Author Archives: Philip

“Public access is a public good”

Permissive Access – a way forward?

In 2005  the Government set up the Environmental Stewardship Scheme by means of which farmers received payments to open up permissive access routes on their land. However this scheme was dropped in 2014 and farmers are no longer paid to enable new permissive paths. Last year Environment Secretary Michael Gove introduced the welcome notion of public money for public goods in his Agriculture bill, and public access to the countryside has been recognised by him to be important. However what this means exactly for creating permissive access in future is unknown – and certainly some way off.

In the mean time, the agreements made for permissive access to farmland, set for a fixed period, have been lapsing and this valuable type of access is gradually being lost. The Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) say that the length of these permissive paths in Norfolk stood at 158 miles in 2016, but with agreements expiring there are now estimated to be only 65 miles remaining – and all of those will disappear in time. 

Sites of permissive access paths in Norfolk.

Sites of permissive access paths in Norfolk. Most are set to disappear in the next couple of years.

A bright spot and possible way to re-instate (and maybe add) some permissive paths comes from Bradenham thanks to action by Bradenham Parish Council who have reached an agreement with a local landowner for a new five-year Access Scheme. The scheme, which provides 12km of paths in an area which has few PRoWs,  was developed in conjunction with Norfolk FWAG and the Norfolk Local Access Forum.  Of course there is a cost to the Parish Council, but it does show that local communities can, if they wish, take control and provide access to this particular “public good”.

2019 Survey of the Beachamwell PRoW network

During the last few days I have walked or cycled the complete network of public footpaths and bridleways in Beachamwell (20 miles), checking the access, signage and condition of routes. I last carried a similar survey in January 2017. Then I reported that generally the network was in good condition, and I am pleased to report that the same positive situation continues.

Easy walking on FP4 through Smeeth Wood

Easy walking on FP4 through Smeeth Wood

Access is good on all routes, apart from the longstanding issue at Hall Barn, and barbed wire where BR1 joins the A1122.

Surface condition is often very good, although inevitably at this time of year mud can be a problem, exacerbated by the use of heavy farm machinery.

Failure to re-instate crossfield paths is a continuing issue. Landowners usually respond to requests to make good paths, but they are legally obliged to do this without prompting (and compliance is a condition of receiving  money from the Rural Payments Agency).

Signage is better than in 2017, largely because of signs erected for the Warren Heritage Trail. Norfolk County Council also appears to have been adding fingerposts and marker posts to the network, which is good to see, but in places wastefully duplicating existing signage.


(FP = footpath; BR = bridleway; RB = restricted byway)

BR1 (Long Drove aka Searchlight Drove – from Beechamwell Road beyond Walter’s Cottages to A1122/Devil’s Ditch)
Fingerpost at junction with Beechamwell Road missing. Barbed wire obstructing access to A1122 at N end.

Barbed wire obstructing access to BR1 from the A1122

Barbed wire obstructing access to BR1 from the A1122

RB5 (From Beechamwell Road opposite the entrance to Beachamwell Hall to Lodge Farm and continuing towards Swaffham)
Path very muddy near Lodge Farm, but passable.
New ‘Bridleway’ fingerpost at Lodge Farm duplicates existing fingerpost.

Mud on RB5 near Lodge Farm making walking and cycling difficult

Mud on RB5 near Lodge Farm makes walking and cycling difficult

BR9 (From near Hall Farm on Swaffham Road towards the Warren)
In places surface churned up by heavy farm machinery.

FP10 (From BR9 across Toot Hill to The Lodge)
North section beyond the tree belt not restored after cultivation. The route through the tree belt is not clear.

FP12 (from The Old School to join BR19a near Furze Hill)
Section across ‘asparagus’ field would benefit from marking. Southern section not made good after cultivation

FP13 (from The Old School to Hall Barn)
Longstanding issue at Hall Barn. The recently marked routes of both FP13 and BR19a still do not follow the correct line.

FP17 (through Larchwood)
Fallen tree limb across the path. Currently possible to walk round

Fallen tree on FP17, Larchwood

Fallen tree on FP17, Larchwood

BR19a  (from Hall Barn to the Gooderstone Road near Furze Hill)
Longstanding issue at Hall Barn.
The marked route across All Saints field does not follow the exact line.

FP21 (from Shingham cottages to sharp bend on Cockley Cley road)
Crossfield section at east end not marked. Landowner has promised to cut the path in spring.

