Grouse moor sale could restrict ramblers' access

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A LARGE grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales national park is for sale, minimum price pounds 1.5m, with the estate agents stressing that the new owner can deny access to ramblers.

But the sales literature also points out that the 4,500-acre Mossdale Estate in Upper Wensleydale receives pounds 24,400 a year under the Government's Countryside Stewardship scheme. The scheme aims to conserve much-loved landscapes and wildlife and promote public enjoyment of the countryside, including better access for walkers.

The Ramblers' Association said it was an outrage that the new owner could receive public money while keeping the public out. The Government's Countryside Commission, which runs the scheme, is unhappy at the way Savills, a leading estate agent, is marketing Mossdale.

'We are worried by that sort of thing,' Tim Allen, the officer who heads the scheme, said. 'We're not in the business of paying for moors when the barriers go up.'

The Mossdale Estate, which includes a farm, shooting lodge and and more than 1,000 Swaledale sheep, is owned by Hugh van Cutsem, a farmer and bloodstock breeder from King's Lynn. He said he had no objection to the occasional rambler - even though they are technically trespassing. There are no public footpaths crossing the land, but some keen upland walkers traverse it on their way between stations on the Settle to Carlisle railway.

'I met one with his dog at Great Knoutberry Hill (the moor's highest point) the other day and we had a perfectly friendly chat about life in general,' Mr van Cutsem said. 'My attitude is that if public access is managed properly, it's a good thing - there are only problems when a trickle of walkers becomes a flood.'

But Savills is pitching for landowners who may have a less welcoming attitude. 'The freehold allows the owners to restrict access to the moor, therefore offering greater privacy,' the sales literature says.

Parts of the moor have been overgrazed by sheep, destroying the heather. About one-tenth of the estate comes under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. The landowner is paid pounds 65 a hectare per year to keep sheep off damaged land allowing the heather to regenerate.

Landowners can also qualify for extra payments for improving access to the public, but this is not being claimed. Nonetheless, Mr Allen said any curbs on the informal access Mr van Cutsem now permits would be against the spirit of Countyside Stewardship.

Bertie Ross of Savills said: 'From a shooting point of view, you want some degree of control and privacy. We accept that there's a conflict of views.'

David Leyshon, area footpath officer for the Ramblers' Association, said: 'It would be outrageous for the new owner to get that money and keep people out.'