mountain bike and cannot over emphasise how access to these areas has allowed me to ‘recharge my batteries’ and maintain my physical and mental wellbeing which in turn allows me to be more productive at work…Access to these lands by the public must be preserved for the good of both the community and the military.” – Local Resident
In a letter dated July 2020 Jeremy Quin MP explains further:
The MOD is committed to the protection of designated sites on the Defence Estate. Defence Infrastructure Organisation Ecologists are responsible for identifying designated sites and other important features on the Estate and will provide expert advice during the Byelaws review process. A summary of environmental issues and other proposed protection measures will be included in the Byelaws consultation document.
The value of the lowland heaths – very rare habitat – is recognised and understood. DIO are really dragging the bottom of the barrel if justification of removing Section 2 and denying responsible recreation is limited to protecting wildlife.
It should perhaps come as no surprise to find DIO have previous form at making up rules to suit themselves, and in the case of Middlewick Ranges in Essex DIO generated some “alternative metrics” to deliver an answer that suited their needs and desires when it came to selling the land for housing.
We should therefore expect nothing less here?
“With the increase in house building locally any open space which is home to wildlife and can be used for outdoor activities is becoming more and more valuable.” – Local Resident
Much of the Aldershot lands already carry legal protection – SSSI and SPA – and if these laws are not strong enough then perhaps wider changes to primary legislation are required. Using a military byelaw to protect wildlife we believe is a back door means for DIO to achieve their aims; removal of recreation unless they can be bothered to unlock gates.
From the survey we know 30% of recreational users listed wildlife watching as an activity. If enacted DIO will be guilty – again – of failing to enforce the laws of the lands and serving up more collective punishment. We should not really be surprised when an organisation that understands the cost of everything and the value of nothing continues to ignore the responsible commuity.
The other concern surrounds the application of Controlled Areas. As Long Valley clearly demonstrates DIO will permit access when they can be bothered rather than when the byelaws or indeed a ministerial directive informs them when recreation shall be permitted.
With a failure to deliver against the simplest of instructions – recreation at all times when not in use – and defying a ministerial directive DIO have given clear direction and intent as to how the future may look if the byelaws proceed without challenge.
“…Access to large areas of unspoilt and natural environments are absolutely essential for my mental health and wellbeing, I believe the lack of local and easily accessible areas of true wild forests and woods are responsible for the mental health crisis which is especially prevalent in the south of England. The military lands are a local lifeline for me.” – Local Resident
It is for these reasons TAG have consistenly called for not only preservation of Section 2 casual acess but protection against DIO excesses. More detail can be found in this link.
The really disappointing aspect is DIO can do far better, but it appears only when legally compelled to do so.
Thanks to its right to roam all military training areas in Scotland remain available for casual recreation when not in use and the evidence for this resides in none other than MOD’s own policy document – JSP850 Public Access and Recreation and to quote:
Land subject to military byelaws is excepted from the provisions of the Act [Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003] only during times when the land is being used for a military purpose.
JSP850 covers open access with Scotland being subject – thanks to its laws – to far greater provisions of access:
In Scotland, open access, as defined by the LR(S)A, applies to all forms of non-motorised recreational access.
So even horse riding, cycling and mountain biking is respected and enabled. Beyond “in use” the laws exclude further access “management” or imposition of linear routes.
What is good enough for Scotland is good enough for Aldershot?
Yes, very much so.
We expect and call for the Scotland model of access to apply, more or less reflecting what we have and enjoy today, in spite of JSP850 broadly ignorning the existence of Section 2 of the Aldershot byelaws.
Local Voices Local Power
When faced with such disegenous acts by unelected and unaccounable civil servants its easy to become dispirited. As we have seen in the recent news power from the very top down can be a corrupting influence and without checks and balances those who wield it can act against the interests of society. Bearing witness to corruption and lies does not build a cohesive and respectful community nor does it build trust and cooperation.
But there is one consistent and uplifiting theme that persists.
The community spirit, joy and affection the lands unite us. Nowhere are these expressed finer than in the examples of personal comments sprinkled throughout this post.
If we truly believe there is a better way then each of us is capable of doing the right thing, behaving responsibly and treating the lands and others with respect is the simplest of steps.
We await the publication of byelaws fit for purpose, laws that enable military training when required and full access on a casual basis when the lands are empty. We trust those who are empowered to write the byelaws are taking note, if only to achieve a smooth consulation period where few objections are raised.
Equally, those tasked with ensuring access is enabled have no excuses to ignore a community that cares deeply for the lands and the benefits they bring. Nor can they claim to have not read Jerermy Quin’s directive. Casual recreational access is at the core of Section 2 of the byelaws and respecting it is not only legally required but carries a moral obligaiton too.
We will leave the last word to a local resident:
“In such a highly populated area, and ever more so with the allowed large scale local developments, the open spaces are critical for physical and mental well being. Losing these areas would confine local people to their tiny gardens, footpaths and small SANGS. We completely understand the need for the army to train, but there must be a balance between this and local tax payers needs. In an age where the aim is for peace and to reduce the military forces, it seems astonishing that now they decide to remove the areas from public access.” – Local Resident
Finally, if you wish to raise any concerns, observations or comments with the local MP please use the Write to Them website to drop your elected representative a letter.