BR22 (from sharp bend on Cockley Cley road  to Langwade Drove near tumulus)
First section towards chicken farm is not on the correct line. Unfortunately a marker post has been erected here in the wrong position).  Further west tree felling has disturbed the path surface. The fingerpost at the junction with Langwade Drove needs re-seating.

BR22: Surface and line of the path destroyed by recent tree felling

BR22: Surface and line of the path destroyed by recent tree felling. Finger post not fixed in place.

This is a slightly revised version of the report presented at the meeting of Beachamwell Parish Council held on 14th January 2019

Draft Norfolk Access Improvement Plan

Norfolk County Council is creating a new 10 year plan with the aim of improving access to Norfolk’s public rights of way network. This is an important document for anyone interested in using, maintaining and improving the footpaths, bridleways and other off-road routes which enable us to enjoy the wide variety of Norfolk’s countryside, generally free of the intrusion of mechanised vehicles.NCC Draft Access Improvement Plan

Norfolk County Council is asking for comments on the draft plan. You can view the plan, and also submit your comments at . Consultation closes on 15 June 2018.


Ancient oak blown down in gale

The footpaths through Sawpole and Stambles Plantations (between Beachamwell and Shingham) pass beneath several magnificent oaks which have been growing in this spot for several hundred years. They were measured during the Connecting Threads Footpaths project in 2014 and estimates made of their ages. It is sad to report that during the gales earlier today the tree which is probably the oldest – thought to be 500 years old – was toppled by the fierce winds.

The fallen oak

The fallen oak

A substantial part of the tree had already fallen last year and now the rest is down leaving just the remains of its massive trunk standing.

The massive trunk remains standing

The large trunk remains standing

This tree stood just on the edge of Footpath 15 leading from the woods towards Shingham Methodist Chapel. Thanks to the quick work of the landowner to clear the route the footpath continues to be passable for walkers, although the access point here is narrow.

Access on Footpath 15 quickly cleared by the landowner

Access on Footpath 15 quickly cleared by the landowner

Off the beaten track

Although this site is primarily interested in public footpaths and bridleways, it should be noted that it is possible to walk across some land in Beachamwell without having to use specific rights of way. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act) gives a public right of access to land mapped as ‘open country’ (mountain, moor, heath and down) or registered common land. These areas are known as ‘open access land’.

Open access land is shown on Ordnance Survey maps – on the Explorer Series 1:25000 scale maps it is marked with a pale orange border, and woodland areas are tinted yellow.

Access land in woodland areas is tinted yellow

Access land in woodland areas is tinted yellow

However for accurate and up-to-date information on access land visit the Natural England website at:

This map shows open access land (coloured pink) in the parish of Beachamwell (extending into Swaffham in the extreme north-west).
 The area is nearly all pine plantation, criss-crossed by forest rides and tracks. One exception is Narford Wood – a small oasis of large oaks, marked on the map in darker red.

Narford Wood

Narford Wood

The age of these oaks indicates that this woodland pre-dates the planting of Thetford Forest in the 1920s. (Forestry Commission records show that they bought land from the Beachamwell Estate in 1924 at a time when they were also buying up large parcels of land from other landowners in the area.) Today Narford Wood makes a pleasant objective for a wander off the beaten track.

Warren Heritage Trail

The Norfolk Trails network brings together over 1,200 miles of walks, cycle and bridle routes throughout the county. These include not only well-known long distance routes, for example Peddars Way, the Norfolk Coast Path, Weavers Way and several others, but also short and circular walks.

The Brecks Norfolk Trails cover

Working in partnership with Breaking New Ground, Norfolk Trails has now launched 15 routes exploring the heritage and natural history of the Brecks. One of these routes – The Warren Trail – follows a  circular route of 4.5 miles around Beachamwell and the site of the ancient rabbit warren here.

Route of the Warren Heritage Trail in Beachamwell

Route of the Warren Heritage Trail shown in red  © Crown Copyright and database rights 2015 Ordnance Survey

An interpretation board has been installed at Beachamwell Village Hall (where parking is also available) giving information about the history of Beachamwell Warren and also wildlife to look out for, including some scarcer species of butterfly and an impressive range of birds of prey.

