Victory for a man who won't hedge his bets

Ruling will safeguard future of ancient hedgerows
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The Independent Online
The man with a credible claim to be Britain's most successful amateur lawyer notched up his latest courtroom victory yesterday, saving a 230- year-old hedgerow from destruction.

Now, both conservationists and the Government must consider the implications of Colin Seymour's triumph - over his local parish council - for safeguarding thousands of miles of hedgerow, dating back to 18th and 19th Century Enclosure Acts.

Mr Seymour, a 63-year-old former teacher, who is partially deaf and lives on invalidity benefit, has won 81 legal battles, mostly involving preserving rights of way and righting environmental wrongs. Big councils and companies have found themselves forced to take remedial actions costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In yesterday's ruling, Judge Tom Cracknell, sitting at Hull County Court, said that under the 1765 Act, which created the 50 yards of hedge in questionFlamborough Parish Council, was still required to maintain it. The council had wanted it destroyed to make room for a green for the village's bowls club.

The judge pointed out: "It is a singularly indistinguishable hedge... very badly maintained, unkempt and straggly." But, he added: "The courts cannot and do not strike down statute merely because it is old and passed by a Parliament that was very far from being elected by universal suffrage."

Mr Seymour, who has lived in the coastal village for six years, said: "I'm delighted with the outcome of this case, but there are always new legal battles to fight and although this hedge is safe, others will have to be fought over.

Conservationists believe that more than 4,000 other enclosure Acts cover a further 40,000 miles of hedges. These statutes ended communal farming and transformed the English landscape.

But the judge warned: "It would be wrong to read too much into this case in terms of significance for roadside hedges generally... whether a provision is binding has to be judged in each individual case."

Peter Bowler, chairman of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which has supported the action, said: "It is a great day both for wildlife and countryside landscape in the future because the judgment will give us a stronger arm to protect thousands of miles of hedgerow."

Some villagers are unhappy that their neighbour has scotched the bowling plans. Trevor Pearson, a councillor, said: "The village would not have an entrance to its school, library or village hall if we had not removed other hedges."

And the judge commented: "He [Mr Seymour] may be a hero to some but, to others, I have no doubt that he is the villain of the piece and a thorough nuisance."

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