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Exploring The Work Of Open Spaces Society

Hortlands X June

Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of Open Spaces Society, writes about their important work in conserving some of our most historic areas

The Henley-based Open Spaces Society is Britain’s oldest national conservation body, working throughout England and Wales. Founded in 1865 as the Commons Preservation Society, we spent our early years saving many commons and other open spaces in and around London: Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest and Wimbledon Common to name a few. In 1895 the society’s founders and early activists created the National Trust as a landholding body.

We have a website that displays a unique collection of more than 1,000 digitised lantern slides of places the society has helped to save in its early years. Do tell us if you can identify the unknown locations.

Today we still safeguard common land – historic places which are privately owned, but where others have rights, of grazing or collecting wood for instance. Thanks to the efforts of the society and others, the public has the right to walk on all commons, and to ride on many. As a statutory consultee we scrutinise every application for works on commons. This year we helped to defeat an application for a superfluous access-road across Chesham Bois Common in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Widmer Field near Hazlemere

We advise communities on protecting their green spaces. They can register them as town or village greens if they have evidence of 20 years’ use for informal recreation, without permission or challenge. Then the land is protected from development and local people have the right of recreation there. We are encouraging landowners, especially local councils, voluntarily to register greens through our Grant a Green campaign. Our long-standing member, Grange Area Trust, has shown an excellent example by voluntarily registering 42-acre Widmer Fields, near Hazlemere, as a green so that it is safe for ever.

Our history of defending public paths goes back a long way. Today we are notified of all proposed changes to public paths and, where we have a local volunteer, we object if we believe the change is against the public interest. We advise our members on how to address path problems, and we step in where necessary.

The society is a small and nimble charity, ever ready to defend threatened spaces and paths. We take up hundreds of cases each year and, in championing our cause, we lobby parliament and local authorities. We have no public funding and rely on subscriptions, donations and legacies to support our vital work.

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