Inquiry into Adisham woodland right to roam row

A row between a group of villagers and a stockbroker over the right to roam on woodland has led to a public inquiry.

Villagers in Adisham, Kent, want to use routes said to have been taken by pilgrims on their way to Canterbury in the Middle Ages.

But they have complained that obstacles including padlocked gates and barbed wire fences are blocking their way.

Estate owner Timothy Steel said the disputed areas were tracks, and he had not blocked footpaths or bridleways.

Villagers first complained to Kent County Council which ruled in their favour.

But Mr Steel appealed against the council decision sparking a three-day public inquiry, which will start at the local primary school on Wednesday.

David Leidig, 73, protest organiser and a retired businessman who lives in Adisham, said: "We have been banned from walking along any of these tracks that we have always walked along.

"In order to get a public right of way established, you need to have walked along for it for 20 years. We have walked along those woods for the past 60, 70, 80 years without any problems."

'Gates removed'

Mr Steel, the former vice chairman of stockbroker Cazenove, said: "I haven't blocked any footpaths or bridleways."

He said he had removed gates that had been put up to stop 4x4 vehicles entering the land without consent, and disturbing wildlife.

Natural England conservation adviser Philip Williams said access to the woods had previously been granted under the Forestry Commission's woodland grant scheme and approved by English Nature.

He also said there was a presumption in favour of providing public access which met local needs.

The rural area is said to have been on the route taken by pilgrims to Canterbury, which became the subject of 14th Century author Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

The Ileden to Oxenden woods site was made a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1985.

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