The New Enclosures


It is the immense predictability and inevitability of the conservation industry that grinds me down. I suppose I should laud its single-mindedness: once launched, the progress of their dogmatic fixation inexorably winds towards the ultimate goal, of securing agri-environment subsidy, another pay day that keeps them in business. In fact the link between conservation dogma and agri-environment funding has become self-fulfilling: it is the business model on which all nature conservation in England rests. Natural England signed up 2,383 new Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements in 2011/12 that will cost £44m per year for the next 10 years, greater than any previous year (1). The joke about the rate of banging out new agreements used to be one a day to keep the production line of money transfer going. However, this last year has been at a rate of NINE a day, discounting weekends. Since Natural England came into being in 2006, and taking sole responsibility for the delivery of agri-environment funding, they have used HLS agreements to support their organisational outcomes of bringing more priority habitat identified in the BAP into favourable management through agri-environment schemes. Thus this plaything of Natural England has seen expenditure rise every year from £35.6m in 2007/2008 to £142m over 2011/12. That’s a corrupt system when a small group of people decide what those priorities are, and then get rewarded for their choices – the ultimate business model.

That this business model invariably involves grazing with livestock, is part and parcel of the craze for conservation grazing (2) but its reach now into landscapes unhindered by boundaries and fencing for many centuries means that it has become the era of the New Enclosures, the robbing of freedoms for the interests of a self-appointed few. There is an even more troubling aspect of these New Enclosures that is not just about fencing, but is the transfer of control of large areas of the public realm into unaccountable third sector organisations.

New Enclosures came to me recently as the most apt description of this takeover of land access by the conservation industry. I have to acknowledge, though, that I have now found it used before, but in the Marxist context of the continuing accumulation and concentration of wealth in private hands that marked the original appropriations of land (3). The New Enclosures have also been identified with the increasing drive to turn public services into commercial enterprises, the transfer of public revenue out of the public realm (4):
"Common, public, property, under at least a minimum of democratic control (councillors, Parliament), is being transferred to unaccountable private bodies and mysterious ‘communities’”

The Old Enclosures occurred between 1760 and 1870, when about 7 million acres of common land (one sixth the area of England) were enclosed, by some 4,000 acts of Parliament, the enclosures robbing the assets and rights from common people, as well as the communal control of the means of subsistence (5). Advocates of this enclosure extolled it as necessary for economic development or improvement to increase efficiency and production. That it led to a landless poverty is perhaps why Marxists see enclosure as the starting point of capitalist society (3). The enclosures were the essential device that created a population of workers free from any means of primary production and thus compelled to work for a wage. But there were others who saw it as a privatisation of the freedoms of open country.

Enclosure and the loss of freedoms

The poet John Clare grew up in Helpstone in Northamptonshire (now Helpston) a village between Stamford and Peterborough that had a high reliance on a rural economy (6). Clare was sixteen when the Enclosure Act for Helpstone and District was passed in 1809. Until then, his was an “idyllic childhood of freedom”, growing up in an open world of individually owned strips of land, dispersed around three major open fields—Lolham Bridge to the N, Heath, and Woodcroft to the S; and bounded by Royce (now Rice?) Wood and Oxey Wood, and with the common grazing land of Emmonsales (which could be Ailsworth Heath next to Castor Hanglands). Helpston parish was unusual - a large area of it consisted of heathland and wastes and an unusually high proportion of Helpston villagers held common rights. The effects of enclosure upon his old world must therefore have been upsetting to Clare. The common land passed into the hands of private owners, who then barred access to villagers. Roads were built, fields once open were divided into rectangles, fences were erected, trees felled, and streams diverted. Clare, a self-described peasant, wrote his first poem in 1809 about Helpstone, published in a collection in 1820 (7):
“Hail humble Helpstone! Where thy valleys spread
And thy mean village life lifts its lowly head
Unknown to grandeur and unknown to fame
No minstrel boasting to advance they name”

