The Voice Of The People Of The Forest of Dean

The sheep issue

Two letters that appeared in the Forest Review (w/e 19.01.01) regarding the sheep issue and the legal action being taken by the Forest of Dean District Council against Forest Enterprise need replying to; if only because of the complete lack of understanding displayed by the writers of the rights of commoning and the the laws and privileges of such in the Forest of Dean.

The first letter is from Councillor Horsfield who goes out of his way, with his usual emotive claptrap, to display a complete ignorance of the issues and of the rights to common pasture enjoyed by the people of the Forest of Dean.

In the second letter Councillor Bruce Hogan seeks to justify the spending of thousands of pounds of council tax payer’s money on getting rid of what has been a right of the people of the Forest of Dean for many hundreds of years.

Should the council win its case, Forest Enterprise would have no option but to ban sheep from all the areas of the forest over which they hold responsibility. This, in turn, would initiate a legal confrontation between the Commoners Association and Forest Enterprise. The Officers and some of the councillors are well aware of this - it is all part of the dirty game of politics that they play. They simply wave their hands and say 'Nothing to do with us guv', when in actual fact it has everything to do with them.

Councillor Hogan can take Mark Harper door-knocking in the Pludds as long as he likes, and whatever answers he gets wont alter the fact that the sheep and other animals have a perfect right to be there, and many of those exercising that right have it written into their deeds.

If this does not suit Councillor Hogan then so be it, but quite frankly Dean Forest Voice do not care a hoot.

He states that he agrees that an out of court settlement would be best, but then goes on to say that it would be wrong to withdraw the abatement notice. Does he believe that Forest Enterprise would be happy to negotiate under this duress, and would he expect the Forest of Dean District Council to negotiate with another body under similar circumstances?

The amount of money already spent is large and growing. £80,000 plus on legal fees with more to come.

The Council state that the sheep problem has already cost £250,000 of tax payer’s money, yet they can't tell us how that figure is made up or how they arrived at it. Again we see the dirty game of politics and spin.

It is said that the council spend in excess of £12,000 a year in clearing up sheep mess, but spend far more in clearing up litter left in the forest by those considered to be more responsible .(Discuss)

Forest Enterprise, The Commoners and Dean Forest Voice all realise that there is a problem which needs addressing, but believe that it can only be resolved by dialogue and a will to voluntarily address the exercising of those rights within the context of living in the 21st century, but without conceding the existence of them.

Commoning of animals is carried out in many parts of the UK and, unlike the Forest of Dean, is seen as a benefit to the ecology of the areas and is supported both verbally and financially by the authorities.

In the New Forest Agisters are employed - responsible to the Verderers - and with the function of administering the scheme and overseeing the welfare of the animals.

Dean Forest Voice believe that such a scheme would work in the Dean. It should be financed jointly by DEFRA, Forest Enterprise, all of those commoning and by the Forest of Dean District Council with some of the money now spent on the Dog Wardens.

Councillor Horsfield denies any existence of rights of the people of the Forest Dean and of the Forest Laws. But then he would, probably out of blind ignorance and intoxicated by the great crusade that he has embarked upon.

Councillor Horsfield is a hypocrite as we will show later, but one that we are stuck with.

The rights to common are recognised and preserved by the 1667 Dean Forest (Reafforestation) Act, and it would be a matter of proof in an individual case of the right claimed.

It is important to stress that such rights may be conveniently divided into two categories; rights of occupiers of lands outside the Forest and lying within adjoining villages or townships; and possible modern rights arising by prescription attaching to lands within the Forest.

Sheep have been commoned in the Forest of Dean since time immemorial and it would be very bold now to challenge such long standing practice as not being as of lawful right

Those who are not born Foresters may find it difficult to understand the desire of the native Forester to jealously guard these rights and understandably so. Many of the rights that we claim were won the hard way and have had to be fought for and protected from those that would seek to usurp them, over many centuries.

Our forefathers were stubborn men, insular and protective of their own, but fiercely loyal to his fellow forester on whom his life depended in the everyday danger that existed underground.

Councillors Horsefield and Hogan may find this hard to understand, but it is the way that we are moulded and of which we are proud.

Back in 1994 the Forest and it's rights and traditions were under attack then. Proposals were put forward to sell of the Dean to private enterprises and so eradicating the rights to access, grazing and mining that had been enjoyed by the people of the Forest for many centuries. A gentleman from Bream, writing in the The Dean Forest Guardian in Dec. 1993 wrote:-

'The new owners would have no interest in local feeling that could in any way impede their desire to make as big a profit as possible. The present tolerance of bird-watchers, dog walkers, wandering sheep and all of us who enjoy the freedom of the Forest is hardly likely to be respected'. He then goes on to say that the real problem is the sheer ineffectiveness of local democracy and poses the question, ' How can we save the Forest without effective democratic local means to implement the will of the people?'

The writer then went on to describe and praise the action of Warren James in 1831 (whom he describes as the Forests greatest freedom fighter) who led the Forest people in throwing down some 60 miles of fencing erected to restrict access to the woodlands for people and grazing animals.

He ended by saying that although not advocating such violent action to protect ancient rights and customs it was a sad commentary on our democratic institutions that such rights had to be fought for in much stronger ways than writing to one's MP.

The writer of the letter was one Roger Horsefield from Bream, who may have admired Warren James but would almost certainly have been despised by him.

Warren would have recognised him as a hypocrite, which is exactly the way Dean Forest Voice see him.

Keith Morgan, Broadwell - For and on behalf of Dean Forest Voice