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11 December 2003
Vixen Tor owner charged

The farmer who closed Dartmoor’s (England) Vixen Tor to the public has been charged with carrying out land improvements without an environmental impact assessment. Mary Alford, who owns the site at Merrivale, near Tavistock, Devon, will appear before Plymouth Magistrates in the New Year.
     Vixen Tor, nicknamed the Sphinx of Dartmoor, is a well known landmark and a popular destination for walkers and rock climbers. Although lying on private land, the previous owner had allowed public access to the weathered outcrop for more than 30 years. But earlier this year Mrs. Alford stopped access to the site. Following the closure a walker reported Mrs. Alford to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, alleging that fertiliser had been spread on the surrounding moorland. Mrs Alford was charged following a Defra investigation.
     Defra regards uncultivated land as a very precious resource: “If anybody wants to agriculturally intensify land, to basically change its use, they need to complete an environmental impact assessment. That would highlight any of the adverse effects. If (the change) is deemed unsustainable for whatever reason … it is possible that it would not be allowed to go ahead. When someone cultivates the land without completing an assessment they could be prosecuted. We are talking about the heritage of the countryside.” Defra has powers to insist that illegally improved land must be returned to its original condition.
     The Dartmoor National Park Authority has said that the case was between Mrs. Alford and Defra, and had nothing to do with the Authority. But: “The National Park Authority’s viewpoint is that we have been deeply disappointed by the withdrawal of public access to the Tor. We are looking forward to 2005 when public access will be resumed under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act."

Sources: BBC News, Western Daily Press (7/9 December 2003)

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