The Titsey Foundation , set up a few years ago (would you believe?) to promote public access to a formerly private estate near Limpsfield, Surrey, has erected huge signs at both ends of a public footpath on the nearby High Chart.
I was taken to see them on Friday by a local reader, Eric Scadeng. Beneath the foundation's coat of arms, featuring a dog and a grasshopper, they shout, in large capital letters, "NO DOGS WITHOUT SPECIAL PERMIT", and instruct walkers to write off for permission to the posh estate agents Strutt and Parker. They must have discouraged loads of people from exercising what has been their legal right for more than 135 years.
Back in 1861 a court ruled that walkers had the right to take with them "usual accompaniments" on public footpaths, so long as they are not "injurious to the soil". This has long been deemed to cover dogs, one or two of whose activities on walks, come to think of it, actually enrich the ground.
The Ramblers' Association is wearily used to landowners trying to stop people using rights of way - one-third of the country's footpaths are blocked by one means or another - but this is a new one on them and they call it "outrageous".
Strutt and Parker, who manage the land for the foundation, retort that the notices "continue a small but worth-preserving tradition", started on the nearby Titsey Plantation because a Leveson Gower, a former owner, "had four West Highland terriers who were very sensitive to other dogs".
There are only three problems with this. Mr Gower died five years ago. The terriers have also passed on to great walkies in the sky. And even when they were extant they lived three miles away from the new notices: even Westies aren't that sensitive.
After pressure from Mr Scadeng, the estate agents now admit that there is "no legal basis" for requiring permits for walking dogs on a public right of way and say that they will be needed only for other paths they have opened up in the area. They are going to add a rider to the notices to this effect, but Mr Scadeng says they should pull the "darned things" down instead. Only he didn't say "darned".
NOW for some unambiguously good news. Patient readers may remember that I have been banging on over the last few weeks on the lines that Britain should go ahead with its plans to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, whatever the United States and other nations do.
Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, told a Commons committee that this will indeed happen, "because we want to demonstrate that if governments have the political will they can achieve this".
This offers hope of rescuing the fight against global warming, gravely endangered by backsliding on reductions by President Clinton ten days ago. If Britain, which takes over the EU presidency in the New Year, can persuade Europe as a whole to stick to its promises, industry will be given a clear signal to develop cleaner technologies. And if the benefits to employment and the economy of saving energy are half as great as studies suggest, the US may soon want to follow suit.
Last week's statement is the clearest indication to date that ministers are going to fulfil their pledge to be "the greenest government ever". Who would have thought it, only a year ago, when Labour showed precious little interest in greenery?
TALKING of my banging on, I'm afraid I'm in predictable trouble over my suggestion a couple of weeks ago that it was time to resume commercial whaling. Environmentalists are often particularly intolerant of those who disagree with them, as a letter from Garry Munns, of Riverhead, Kent, appears to underline.
"It's time to ban the writing of such an uninformed, damaging article as yours," he says. "People, especially in very public situations, such as a journalist, should not be allowed to make such statements." I particularly like that "especially".
MIND you, I felt a bit intolerant myself the other day when yet again I found that the local privatised rail company had cancelled my train - until, that is, I saw the blissfully misspelt rea- son on the board. "Service cancelled due to staff shot, rages", it read. Now that's an excuse I'll believe.Reuse content