Much of his poetry is pleasurable rural imagery, capturing the sights and sounds of village life and of the surrounding countryside, depicting specific places, animals, flowers and birds. However, it is in his references to enclosure that show the "harsh realities of his life", the "hostility and threat" in Clare's environment (8) and the loss of personal freedoms. From The Village Minstrel, published in 1821 (9):
“There once were lanes in nature's freedom dropt,
There once were paths that every valley wound, -
Inclosure came, and every path was stopt;
Each tyrant fix'd his sign where paths were found,
To hint a trespass now who cross'd the ground:
Justice is made to speak as they command;
The high road now must be each stinted bound:
- Inclosure, thou'rt a curse upon the land,
And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence plann'd”

In his poem Remembrances, written around 1832, Clare turns on the process of enclosure with a cold fury (10):
“Enclosure like a Buonaparte let not a thing remain,
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors— though the brook is running still,
It runs a naked stream, cold and chill”

As he continued to work and walk in his native Northamptonshire, he must have occasionally trespassed back into those areas of his childhood that were now fenced against him. His poem, sometimes entitled Trespass, must be about those intrusions, and which he wrote shortly before his admission in 1837 to High Beach Asylum, Epping Forest, suffering from depression and delusions (11). He hated the "fence of ownership" that turned him into an intruder in his own locality, and felt "traumatized and dispossessed by those who exercised their property rights to the countryside". The poem seems to express a horror at what must have been his breaking of the Trespass Laws (8,11):
“I dreaded walking where there was no path
& pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath
& always turned to look with wary eye
& always feared the owner coming by...

& when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned at me
& every kinder look appeared to say
You've been on trespass in your walk today”

The new horrors of the New Enclosures

There are new horrors in play from the New Enclosures, and a new loss of freedoms. Last year, I wrote about the Eastern Moors Estate and Sheffield moors in the inexorable offloading of public land on the eastern edge of the Peak District to the conservation industry – a transfer of the public domain to an unaccountable third sector (12). It seemed to me that it was part of a wider issue – as exemplified by last years Natural Environment White Paper for England - of the continuing offloading of state responsibility for wild nature to the conservation industry that has been going on for much longer. Having now seen the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, I fear that the Public Forest Estate (PFE) in England is also to be offloaded into unaccountable hands (13).

Those of us who would argue for a state forest service with state forest lands (14, 15), do so on the basis that the Forestry Commission (FC) has shown itself to be aware of the need for more and better communication than in the past, and through its commitment to sustainable forest management and its community consultation on Forest Design Plans, has demonstrated that it is much more aware of public benefits and public interest. In publishing a guide on the Principles of Public Engagement (16) and the toolbox for public engagement in forest and woodland planning (17) the FC has shown itself to be increasingly competent to broker environmental decisions, in communication with local and national stakeholders, and so to establish what is most likely to be in the public interest, unlike the record on consultation of the conservation industry. Surely, the FC should continue to have stewardship of those state forest lands? However, as this Government has shown, political expediency overrides state responsibility, and so the Independent Panel’s report recommends that the PFE should be distanced from Government, that it be land held in trust for the nation under a renewable Charter that specifies the public benefit mission (?) and statutory duties, and which would be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament (13). So, it will be just like the unaccountability of, on the one hand, Natural England as an arms length, Non-Departmental Public Body with a Board of placepeople appointed by the Secretary of State that is only in touch with itself (18) and, on the other hand, a third sector charity like the Woodland Trust whose Board membership is appointed by the Board itself rather than elected by its membership (see Article 24, Articles of Association (19)).

I don't trust the great and the good element of British public life, having had to educate the Board of Trustees of one national charity I was on, in the real meaning of the Nolan Principles – the Seven Principles of Public Life (20). There will always come a point when the argument will be used by the great and the good that the Trustees have to keep the ideal of the trust paramount, maintaining what they consider are the interests of the trust, and ignore the public will - think National Trust and stag hunting on their estates (21). Since it seems that both from the Independent Panel’s point of view, and that of Government, that it is not an option for there to be no change in the PFE, then the future governance structure of our public forests is the biggest black hole that needs colouring in. I’ve got my crayons at the ready, but that is a job for another day.

