Trespassing Dyson’s palatial land and decolonising the countryside

Trespass on Dyson's land

This article was corrected at 17:45 on 26 April.


We are all of this land. But we’ve been fenced off from it, told that we don’t belong here, and met with ‘KEEP OUT: PRIVATE PROPERTY’ signs. For many of us, the working class, and those brought up in cities without access to nature, the countryside feels alien.

Of course, whenever we do venture to the villages that dot the countryside, we get a sense that we don’t belong. We’re met with a distinct whiff of Tory, fox-hunting disgust for us.

This feeling of being unwelcome is magnified even more if you’re BPOC (Black or a Person of Colour) if you’re a Traveller, or if you have a disability.

Just 1% of the population owns half of the land in England. Land owners tolerate us, at best. They begrudgingly give us access to measly footpaths and bridleways that make up our legal public rights of way (that’s if these ways aren’t overgrown with nettles, or haven’t been planted over), and they expect us to be grateful.

In 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act gave us the pitiful right to roam on just 8% of England’s land, such as mountains, moors, and heathland. We’re still not legally allowed to access 92% of England’s land, or to swim in 97% of our rivers and waterways.

Read on...

So, on 24 April – the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932 – there were actions across the country.

Trespassing Dyson’s land

While people marched on Kinder Scout in their hundreds (more on that later), a lesser-known action was taking place close to Bristol. 50 people came face-to-face with billionaire James Dyson’s son when they trespassed his father’s massive 700-acre Dodington Estate, complete with its mansion and moat. Dyson, who has a net worth of £16.3 billion, owns over 30,000 acres of land in England. That’s more than the Queen.

The police were called onto the land, while security blocked bridges over the moat. Despite this, the activists managed to take a swim in the palatial lake, while others rowed a boat out onto it.

The activists struck up a conversation with Dyson’s son about unjust land ownership, but it’s unlikely that a man whose father topped the 2020 Sunday Times’ Rich List will listen. After all, James Dyson is a man who avoids inheritance tax, who sees nothing wrong in receiving millions of pounds of government farm subsidy payouts, and who wanted to turn a post-Brexit Britain into a low-tax version of Singapore.

Dyson's mansion
James Dyson’s mansion


Dyson trespass swim
Activists take a forbidden swim in Dyson’s lake

Kinder Scout

Meanwhile, in the Peak District, around 500 people hiked up Kinder Scout. Their action was a protest for our right to access land, but it was also much greater than that: it was a march to decolonise the countryside.

The mass action was led by BPOC groups, as well as the Right to Roam campaign. Haroon Mota, of Muslim Hikers, said:

Meanwhile, Anneka Deva said:

BPOC people make up just 2% of rural England

England’s countryside is overtly a rich and white playground. According to the Right to Roam campaign, in 2018:

BPOC communities made up just 2% of [the] rural population [of England], while the remaining 98% was white.

It also stated that:

Despite making up 13% of the UK population, Black People and People of Colour (BPOC) make up only 1% of visitors to national parks.

Is this any wonder, when BPOC people are more likely to experience racist abuse in rural areas than in the cities?

On top of this, the 8% of land that is legally accessible is often too remote to to get to, especially if you are one of the 40% of Black households who don’t have access to a car or van.

The trespasses will continue

The weekend’s actions took place following last year’s very successful mass-trespass in Brighton, when hundreds of people hiked on Pangdean Bottom, an area which has been out of bounds to the people since its public purchase by Brighton Council in 1924.

More trespasses are planned throughout the year. On 8 May, hundreds of people are expected to gather for a mass trespass on private land close to Totnes, while there’s another trespass planned on 14 May in Berkshire.

These actions are essential because the government just isn’t listening, nor does it care. On 20 April, it announced that it had quashed a review into the right to roam in England, and is refusing to publish any results. This government will do its utmost to protect the elites from the common masses.

The government and land owners would have us believe that the right to roam – to legally access land – is a privilege. On the contrary, it is the most basic of rights. When we do finally win our right to roam, we shouldn’t stop there: we should rise up together to dismantle this broken system, where 1% of the population owning half of the land is seen as normal.

This is what the government and elite land owners are afraid of. They’re worried that if we’re given some small freedoms, we might just realise that we’re caged.

Featured images via activists, with permission

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  • Show Comments
    1. Distribution of land and wealth in the world is unfair and unjust. There are no easy answers, however, a “one size fits all” does nothing to help. It’s true that large Estates and the wealthy claimed excess rights over land in the distant past and still do, however, in the last 100 years much Estate land has been sold on, often for housing. Smaller houses and gardens allowing many ‘ordinary’ people to own their own properties. Unfortunately these are often the very people who suffer claims of ‘ old so called ‘lost’ public rights of way. If only the pro access groups would recognise that claiming historic paths through someone’s now small garden ( or even living rooms in some cases) does not constitute ‘win’ in claiming back public rights of freedom to roam. It actually represents just another injustice for ‘ordinary’ homeowners who are easily picked off one by one by the corrupt system and who have not got the thousands of pounds needed to fight claims. The only people who still have the upper hand are those with a few hundred acres, large estates, MP’s and Lords with land. The wrong people too often become easy targets for claims by access groups such as Ramblers and the BHS. When it takes up to 50 years for a claim to be finally decided many people suffering the fall out from them are dead. Justice delayed is Justice denied.

    2. Your vision of a ‘property-owning democracy’ is entirely Tory in its origin and its outcomes. The reality is of an oligarchy in which a privileged few get to own the majority of the property, to enjoy unearned benefits as part of the rentier class (while vilifying the working class as lazy and unworthy of a living wage) and to pass on these properties to their sons and daughters. Housing is a right for all, to be owned in common not in private, and its use as a financial asset is deeply destructive to social bonds. Yet that is your vision.

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