The long-running dispute between a Dartmoor landowner and groups representing walkers and climbers over public access at Vixen Tor looks to be going the landowner's way. The BBC reports that an enquiry has decided there is no public right of way at the site, and a Devon County Council order to open a footpath there has been rescinded.
Vixen Tor, formerly a popular beauty spot, was closed in 2003 when owner Mary Alford won an appeal to have the field containing the tor removed from CRoW Open Access Maps. She maintained there had never been an established right of way there. She claims to be concerned at possible liability issues should someone come a cropper on her land, though the many other landowners with a slice of Dartmoor seem not to find this an issue. Be that as it may, barbed wire and keep out signs were erected, and battle duly commenced.
The Ramblers, the British Mountaineering Council and Vixen Tor Action Group all see things rather differently. But so far their best efforts, including mass trespasses and the attempt to cite of Right to Roam legislation, have drawn a blank. Then in 2009 Devon County Council's Rights of Way Committee supported a move to re-open the tor.
In order for a public right of way to be established there would have to be evidence of uninterrupted public use at Vixen Tor for a 20-year period. The County Council's case for opening the site rested on the period between 1956 and 1976, but a local planning inspector has now ruled that there's insufficient evidence of free public use from that time.
Nearly 60 witnesses gave accounts to the enquiry of having walked at the Tor during the 1970s, and there's evidence of climbers having visited the site for many decades, but against this Mary Alford came up with documents suggesting periods in which paths hadn't been regularly used. Case closed?
'We are obviously disappointed with the inspector's decision and saddened that there is no further access of any sort to this scenic setting' Tom Franklin, Ramblers Chief Executive, said today.
'Vixen Tor has a long history of visits by the public and an almost mystical status as a local landmark. It is a great shame that access to this iconic tor has been restricted.'
So where next for the access campaign?
The Ramblers have been actively campaigning for access to Vixen Tor for years, and today they've told us that this will not change. Despite the latest setback the organisation says it will continue to campaign for Vixen Tor to be free for all to enjoy.
'We are in the process of investigating other ways of restoring access to Vixen Tor' a spokesperson has told us. 'One of the options would be for people to encourage the National Park Authority to use their powers to act to restore access.'