After 25 years, beach bum told to wave goodbye to seaside home

'Dave the Drift' faces eviction after Exmoor National Park lays claim to brick-kiln house
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The Independent Online

A man who turned a Somerset beachside shack into an eccentric home 25 years ago has been told to move out because his occupation is illegal. David Burgess, 63, added windows, a driftwood roof and a front door to the stone hut, believed to have once been a lime kiln.

He slept on a mattress made of leaves at the dwelling in Porlock, which is an hour from the nearest road. Visitors who made it down the treacherous path to the hut were invited to sleep in a bunk-bed fashioned from fishing nets he had salvaged from the Bristol Channel.

The nomad, who spend four months of the year at the shack, embarked upon four-mile shopping trips to acquire tinned food, which he heated outside the house. Wild deer would eat any produce grown on the site, Burgess claimed.

But the real-life castaway has now been told to leave the sheltered spot because Exmoor National Park has claimed ownership of the property. The Park submitted forms to the Land Registry asserting that it had owned the woodland and the building, which it said was actually a bark-drying hut, since 1974. The Park instructed Burgess to move and restore the property to its original state.

Mr Burgess said he had no intention of moving out of what has become his summer home. "We belong to the land, the land doesn't belong to us," he said. "It is an old ruined cottage which was begun in 1812 but was never completed. I am not doing any harm and I pick up rubbish.

"When I first saw it, it just had walls and spaces for the windows. I thought it would have been nice to stay in and I've collected driftwood over the years to put it right. I don't think I'm squatting." The Park management said that they were forced to take action because Mr Burgess himself had sought to claim ownership through the Registry.

A spokesman said: "We deplored the selfish action being taken by one individual in seeking to take ownership of this building, therefore denying access to the wider public.

"The building in question is of historic interest which, before it was altered by Mr Burgess, had gaps in the sides suggesting it could have been the remains of a tan bark-drying house or lime-burner's building. It forms part of a complex of structures and tracks including a limekiln and the remains of two other buildings."

Mr Burgess has now indicated the he would end his bid for ownership because of the legal costs involved. A Park Authority spokesman said: "If Mr Burgess is withdrawing his claim on the building at Embelle Wood, we would be happy to discuss with him some arrangement whereby he could continue to enjoy the area." According to Mr Burgess , an Exmoor National Park Authority official had initially suggested that it might be possible for him to formalise his occupation by paying a peppercorn rent.

When that suggestion was not followed up, he made a formal claim to the Registry. But the Park denied that any such peppercorn arrangement had been offered. For the time being, Burgess, who spends the winter months inland at a friend's house in Devon, will continue to live in his dwelling, which is 30 minutes walk to the nearest neighbour.

Although Mr Burgess does not grow his food,he is a member of a group that helps people live and work on organic farms.