Ramblers' & climbers battle for Vixen Tor

Gerrard Winstanley evnuk at gaia.org
Mon Jan 31 22:23:03 GMT 2005

Ordanance survey map of Vixen Tor with parking circled

Aerial photo of Vixen Tor - result due by 25th Feb 2005

Western Daily Press


09:56 - 21 January 2005
A Bitter dispute over access to a majestic West landmark will see 
ramblers go head-to-head with a Dartmoor farming family on Monday. 
There was outrage among the rambling community in late 2003 when Mary 
Alford and her son, Daniel, suddenly closed Vixen Tor to the public 
after more than 30 years of access.

The Alfords controversially put up barbed wire and "Keep Out" signs 
around the land surrounding the tor. They say they did it for fear of 
being held liable if errant ramblers or rock climbers injured 
themselves on their land.

But with the area being deemed as access land by the Countryside 
Agency, it would be thrown open to the public once again when the 
Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) comes into force in Devon 
later this year - much to the delight of the Ramblers Association.

The Alfords are contesting the agency's decision and a Government 
inspector has now stepped in between the warring factions. He will 
make a decision after a five-day public inquiry due to start on 

The farmers have accused ramblers of ignoring their signs and wire to 
trespass on their land, while the ramblers have branded them "mean-
spirited". Sparks are bound to fly when the two sides meet face to 
face next week.

"Should they be successful in persuading the inspector that the tor 
should not have been mapped as access land, the public could well be 
barred from visiting one of the area's most beautiful landmarks 
forever," said a spokesman for the Ramblers Association yesterday.

"The move to prevent access to the tor provoked uproar among the local 
community, as well as outdoor and environmental groups which had been 
able to freely visit the site under the previous owners' more 
enlightened view of public access."

The organisation's head of access, Kate Conto, added: "It would be a 
travesty if the mean spirit of one landowner was to deprive everyone 
of access to this beautiful part of our national heritage,"

Located near Tavistock, Vixen Tor is only yards from a public right of 
way running between the hamlets of Merrivale and Sampford Spiney.

The Alfords' Moortown Farm is some distance from the tor itself and it 
is Daniel who is the tenant farmer of the contentious land.

"Why should we just sit and watch them open it up and leave us liable?
" he said yesterday.

"I think anyone in their right mind would contest it. People are 
getting up on to the tor now, even though there is not access. This is 
not a normal piece of land."

As well as the prospect of people injuring themselves on the huge rock 
outcrop, he said access would also pose problems for the grazing of 
cattle on the surrounding land.

"We keep suckling cows there and they are very protective of their 
young," explained Daniel.

"If someone gets too close to a cow that has just calved, there is a 
danger of them being hurt and we would be liable for that, too.

"We are fighting our own battle and will give it our best shot."

The ramblers, however, remain unimpressed. They point to a reduced 
public liability for landowners under the CROW act, and say the 
Alfords' tactics to avoiding opening access are questionable.

The farmers are currently appealing against a fine of £1,000 after 
being prosecuted by Defra for flouting environmental laws on the land 
surrounding Vixen Tor, by spreading fertiliser and clearing scrub.

The ramblers say it was an effort to disqualify it from access by 
making it "agriculturally improved".

Vixen Tor Update
British Mountaineering Council

BMC Access & Conservation Officer Graham Lynch reports from the 

Day one of the Inquiry opened much as expected, with a few protestors, 
the tv cameras present and a full public gallery. Opening remarks were 
made and the battle lines drawn. Then, a change of plan and the 
parties headed out for site visits. On a perfect cold and crisp 
Dartmoor afternoon, Vixen Tor stood magnificent on centre stage. It 
made you wonder why anyone would wish to prevent the public enjoying 
such as stunning place. 

Today the arguments start in earnest – so who's representing the BMC? 
The answer, Bill Renshaw of the BMC Access & Conservation Group, Brian 
Dent, local access representative, and Graham Lynch, BMC Access & 
Conservation Officer. We'll do our best to secure the right result – 
incidentally, the Inspector's decision is due by 28th February 2005.

There is an active thread on the BMC Areas Forum of UKClimbing.
see http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=115463

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