A long running campaign by local people eventually saw the route becoming a public bridlepath from the end of the Highway through to the road at Upware. It was recognised by Public Inquiry Inspector Susan Doran that there should not be any bollards or barriers installed on the route.
Now the National Trust have proposed gates and cattle grids on the route, so that their grazing animals can wander freely across. A bridge over the grazed area is being proposed, alongside the drove, for road users with animals.
The National Trust have already tried, unsuccessfully, to install cattle grids on Straight Drove, Reach and Hightown Drove, Burwell. It is well known that they still have the grids and seem determined to put them somewhere. The idea of having them on Harrison's Drove is being opposed by people who supported the application to create a public bridlepath.
One supporter of the route has written:
Once again the National Trust is attempting to flout the law for their own convenience! Section 82 of the Highways Act 1980 can be only used by the Highway Authority to install cattle grids, not an adjacent landowner. The law states quite clearly that cattle grids can only be installed as an improvement for the public on a road, and cannot be used at all on a bridleway or a footpath. The proposed gates and cattle grids have no benefit to the public at all. This proposal is so that the National Trust’s cattle and horses can stray across the road - this is an offence under Highways Act, Section 155.
The National Trust do not own any of Harrison’s Drove and the local community fought long and hard to safeguard the rights of the public to continue to use Harrison’s Drove as a through route from Burwell to Upware. These rights must not be compromised.
In 2007 the local community also objected to the National Trust’s proposal to install gates and cattle grids on Straight Drove Reach. Like Harrison’s Drove, the National Trust do not own Straight Drove, so by proposing to install the gates and cattle grids, they were attempting to take possession of a long strip land that was not theirs as well as trying to get round highway law. This is not an acceptable way for a national charity to behave, and unsurprisingly this causes bad feelings in the local community.
The National Trust also tried to install cattle grids on High Town Drove Burwell.This proposal also failed because the law does not allow cattle grids to be installed on the highway by the adjacent landowner. So the National Trust cannot say that they are unaware of Section 82 of the Highways Act 1980.
The National Trust may publically announce their intentions to improve public access in the Wicken Fen area, but here is yet another example where they are attempting to compromise the rights of the general public in order to pursue their private aims.
In the long term those plants and animal communities presently only found on the old fen in unstable numbers will be able to spread and establish bigger, more sustainable populations over much wider areas. Grazing withh free ranging herds has been agreed by many experts as the best way to establish these new "natural" habitats. Therefore, establishing a link between the grazing blocks either side of Harrison's Drove and ultimately on to further areas of land on Burwell Fen is essential in developing the extensive grazing programme at Wicken, and ultimately the long term survival of the SSSI......
....We have considered your suggestion of a cock up bridge over the road for livestock, however we believe it is unworkable for two reasons. Firstly it is very unlikely that free ranging cattle and ponies would use a completely wooden structure as they would find it too intimidating, and secondly as the structure would go over the highway, it would need to meet highway regulations (particularly in terms of height for users' passage underneath, etc.), therefore would not end up being th erelatively simple structure we envisage at the moment.
At present, we have potentially found 40% funding towards establishing the alternative users' bridge, through a European climate change adaptation fund, as it would ultimately help in establishing the extensive grazing system. However this money is under spend from a bigger project and if not spent by later this year will go back to Europe and the opportunity will be lost.
I was somewhat taken aback by the way the proposal was presented out of the blue at the recent User Forum meeting. Whilst it is true that some of us have provided advice on the design of a Cock Up bridge, this was in relation to restoring access to the Maltings Path between Priory Farm, Burwell and Monks Lode, Wicken, which the NT have blocked with gates and grazing animals, denying access between Burwell and Wicken for horse riders and some other users. A Cock Up bridge here would be an improvement over the cattle grid system that the NT are currently installing.
Harrison's Drove is an open access route between Burwell and Upware that was recently awarded Bridlepath status, following a Public Inquiry. Inspector Susan Doran found that there should not be any bollards or barriers on the route and the NT supported the proposal. It seems illogical and unreasonable that they should now want to block the route, so that grazing animals can cross it.
You say that linking the grazing blocks either side of Harrison's Drove is essential for the long term survival of the SSSI. This is complete nonsense as the SSSI would continue to exist without any cattle and there is nothing to stop the NT herding them across the road from time to time. Alternatively a bridge over the drove could be considered.
The claim that many expert's opinion is that grazing herds are the best way to establish natural habitats is not backed up by any evidence. I have been asking for some time to see such evidence, but all the NT have produced are a few non-technical articles from what appears to be a school book. I understand that Carol Laidlaw wants to carry out a research project in this area, but pre-empting the possible conclusions of this is unwarranted and ultimately undermines the supposed independance of the study.
It sounds as though a sum of money is burning a hole in the NT's pocket, in which case a bridge over the grazing area at Maltings Path might be a good way to spend it. I also note that the NT have cattle grids in stock, which they have previously tried to install on Straight Drove and Hightown Drove. Can I politely suggest the best place to put them might be on ebay, not on Harrison's Drove?