The Trail has been well signed throughout with the additional benefit of improving signs to other rights of way which join the Warren Trail route, for example as seen below at the crossing junction of Restricted Bridleway 5 (part of the Warren Trail) and Bridleway 3 at Lodge Farm:

New fingerpost installed at the crossing of 2 rights of way at Lodge Farm

New fingerpost installed at the crossing of rights of way at Lodge Farm

Further information

Norfolk Trails
A network of walks, cycle and bridle routes managed by Norfolk County Council

Breaking New Ground
The Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership was a £2.2m project, largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to explore, discover and celebrate the unique landscape of the Brecks. Although the project ended in June 2017, their website continues to provide a useful archive of their publications and achievements

Beachamwell Warren
The results of fieldwork and archival research by the Breckland Society as published in their excellent survey The Warrens of Breckland (2010). The report noted:

"... surprisingly, considering the dominance of the rabbit in Breckland’s economy for so many centuries, there has hitherto been no definitive study of the history of warrening in the Brecks, nor, indeed, any assessment that draws together the archaeological and archival evidence for the establishment and management of warrens"

The full report, covering all of the Breckland warrens, can be dowloaded here




Footpaths restored

It’s good to have some positive news to report. Two cross-field footpaths which had disappeared following agricultural cultivation have now been re-instated. This followed a request to the farmer who then acted very promptly to mark the route of the paths on the ground. The paths in question are Footpath 23, which strikes out towards Oxborough from beyond Shingham; and the northern section of Footpath 10 which runs from The Lodge back towards Beachamwell.

Footpath 23 recently restored

Footpath 23 recently restored

Note: It is a legal requirement to make good rights of way following cultivation.
GOV.UK says:

You must not cultivate (eg plough) footpaths or bridleways that follow a field edge.

The minimum width you need to keep undisturbed is:
♦ 1.5 metres for a field edge footpath
♦ 3 metres for a field edge bridleway

You should avoid cultivating a cross-field footpath or bridleway. If you have to cultivate make sure the footpath or bridleway:
♦ remains apparent on the ground to at least the minimum width of 1 metre for a footpath or 2 metres for a bridleway, and is not obstructed by crops
♦ is restored to at least the minimum width so that it’s reasonably convenient to use within

› 14 days of first being cultivated for that crop
› 24 hours of any subsequent cultivation, unless a longer period has been agreed in advance in writing by the highway authority



Only a green thing?

When it comes to trees I suspect that most of us fall somewhere between the two reactions described by William Blake:

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”

Walking and trees
Walking the paths and tracks of Beachamwell we see trees everywhere, even in our relatively lightly treed (is that a word?) area. Inevitably we sometimes overlook them.

Hawthorn, Beachamwell Fen

Hawthorn, Beachamwell Fen

Yet our affection for trees is firmly rooted in the national psyche, and reflected in the place of the tree in our cultural history – especially poetry, song and folktale. And emotion soon erupts when the chainsaw threatens. Just try chopping down a tree or two in Sheffield and see what happens.

Arboreal anxiety
Increasingly we are worried about our trees and woodlands. The terrible toll taken by Dutch elm disease has been followed by a string of further epidemics, most disturbingly ash chalara. There is also a widely shared belief that our woods have been steadily disappearing over recent decades, either replanted with alien conifers or destroyed entirely in order to make way for farmland or development.

A complex history
Trees in England: Management and disease since 1600 is a new book which examines the present state of our trees and sets it against a richly detailed survey of English arboriculture over the last four centuries.

Remains of a 19th century pine line, Bridleway 2 (north of The Lodge)

Remains of a 19th century pine line, Bridleway 2 (north of The Lodge)

Co-author Tom Williamson is Professor of Landscape History at the University of East Anglia. He has written widely on landscape archaeology, agricultural history, and the history of landscape design. His fellow authors are Gerry Barnes, who served as Head of Environment at Norfolk County Council, and is now a researcher at the University of East Anglia, and Toby Pillatt who is a Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield with a particular interest in human relationships with the natural world. Their book suggest that the recent history of trees and woods in England is more complex and less negative than we often assume and any narrative of decline and loss is overly simplistic.

More species, more management
The authors argue that the numbers of trees and the extent and character of woodland have been in a state of flux for centuries. Research leaves no doubt, moreover, that arboreal ill health is nothing new. Levels of disease are certainly increasing but this is as much a consequence of changes in the way we treat trees – especially the decline in intensive management which has occurred over the last century and a half – as it is of the arrival of new diseases. And man, not nature, has shaped the essential character of rural tree populations, ensuring their dominance by just a few indigenous species and thus rendering them peculiarly vulnerable to invasive pests and diseases. The messages from history are clear: we can and should plant our landscape with a wider palette, providing greater resilience in the face of future pathogens; and the most ‘unnatural’ and rigorously managed tree populations are also the healthiest.

trees in england coverTrees in England: Management and disease since 1600
University of Hertfordshire press

ISBN: 978-1-909291-96-6  Price: £16.99 Published: Nov 2017

Described by the publisher as:
“Essential reading not only for landscape historians but also for natural scientists, foresters and all those interested in the future of the countryside.”