The physical obstruction wrought by the New Enclosures

So what of the physical obstruction wrought by the New Enclosures, the fencing off of even more open space as the compartmentalisation of wild nature continues. Some years ago, I wrote about the objection of local people near Sheffield to the devastation wrought to their open space in the name of heathland restoration (22). The butchery of thousands of birch, oak and pine over 15 years at Loxley and Wadsley Commons has resulted in the loss of wildness, the loss of songbirds and woodpeckers, and brought very little new heather, but a lot of distress at the felling, burning and spraying with herbicide to a landscape gifted to local people in 1913 to be held in trust “for the perpetual use and enjoyment of the public”. My reading had told me that conservation grazing was something that was often a threat in the background at Loxley and Wadsley Commons, originating it seemed from those wedded to the management plans of Sheffield City Council (SCC) and who asserted that it would be the only option if the tree clearance wasn’t to take place. Well, they got their way on the tree clearance, aided by a thumping great pot of money under the English Woodland Grant Scheme, but that would never be enough for these ideologues of the conservation world. Sure enough, an article in the Sheffield Telegraph in mid-August announced that Highland cattle could be introduced for conservation grazing at Loxley and Wadsley Common “if the results of a survey currently being conducted are favourable” (23)

That survey was a series of Public Site meetings during August at the entrances to the commons, and two public meetings at Wadsley Church, the last having taken place a couple of days before writing this (24) and an online survey that has now closed. Some insight was given to the consultation process by “Neroinheaven” who attended the first meeting at Wadsley Church, and then left a comment under the article in the Sheffield Telegraph (23):
“Why doesn’t anyone listen to what the local people of Wadsley and Loxley want? Or even ask them before they make ridiculous plans. The proposal has outraged the local community, many of whom have grown up with the Commons (and never seen cattle grazing in this area!) Anyone who attended the 'consultation' event on 22 August would realise that this is not what local people want - its a community in itself where locals and dog walkers alike enjoy the openness of the Commons they do not want fences and cows on this land - this was clearly apparent to all who attended. It seems that the consultation process by the local authority does not include the views of local people until they have consulted with everyone else who they think can make this happen - lets face it at the end of the day this is about access to funding and not about what people really want”

Reaction to the proposals came swiftly: an e-petition was set up by Charlotte Bennett on the SCC website. The basis of her objection is summed up as a loss of freedoms (25):
“Sheffield City Council propose to graze Highland Cattle from the Graves Park Animal Farm on Wadsley and Loxley Commons, thus fencing off the Commons into three thirds and grazing one third at a time. Access to the grazing area will be permitted and enabled via kissing gates and would be unavoidable depending on which third of the Commons the cattle were in at the time. This will result in limited freedom to walk in all directions due to coming up against fences”

A discussion thread was also started on the Sheffield Forum. One hyperactive contributor was in favour of the proposals for grazing - “taxman”. Over a series of posts, he ratcheted up the hyperbole and rhetoric about heathland, eventually revealing that he was once a Ranger with SCC involved with Loxley and Wadsley. This pretty much explains his dogmatic mantra about heathland (26):
“nationally scarce habitat that desperately needs protecting”
“preserving a rare habitat that is home to extremely rare animals”
“an endangered habitat”
“very rare habitat”
“uncommon and fragile ecosystem”
“valuable and rare habitat”

A few days later, another article explained that Loxley and Wadsley were currently covered by a Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement, but that this agreement would be coming to an end in October, and would be replaced with a Higher Level Stewardship agreement (27). The article quoted introductory text from the now-closed online consultation survey by SCC:
"This new scheme provides a fantastic opportunity to access over a £100,000 of funding over the next 10 years for Wadsley and Loxley Common. In order to enter into the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme conservation grazing has to take place on Wadsley and Loxley Common”

So now we get to the driver for these New Enclosures – this “fantastic opportunity”. In the business model of the conservation industry, if you want agri-environment subsidy then you have to treat your land like farmland, which means fencing it off and putting on livestock. The article pointed to an objector’s website - Stop the Cows. Again, the simple objection is on the basis of a loss of freedoms from turning the commons into farmland (28):
“Wadsley and Loxley common is a place of natural beauty on the outskirts of North Sheffield where walkers, dog walkers and riders go to relax, unwind and take in beautiful scenery sure in the knowledge that there are no obstacles such as fences and livestock”

I left this comment on the Stop the Cows petition page:
“The conservation industry never deviates from its money-winning formula. It was only a matter of time before grazing came up as the next money pot for SCC to fill its boots with. And yet, and yet ....... grazing alone will never maintain lowland heathland. As is being shown at Public Inquiry after Public Inquiry over enfencing commons and imposing grazing, it was the other highly extractive activities that impoverished the soil of commons, and kept them sufficiently acidic and low in fertility. Unless the SCC rangers turn into modern day peasants, and suck the life out of the soil through turf cutting, bracken cutting, gorse cutting, burning, peat cutting, taking timber and firewood, then all this conservation of biodiversity nonsense is just a pile of cow dung. Wait a minute - it is just a pile of cow dung!”

