Editor's Comment October 16
PUBLISHED: 15:58 12 September 2016
This month Mike Lowe discusses the delightful peculiarities of the Forest of Dean and why we need to keep them
I have twice lived in the Forest of Dean since first moving to these parts almost 30 years ago. It is a special place with its own special peculiarities. One of these is the right of Commoners – those born within the ancient administrative district of the Hundred of St Briavels – to graze their sheep unhindered on common land across the area.
Now it has to be said that these free-roaming sheep can be a right pain. Those with a suicidal trait lurk at the foot of drystone walls waiting to jump out in front of your car. They pepper lanes and paths with droppings and if you leave your garden gate open, then they’ll storm in and dine on your dahlias. But I’m afraid that is a small price to pay for living in that special place. (And at least, unlike the escalating wild boar population, they won’t try to eat your dog.)
The sheep are an intrinsic part of Forest life and have been since commoners’ rights were established by the 1667 Dean Forest Act. (Going further back, the Verderers who administer these ancient rights have been around since 1218.) There have been several attempts down the years to curtail the free movement of the sheep and all, thankfully, have been repelled. But now the village of Bream has launched a very serious bid to create an extensive exclusion zone surrounded by barbed wire and manned by armed guards and machine gun posts. (I may have made that last bit up.)
Let’s get it straight. The Forest is for everyone. It’s for ramblers, climbers, mountain bikers, dog-walkers and canoeists. Because of certain film locations, it’s for Dr Who obsessives who come to stand in an empty quarry and Star Wars weirdos who come clutching toy light sabres and spend hours staring at a tree that might once have appeared in one of the movies. And it’s for sheep.
Changing that freedom of movement would change the Forest, its spirit and its traditions. I see no point at all in doing that just because some bloke from Bristol with a BMW who’s moved into a new-build semi in Bream suffers from a severe case of ovinophobia.
SUCH Nimbyism is occasionally forgiveable, especially when it comes to protecting our green spaces. One such example is the repeated attempts by property developers Gladman (a misnomer if ever there was one) to build 20 houses in the beautiful Slad Valley. The application has already been denied once, but with pig-headed obduracy the people who would trash Laurie Lee’s heritage are back.
I’m at a loss as to why they would do this. Twenty houses are nothing to a company that boasts a £200 million turnover. They already sit on a huge land bank of development sites and if that ever ran out, there are millions of acres of brownfield land available (which is where the new homes that we do need should be built anyway). A cynic might even suspect a spiteful, vindictive motive – a determination not to be beaten by the ‘little people’.
Well the ‘little people’ are ready to fight again, beginning on Page 22 of this magazine where Katie Jarvis outlines the changes we need to make the planning process more democratic. Do let us know what you think and we will do what we can to help, including taking your concerns to Downing Street.
Following the Brexit vote, a Tory MP has called for the reintroduction of the dark blue British passport, rather than the burgundy EU version that had served us perfectly well for the past 30 years.
“It’s a matter of identity,” fumes Andrew Rosindell (Who?). “Having the pink passports has been a humiliation.”
I make no comment on this, other than to say that I look forward to Mr Rosindell’s future campaigns to bring back white dog poo, Spangles, coal fires, polio, workhouses and hanging.
Follow Mike on Twitter @cotslifeeditor