ANGRY villagers have gone into battle after Sussex Wildlife Trust announced plans to fence off Iping and Trotton Commons.
Campaign leaders Catherine Myres, Lucy Petrie and Pat Blunt collected nearly 150 names on a petition in just ten days and have now enlisted the help of their MP, Andrew Tyrie.
The trust wants to fence the common and graze cattle which it claims is a ‘centuries-old technique that benefits a wide variety of wildlife’.
It says despite current management, Iping Common ‘is still not in optimum condition for the rare heathland species for which it is nationally important’.
But horse riders, walkers and young families, have joined forces to oppose the move, saying they have had free access to the common all their lives.
The battle began when temporary trial fences were put up across footpaths to enclose grazing cattle,
At the same time, the wildlife trust put out a questionnaire asking how people wanted to see the common managed.
“Lots of us didn’t know about it,” said Lucy.
“We only found out towards the end of last year because we were in constant communication with the trust over the cattle escaping from their enclosures.”
The wildlife trust then held a meeting at Stedham Memorial Hall to explain the proposals.
“I went along and couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Pat Blunt.
“The trust has no interest in the people who live around and use the common daily and have done so for years.
“We are unimportant in the process – local people are the bottom of the order.
“They are more interested in beetles and butterflies, which all have their place, but not at the expense of the freedom of the people who are living around the common.”
“It’s the only open area left in the parish and if it’s going to be enclosed, we will have only restricted access,” said Mrs Petrie.
Catherine Myres, 43, was born and brought up close to the common, has ridden across it all her life and now rides there with her own children.
She believes that allowing entry to the common only through self-closing gates puts people at risk of injury.
“We believe the gates are dangerous, especially for young riders or mothers with their children.
“In fact the British Horse Society has said they should not be used routinely on public rights of way because of the growing number of reports of problems in getting through them and accidents experienced by horses and riders.”
Catherine added the trust expected riders, including children, to ride along a main road to reach the gates.
Campaigners say they believe the trust is breaching the Equality Act by discriminating against young, old and disabled users of the common who would find it more difficult to use it.
“The trust seems to have a very narrow criteria.
“They only want to protect a few rare species of birds at the expense of both other birds which simply pass through and all the people who use the common.”
The campaigners now want a meeting with the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s board of governors before they make their decision.
“We do not believe their officers will put across our views in an unbiased way,” said Catherine.
The public consultation ends on February 24.
After that trustees will decide whether to apply for planning permission to carry out the fencing.