Madonna rallies sheep to defence of her estate

She resorted to armies of bouncers to keep the paparazzi away from her wedding and holidays on an impregnable volcanic island. But now Madonna has found a new ally in her battle to stay out of the public gaze - a flock of pedigree sheep.

She resorted to armies of bouncers to keep the paparazzi away from her wedding and holidays on an impregnable volcanic island. But now Madonna has found a new ally in her battle to stay out of the public gaze - a flock of pedigree sheep.

A planning inquiry to decide whether ramblers should be allowed to roam on part of the pop star's 1,200-acre estate was yesterday told that the land must stay closed to protect its Poll Dorset sheep.

Philip Eddell, the estate manager employed at Ashcombe House on the Dorset and Wiltshire border by Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie, said the pedigree beasts would be "adversely affected" by the sight of walkers - along with the estate's status as a shoot and a haven for endangered birds.

The Ritchies are challenging a decision by the Countryside Agency to classify about 100 acres of the estate as open, allowing the public full access rights under the new Countryside Rights of Way Act.

Mr Eddell told the inquiry in Shaftesbury, Dorset: "It would make it impossible for the shoot to operate safely, the sheep ... would be adversely affected, as would the nature conservation interest.

"The mapping of Ashcombe as open country would severely affect the enjoyment of the property by the appellants, would severely affect the privacy of the appellants, would severely affect the capital value of the ... property."

Mr Eddell also said that defining the land as open - giving access to hordes of walkers - would be incompatible with the Ritchies' human rights.

Lawyers for the pop star, who is preparing for her world tour starting in Los Angeles later this month, said they were applying for up to half of their costs from the inquiry, claiming they had been incurred because of the "unreasonable behaviour" of the Countryside Agency.

Stephen Pasterfield, for the agency, claimed: "The appellants' approach is to produce evidence which is certainly false and some of it is irrelevant."

A ruling will be given at a later date.

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