Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Sheffield's role in Kinder Scout trespass celebrated

Sheffield’s role in the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass that helped pave the way for National Parks and the right to roam in open countryside was celebrated on 26 April at Sheffield Town Hall by 200 people.  
There is a plaque at the entrance to Sheffield Town Hall
to commemorate
all ramblers who campaigned for
National Parks and public access to mountains and moorland. 

On 24 April 1932, Benny Rothman, a lifelong activist within the Amalgamated Engineering Union that exists today in the form of Unite, led 400 people on Kinder Scout in what is now the Peak District. Ignoring opposition from gamekeepers the walkers successfully crossed the private moorland as they sought to assert the right to roam Britain’s mountains and moorlands.

Encouraged by landowners, represented in Parliament by the Tories, the police reacted to this deliberate defiance of the law by arresting six of the trespassers and four were subsequently jailed for between two and six months. The subsequent wave of public sympathy helped highlight the issue of countryside access. In 1949, a radical reforming Labour government passed the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. At which point the Peak District became the first of fifteen National Parks.

The right to roam took much longer to win. In 1982, with access still restricted on many local hills, 2000 Ramblers celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the mass trespass by following the same path. According to Terry Howard, Sheffield Ramblers chairman, “Benny Rothman addressed us in the quarry where the original trespass had started. He helped inspire a whole new generation like myself to finish what earlier campaigners had started.”

In 2000, under another Labour Government, the Countryside Rights of Way Act established the right to roam on certain upland and uncultivated areas of England and Wales. Many new paths allowing open access have been created.

However, Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, warned the Sheffield audience there are “4,000 paths waiting to be added to access maps. By remaining unrecorded they can be built upon and lost. Another 10,000 pathways also need repairing. This crisis is worsening due to massive local government cuts to staff responsible for right to roam legislation.

“We know our campaigns save lives because countless figures show that fresh air is good for people. Furthermore, the Walkers are Welcome Network established in 2007 is boosting local economies by encouraging visits to the countryside.

“Open country, green spaces and public paths are not a luxury but a vital need. However, on many issues such as the badger cull, new regulations encouraging village greens to be developed and cuts at Kew Gardens this government thrives on dogma not research.

Whilst celebrating events in 1932 countryside campaigners cannot be complacent if we wish to retain, and extend, the rights we have won. We too can change the world.”

The event was organised by the Kinder and High Peak Advisory Committee, whose spokesperson, Roly Smith, expressed his “delight at the good turn out which shows that Sheffield retains its strong rambling tradition."  

All photographs are copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography. 

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