April 15, 2024

Hundreds of people are expected at a mass trespass of Cirencester Park in protest against the introduction of charges and electronic gates for pedestrians, joggers and cyclists.

Local people are fighting the charges, the first in 329 years since the landscaped parkland, part of the 6,300-hectare (15,500-acre) Bathurst Estate, was established beside the Cotswolds town.

The Right to Roam campaign is organising the trespass on 17 March – two days after the charges begin – with activities for children and speeches on the Bathurst family’s historic links to the slave trade.

David Watts, who lives nearby and often runs in the park, said: “Along with many other residents, I am really upset and disappointed about the new access restrictions and pay-walling of Cirencester Park. For many of us, Cecily Hill is not just an entrance to the park but a gateway to thousands of acres of English countryside which have been free to roam for centuries.”

Juliette Morton, who is planning to join the protest, said: “I lived in a little road at the end of the park and kind of grew up in the park. We had a tiny backyard so the park was where I spent my time – it was our playground, we climbed trees and played around in the stables and outhouses. It was the main green space we had access to as kids in the town.

“It’s part of the very fabric of people’s lives. If Covid showed us anything, it showed that we need access to green space. Taxpayers have been paying for the upkeep of that park for centuries. It’s ours already. I’m quite cross about it.”

With the installation of a ticket booth and electronic gates on the main entrances, visitors must pay £4 to enter the park, with annual passes costing £30. Local people can apply for a photo-card giving them free access for a deposit of £10.

Morton added: “It might sound ridiculous but I know people who live in the town who can’t afford the £10 deposit.”

According to campaigners, the Bathurst Estate has received millions of pounds in farm subsidies in recent years and the family fortunes ultimately rest on the slave trader Benjamin Bathurst, a deputy governor of the East India Company and the Royal Africa Company who purchased Cirencester Park in 1695.

Jon Moses of the Right to Roam campaign said: “In 1695, the 100,000 slaves traded by the Royal African Company paid an appalling price for the purchase of the Bathurst Estate. Their memory should be honoured with reparations, not new commercial ventures aimed at exploiting people going for a walk.

“These cases are an abrupt reminder how badly access reform is needed in England – and how much of the land inequality we confront today is rooted in the immoral acts of our past.”

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According to a statement from Lord Bathurst, the pass will support the restoration of the Broad Avenue and the maintenance of pathways, woodlands, grasslands and monuments in the park.

Bathurst said: “The physical and health benefits that people and their dogs get from the restorative powers of being in the natural environment of Cirencester Park is as important today as when the park was first established. We are delighted to continue to share Cirencester Park with the local community and visitors to the area.”

A spokesperson for the Bathurst Estate added: “The estate takes the safety of the park’s wildlife, visitors, staff and local residents seriously; we are in touch with Right to Roam about their plans with a view that any intended trespass is conducted with the same consideration.”

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