Severely compromised by the presence of cattle

Further information about the proposals was posted by SCC, confirming that conservation grazing with cattle required the installation of permanent stock fencing to create three interlinked paddocks with gates, and that Natural England would provide over £100,000 of funding over the next 10 years (29). A map of the proposals was provided that surprisingly, at this stage of consultation with local people, shows that the application for HLS was probably initiated last year (30). It is the case that where a “classic scheme agreement” is in place – the Countryside Stewardship Scheme that is shortly coming to an end – that Natural England undertake to contact agreement holders to discuss renewal options. The aim of Natural England is to have a new agreement for HLS in place when the existing CSS agreement expires, therefore “ensuring continuity in management” (31) but of course, this isn’t a continuation since grazing is only now being introduced to a large area of the commons.

Natural England says that HLS is a competitive scheme, based on whether the land is in an HLS target area, and whether it can deliver on the priorities in that target area. Loxley and Wadsley are not in an HLS target area, but since we are talking heathland here, the principle of HLS target areas will have been thrown aside by Natural England. Thus after the pre-application discussion, Natural England will have sent SCC an invitation to apply for HLS in a specified financial year, usually with an approximate agreement start date specified (32). They then send a pre-filled application pack, which is completed and returned by post. I wonder what Natural England’s expectation was of that approximate agreement start date? Presumably, when discussions first started between SCC and Natural England, it would have been the end date of the CSS of 30 October this year.

I know that the application process started last year because the proposals map is drawn on a pre-filled HLS Options Map that covers the area of Loxley and Wadsley, and which is dated 10 January 2012 (30). It already has an HLS agreement number on it in the form of an Application Reference – AG00400890. SCC have then drawn their fencing lines on this map, and the access points through gates. The first thing to note about the proposals is that the HLS area is larger than the current area covered by CSS. Since funding for HLS options is an area payment, it is not surprising that SCC is trying to maximise its income by including as much space as a grazed area as it can. The map also shows approximate areas of habitat within the grazing compartments for which they are seeking HLS options for – thus heathland and acid grassland are identified, and which along with the cost of fencing and gates is how the figure of £100,000 has been arrived at. I would point out that, as is depressingly usual in these circumstances, there is no heathland, or acid grassland, shown to exist on Natural England’s BAP Priority Habitat mapping for this area. It shows instead deciduous woodland in which the western grazing compartment is drawn, with an area of ancient woodland at the southern end of this, about half of which is included in that grazing area. Any ground flora in that ancient woodland will just be grazed away.

What happens now? SCC’s intention was to present the consultation results back to local people at the second meeting at Wadsley Church on 26 September, and then take a briefing to the Northern Community Assembly, the City councilors who cover the assembly area, on 17 October (30). Perhaps the best understanding of where this is going is in the comment on the situation at Loxley and Wadsley by Neil Fitzmaurice on his Blacka Moor blogspot, well-versed as he is on SCC shenanigans (32):
“Local users are wondering how the cattle and people will interact. This is the usual problem of farmification. The managers are just holding their breath crossing their fingers and obeying orders to get on and do it while going through the motions and compiling anything they can put together that helps them claim they have the backing of enough of the public”

There is no doubt in my mind that these fencing proposals will radically change the genius loci or wild aesthetic of Loxley and Wadsley Commons, as I thought in similar vein for the previous determination to fell so many trees (22). It is surely indicative of the horrors of the New Enclosures and the loss of freedoms. I leave it to Ruth Windle to describe what those horrors are. Ruth wrote a letter to The Star in which she explained that the commons were used by many groups of people, including walkers, dog walkers, horse riders and children (33). Her personal concern was for the safety of horse riders that use the commons on a daily basis. She made the point that there are limited bridleways in the general area, and that the open landscape of the commons was the only local, off-road area in which horses could be exercised without the worry of road traffic. She believed that access for horse riders and for all of the groups that use the commons “will be severely compromised by the presence of cattle and the required fencing and gates…… What can be done to make the council see that this proposal will seriously affect what the common was gifted to the citizens of Sheffield for in 1913?”

