A four-mile fence in the Brecon Beacons has divided opinion. Objectors call it an eyesore that impedes public access; supporters say it aids habitat management and will actually make long-term access easier. This debate might go down to the wire.
The Open Spaces Society (OSS), a leading pressure-group for the protection of common land, has objected to an application from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA) to retain the fence, which crosses open country in the heart of the national park.
The fence runs from just south of Beacons Reservoir, at the junction of the A470 and A4059, south west for four miles to the northern end of the Hepste valley. It was erected on common land as an emergency measure during the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001 and it should have been removed by 2006, say the OSS. They point out that in 2002 then Environment minister Sue Essex had said: 'The firm intention is that the fences are to remain only for as long as they are required and definitely no longer than five years'.
In 2005 the park authority applied to the environment minister for retrospective consent for works on common land, under section 194 of the Law of Property Act 1925. The minister refused this in 2008, but to date the authority has failed to remove the fence and has instead reapplied to the Welsh Government for permission to keep it.
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the OSS, says:
'We are dismayed that the national park authority persists in trying to get consent for this ugly, unlawful fence. It has remained in place for 11 years, for many of them unlawfully. It's an eyesore in this magnificent landscape and an impediment to public access.'
'Nothing has changed since the Welsh minister refused consent in 2008, on grounds which included the fact that the fence is a barrier to public access.'
'The national park authority argues that the fence is necessary to manage the land. We say that alternative solutions should be found which are in keeping with the wonderful landscape and valuable public access of the area.'
However the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority is not sitting on the fence on this issue, and has today issued a response to the OSS complaint.
Samantha Games, PR Officer for the BBNPA told us:
'Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has worked closely with the Manor Penderyn Commoner's Association, with the support of other local organisations and the local communities, to submit an S194 application to the Welsh Government to retain the fence at the Manor Mawr Common.'
'The fence will be retained to separate livestock between neighbouring commons and to provide a definable area for managing livestock. It will also help the National Park Authority fulfill its duty in carrying out habitat management actions to improve and conserve the biodiversity, historic environment, access and grazing quality of the common. Large parts of the common are very tussocky and difficult to walk and the retention of the fence will help us implement management actions to make wider public access easier in the longer term.'
'We are aware that the Open Spaces Society has its own views on the fence, however, there are not any public rights of way affected by the proposal and no evidence has been submitted that access is materially impeded for members of the public. With six habitats of principal importance to Wales (under the NERC Act) standing to directly benefit as a consequence of improved management on this common, we believe that the benefits of retaining the fence far outweigh those supporting its removal.'