Beachamwell PRoWs – network update

Apologies for the break in transmission. Hoping for more regular communications in future!!

Since my last post here the trend in the signing and condition of rights of way in Beachamwell has definitely been for the better. The Warren Heritage Trail in Beachamwell  (more news on this to follow) not only has its own signs but probably even more significantly all junctions with the Trail have also been fullly signed and this has led to a great improvement at some points.

One of the new signs recently erected on the footpath network

One of the new signs recently erected on the Beachamwell Public Rights of Way network

Also earlier in the year the four remaining junctions of paths with metalled roads had their statutorily required fingerposts installed. Unfortunately a post at another junction – Bridleway 11 with the Swaffham Road (opposite the Cockley Cley road junction) has now mysteriously disappeared. Norfolk Highways have promised to re-place it.

Grass-cutting on paths in the summer by Highways has helped keep paths clear, and generally the network is passable throughout. Cross field paths are the most likely to suffer problems following cultivation or by growth of crops. Footpath 10 over Toot Hill is regularly ploughed out but usually re-instated (eventually). Just now the northern section has again been cultivated and the line of the path lost.

Southern section of Footpath 10 currently well-marked through crops

Southern section of Footpath 10 is currently well-marked through crops

Although the pig huts have now gone from Footpath 21 subsequent cultivation there means that the line of the footpath is still not walkable.

The one major obstruction is the longstanding (20 years to my knowledge) problem at Hall Barn involving Footpath 13 and Bridleway 19a.

One of the obstructions affecting Bridleway 19a and Footpath 13

One of the obstructions affecting Bridleway 19a and Footpath 13

Beachamwell Parish Council has been pushing  during the past year to get this matter resolved but the disappointing truth is that nothing much has happened on the ground. Re-organisation of departments at Norfolk County Council earlier this year probably hasn’t helped but recently more positive messages have been coming back from the Countryside Access department and so we live in hope of an eventual resolution.

If you know if any problems or issues with PRoWs in Beachamwell – or have any other comments – please use the ‘Leave a reply’ link on this page or send a message via the Contact page. Thanks.




One of the pleasures of walking in the countryside is the opportunity to see a range of wildlife – maybe mad March hares, a drift of Viper’s bugloss in high summer or a flurry of fieldfares in late autumn. Here in Breckland we are fortunate to have a wide range of flora and fauna, including some of the rarest in the UK – indeed one plant, prostrate perennial knawel, is found nowhere else in the world.
Prostrate perennial knawel - unique to Breckland

Prostrate perennial knawel – unique to Breckland

WildWalks, a new website launched by The Wildlife Trusts in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), is hoping to encourage us to record the animals and plants we come across when out walking. You can either follow one of the WildWalks already set up on the website, or create your own, and so help The Wildlife Trusts to build up a picture of how efforts to restore nature are affecting local wildlife. If you repeat the walk, and keep noting what you see, you will help track how wildlife changes and responds to conservation management over time.

This idea is part of The Living Landscapes initiative – a recovery plan for nature championed by The Wildlife Trusts since 2006. Recognising that we need to move beyond a relatively few isolated protected sites – small oases of wildlife-rich protected land, such as nature reserves – surrounded by an otherwise inhospitable landscape for many plants and animals, Living Landscapes aims for a more large scale and long-term approach to nature conservation. There are 150 Living Landscape schemes around the UK, and in each individual Wildlife Trusts  are working with partners, landowners and local communities to restore the natural landscape. For more information about Living Landscapes click here.

WildWalks are linked to Living Landscapes and play their part in monitoring the progress of the scheme. Beachamwell falls into two Living Landscape areas: The Brecks in the eastern half of our parish, and Wissey to the south-west. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never recorded any wildlife before, WildWalks is designed to allow recorders of all abilities to monitor the plants and animals which you feel comfortable with; the wider the range of species monitored, the better for assessing the impact of the conservation work.

More information on WildWalks from the Wildlife Trusts is available here

WildWalks leaflet
Click image to enlarge