Mark Fisher 29 September 2012

(1) Chief Executive’s Report, 30 May 2012. Natural England Board NEB PU30 02
(2) The craze for conservation grazing, Self-willed land May 2009
(3) Introduction to the New Enclosures. The New Enclosures - Midnight Notes 10, Midnight Notes Collective 1990
(4) Andrew Coates. Public Services, Localism and the New Enclosures. Tendance Coatesy 10 September 2011
(5) Simon Fairlie (2009) A Short History of Enclosure in Britain. The Land Issue 7 Summer 2009
(6) Paul Dean (2003) John Clare: freedom & enclosure. A review of "I Am": The Selected Poetry of John Clare by John Clare, Jonathan Bate. The New Criterion Volume 22: 93
(7) John Clare (1820) Helpstone. In Poems descriptive of rural life and scenery. London : Printed for Taylor and Hessey, Fleet Street; and E. Drury, Stamford
(8) John Goodridge and Kelsey Thornton (1994) John Clare: the trespasser. In John Clare in Context: bi-centenary essays in memory of Geoffrey Summerfield. Eds. Hugh Haughton, Adam Philips, Geoffrey Summerfield. Cambridge University Press. Pg. 99
(9) John Clare (1821) The Village Minstrel, Stanza XCIV. In The Village Minstrel, and other poems. Volume 1. Printed for Taylor and Hessey, Fleet Street; and E. Drury, Stamford
(10) John Clare “Remembrances”. In Poems Chiefly from Manuscript. Edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan Porter. London: Richard Cobden-Sanderson 1920 pg. 166
(11) Johanne Clare (1987) John Clare and the Bounds of Circumstance. McGill-Queen's University Press. Pg 169
(12) Nature improvement and restoration areas - are they a step towards rewilding? Self-willed land June 2011
(13) Independent Panel on Forestry – Final Report July 2012
(14) England's Public Forest Estate - public ownership now and for future generations, Self-willed land February 2011
(15) Save our Sandlings Forest
(16) Tabbush, P., and Ambrose-Oji, B., 2011, Principles of Public Engagement. Forest Research. Alice Holt Lodge Farnham, Surrey.$FILE/Principles_of_public_engagement.pdf
(17) A toolbox for public engagement in forest and woodland planning
(18) Schedule 1 Natural England. Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
(19) Memorandum and Articles of Association of The Woodland Trust 2009
(20) The Seven Principles of Public Life, Committee on Standards in Public Life
(21) National Trust plans to bring back hunting with hounds, Richard Alleyne, Daily Telegraph 31 May 2006
(22) High price for heath - Loxley and Wadsley Commons, Self-willed land March 2008
(23) Grazing cattle could protect priority habitat in Sheffield, Sheffield Telegraph 17 August 2012
(24) Wadsley and Loxley Common Grazing Proposal, Northern Community Assembly 09/08/2012
(25) Charlotte Bennett. Stop Plans to Graze Cattle on Wadsley and Loxley Commons, Sheffield City Council e-Petition details 17 August 2012
(26) Wadsley and Loxley Common, Sheffield Forum
(27) Proposals to introduce cattle to Loxley and Wadsley Common, Caroline Mc, Postcode Gazette 22 August 2012
(28) Stop the cows
(29) Conservation Grazing - Further Information, Wadsley and Loxley Common Grazing Proposals, Sheffield City Council
(30) Map showing the Proposed boundary and Access Works, Sheffield City Council

(31) HLS Process - Frequently Asked Questions, Natural England
(32)How to get started in Higher Level Stewardship, Natural England 
(30) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from the August consultation, Sheffield City Council
(32) Plans and the Public, Blacka Moor Blogspot 9 September 2012
(33) Ruth Windle. Common plan may endanger riders, Letter to The Star 7 September 2012