Out-of-Bounds Britain: `The MoD is defacing our countryside'

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The Independent Online
THE Independent on Sunday's campaign to open up more MoD land to the public has had the ringing endorsement of our readers. The majority of letters we have received have been supportive, calling on the MoD to allow civilians greater rights to roam in areas that are presently out of bounds.

"It's an outrage," writes Jeremy Sleath, of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. "We should be allowed access to all this land and the Army set to work clearing it of ordnance." John Warren, of Harlow, Essex, writes to say that he "entirely supports" the campaign. "I had to make a huge detour inland when cycling along the Dorset coast at the tank range at Lulworth," he says. "Salisbury Plain and Dartmoor are likewise unique reservoirs of wildlife and rural tranquillity in the overcrowded south of England that should be more accessible."

Andrew McCabe, of Manorbier, lives in the Pembrokeshire national park, where he points out, the MoD "occupies vast areas of beautiful countryside" within the park. "This is one of the great scandals of modern-day life in Britain. The vandalism perpetrated by the MoD in Pembrokeshire almost negates the advantages of the park." Mr McCabe also makes a point highlighted by many readers, that the MoD has made little attempt to slim down its operations to reflect its peacetime role. "During recent years the reduction in the number of servicemen and the change in the role of the armed forces do not appear to have affected the vast amount of land and premises held by the MoD."

The point is echoed by V G Chainey, of Bradenham, Norfolk, near the Stanford army training area. "We are told modern warfare is much more sophisticated. So does the MoD still need to hold on to such large tracts of our beautiful countryside to the exclusion of the rest of us?"

Sybil Peangnell sent us a postcard of Tyneham, the village on the Lulworth range in Dorset. "Areas of countryside are being ruined by the sight of firing targets, rusting tanks and the noise from heavy guns. Why must we tolerate this?"

Others have noted the arbitrary nature of access for walkers. "Even while IRA alerts were in force, our nearest army camp allowed hundreds of walkers on for a charity event," writes Jeffrey C Wheeler, of Nuneaton, Warwickshire. "At other times, forget it. Freedom of access? Sorry citizens."

Alan Weston, of Netheravon, near Salisbury, writes to criticise a system that allows MoD officials to enjoy recreation on open land when military exercises are not taking place, in this case a game shoot. "The shoot is not `military purpose' but rather a sport which happens in this instance to be exclusively licensed to senior military persons and civil servants from Whitehall," he says.

Other readers have more ambivalent feelings about allowing greater access. "In principle I am firmly in favour of the policy that our beautiful countryside should be available for access to all," writes Ann Tomlin of Cavendish, Suffolk. "The problem is that not everyone, particularly weekend and holiday visitors, will understand and care for conservation of the countryside and we could end up with many sites becoming like Dovedale in Derbyshire. Access to all will not be of much use if everything worth having access to is destroyed."

T K Holder, via e-mail, takes this point a stage further. "The only way Britain's wildest and most unspoilt countryside is going to remain such is if it's kept out of bounds to the general public. Even we nature lovers cause problems just by being there in large numbers."

Rosie Dickinson, is a student of environmental sciences at the University of the West of England, who believes the argument for greater access is complex. "Due to the lack of human access certain rare birds and animals have flourished," she writes. "I'm happy that chalk downland and its component flora and fauna are still in existence, though I do not need to walk on the nests of stone curlews to reassure myself."

Finally, we didn't necessarily expect our readers to be moved to poetry, but then John Northeast, of London, wrote in:

"Miles of fencing, concrete pillared/warning flags of red today/why, in this star-wars satellite age/do they, the Ministry of Defence,/still need these acres of verdant pasture/for guns and tanks?/Alas, poor Tyneham!"

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