The DIO have repeatedly argued that the “Ash Range Complex” which they have permanently closed public access to represents a mere 12% of the total ranges. The nearest open gates, that give access to the remaining 88% are only a 1 mile walk away.
For most this is fine and merely an inconvenience but for those who have mobility issues the route to the nearest open gate is to hazardous to travel. The DIO claim they have done work to open up these paths. What this actually means is they have cut back the vegetation (which is growing back again) but done nothing to increase the width or quality of the path which in some places consist of a flat portion only 40cm wide.
The end result, for those with mobility issues, is that the 12% closure means access to the ranges has been completely cut off. Heather Johnson is one such affected local resident, having lived in the area for many years, whom the DIO had made access easier for her, only to remove this at the start of lockdown. Heather kindly agreed to tell her story in her own words.
My name is Heather Johnson and I have lived in Ash Vale for 52 years. We now live in our third house in the village and like our present house, our previous two had easy access to the Ranges. We have always enjoyed our walks on the Ranges, even before we had dogs! The Range is a very special place and loved and enjoyed by most of the population in the area.
A few years ago, a severe back problem reduced my ability to walk, and my walking on the Ranges gradually reduced until I was unable to go for a walk anymore. At that time, I got a lovely tough mobility scooter, but had to go down to the road opposite the doctors so that we could wiggle the scooter under the bar, which was not easy. So I wrote to the MOD asking if the gate closest to us (the one by the house on Enfield Road called Ivanhoe) could be changed from a wooden kiss gate to one that opened, so that I could access the Ranges. Much to my delight and surprise they said they would and a representative came out and measured up our gate and very quickly installed a gate that, with the use of a radar key, could swing open wide enough for me to get onto the Ranges on my scooter. I was over the moon then and stayed that way until the MOD suddenly decided to lock the gates just after Lockdown began. I, and I imagine other people in my position or with limited mobility, was devastated! The gates that are open and closest to us are far too far away to get to BEFORE starting our ‘walk’. So, although we are told that we have only lost 12% of the area, for people like me it is actually 100% of the area that is most accessible to us. My only alternative is the perimeter path, but it is full of tree roots, which is not only uncomfortable, but in places very dangerous as I could easily tip. So not one I pursue often. It really is very depressing as I cannot go out with our dogs and I miss this terribly.
I have written several letters to various bodies, but like others, up till now had been unable to get the address of the person responsible. I have just been given and address for the DIO, so will get penning!
I have registered that I would be happy to attend a demonstration. I would be more than happy to join a peaceful trespass, but wouldn’t be able to climb over the gate! I urge as many people as possible to campaign for the re-opening of the Ranges. It is the only way we stand any chance at all of getting any access back. If you are not prepared to fight, then you will have to be prepared to lose it! I refer you to what happened on Kinder Scout!