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Trespassers will be Prosecuted (1934)

Militant ramblers will be familiar with the title of this booklet and perhaps with the name of its author, Phil Barnes, even though it is a hard title to find nowadays, and as far as I know, hasn’t been reprinted since it first appeared in 1934. When he decided to publish at his own expense this polemic on the controversial subject of trespass, Barnes had been a self confessed ‘trespasser’ for many years. From his home in Sheffield he had tramped the wild moorland between here and Manchester but was always aware that in seeking out many of the natural beauties, he was legally limited to using only twelve public footpaths. Those, like him, who strayed from these were intimidated by the presence of signs put up by landlords claiming that prosecution would follow if warnings were ignored. Two years earlier he and fellow militant ramblers had taken part in the famous ‘mass trespass‘ of Kinder Scout in the High Peak. In this stand off between ramblers, gamekeepers and the police, physical confrontation was inevitable with the result that many demonstrators, who included the 28 year old Michael Tippett, now generally regarded as the greatest British composer of the twentieth century, were prosecuted and some landed up in jail or were fined.

In the booklet, which was in many ways an analysis of the lessons that had been learned by the trespass, Barnes lays out the arguments for a new law that would give everyone access to uncultivated wilderness and mountain land. He argues that although landowners wanted to preserve the habitats of grouse from disturbance, the facts revealed that game birds seemed totally unconcerned by the presence of walkers on public footpaths. He also argued that although the eighteenth century law of trespass had been repealed many years ago, cynical landlords relied on the ignorance of the average rambler of this fact, and the willingness of gamekeepers to assert their authority whenever necessary.  He also pointed out that a large proportion of the restricted land was owned by local authorities who governed the very towns and villages where ramblers lived and paid their rates.

Trespassers will be Prosecuted is a superb piece of agitprop publishing that acted as an inspiration for many environmentalists that came after him, particularly from the sixties onwards. Barnes is persuasive, well informed, with a battery of facts and statistics to support his case. To these he adds detailed maps and charts of the area under discussion and alluring photographs of beauty spots taken by himself. Finally, he includes a full page exhortation to ramblers to write to their MPs and anyone else with power. Years passed before the militants were rewarded with the legislation they craved, but the National Park laws was passed in 1949 and in 2000 the much more radical Countryside and Rights of Way Act gave ramblers the unfettered freedom to explore unmarked moor and mountain land. [RR]

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