There are two aspects to this proposal, the first being highway law and the second being the National Trust's 'need' for these structures.
Highways law is very clear about the installation of cattle grids, and usually applies to gated highways across registered commons or open moorland, where there is an existing precedent for grazing animals crossing the highway. The installation of cattle grids in this type of a location, with gates to the side to allow the passage of horses, horse drawn vehicles, and even the grazing animals themselves when they are being taken on or off the common or moor, is undertaken by the Highway Authority under the Highways Act to provide an improvement for the public using the highway. Clearly this is not the case for the current proposal on Harrison's Drove, as this area is neither a registered common, nor an open moor. Nowhere in the Highway Act does the law allow the installation of cattle grids on the highway for the convenience of the adjacent landowner, nor does it allow the erection of gates on a previously un-gated vehicular highway. To install cattle grids on a vehicular highway under the Highways Act, the Highway Authority is required to give formal notice to the public, to which the public are entitled under the law to object. If objections are received, a Public Inquiry would follow, all at the expense of the public purse. If the cattle grids are installed without lawful authority, this can be redressed through the Public Ombudsman.
Then we can look at the need. Many years ago, Adrian Colston, while working for the Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire, published an article where he envisaged a large expanse of grazed fenland on the east of the River Cam from Cambridge to Soham. I still have this article. From this idea 'The Vision' was born. The concept of free roaming 'large herbivores' within the Vision plan did not take into consideration that the existing fenland landscape was intersected by drains, dykes, Lodes, rivers, public rights of way, and vehicular highways. While free roaming grazing animals may be appropriate in Holland (the example that has been used in the promotion of the Vision), and landscape areas in the UK where there is a tradition of open grazing such as the New Forest, there is no such open grazing tradition in the fenland landscape.
Wet grassland grazing is, however, a familiar sight in the fens, and animals roam from one land parcel to another over culverts and low bridges, but only as far as the landownership boundary. There is no historic or current precedent for unaccompanied grazing animals at liberty on or crossing the fen highways. Implementing the concept of 'free roaming herbivores' has become problematic for The National Trust as the process by which this concept could be achieved did not take into account that highways law would not allow it. The local community has successfully objected to similar proposals to introduce cattle grids at Straight Drove, Reach, and also at High Town Drove, Burwell. Now they find themselves with the same issue at Harrison's Drove, Burwell.
The idea of a Cock Up Bridge to allow free passage of grazing animals over public rights of way was first introduced to Jake Williams, National Trust Property Manager, in April 2006. The idea was that the bridge would allow grazing animals to cross the bridge while the general public continued to have unimpeded access on the right of way below. The ownership, legal liability, and responsibility for maintenance for such a bridge would remain entirely with the National Trust, and there would be no public access use the bridge. As it would be required for the livestock, there is an incentive for the Trust to fund the maintenance of the bridge.
This idea now appears to have been reversed so that the Cock Up Bridge is proposed to be built adjacent to, but not part of the highway, for use by the public, particularly equestrians. The ownership, legal liability and responsibility for maintenance for such a bridge would remain entirely with the National Trust, but although it may be intended for permissive use by the public, that use would not be protected by law. So there would be no guarantee that the bridge would be kept available and maintained for use by the public in perpetuity. Nor would such a structure be readily adopted by the Highway Authority as a public right of way, because of the existing adjacent highway, and also because of the cost to the public purse to maintain the structure.
Please find attached (See above) an alternative proposal for a Cock Up Bridge style bridge over Harrison’s Drove, based on the original idea introduced in 2006. It is important to note the the Trust do not own any part of Harrison's Drove. At the proposed location, Harrison’s Drove is an unclassified road. It is also a no through road for motor vehicles. Any large vehicles using the road will be on National Trust, Environment Agency or IDB business. You will see that a large vehicle bypass is created using cattle grids off the line of the highway. The Cock Up Bridge crosses the highway at a height suitable for a large horse and rider, which will also accommodate the average sized car or light van. The bridge is in keeping with the local landscape, and no other structures are required on the highway. The highway remains unimpeded, none of the grazing livestock have access to the highway, and the passing public are separated from the grazing animals by ditches and fencing. The National Trust would be responsible for ensuring that the bridge and the cattle grids are suitable for purpose, and maintained to safe standards, as they are all built on land within their ownership. This proposal, which would need planning consent, is far more likely to achieve ‘buy in’ from the local community.
The last part of the debate is the question of whether cattle will use such a bridge. If you ask any of the local farmers who have grazed animals in the fens they will tell you that cattle will always investigate the way out. They cross bridges and swim rivers with no hesitation, and will always seek the highest, windiest spots in hot weather to keep the flies away. You may have difficulty getting them off the bridge! And Konik horses? The ramp of a bridge is much like the ramp of a horse box. How did the Koniks get to Wicken?
I hope that you will find these points useful, and move the proposals forward in a manner that is consistent with highways law, that does not impede the right of the public to pass and re-pass freely on the highway, and fulfils the National Trust's private need to facilitate the concept of free roaming livestock on their own property.