Hundreds protest against Lord Bathurst's new fees for Cirencester Park

  • Lord Bathurst, who owns Cirencester Park, told ITV West Country the protesters' point was "very well made"

Hundreds joined a mass trespass to protest against new charges for the public to use Cirencester Park, one of the country’s largest open green spaces.

Cirencester Park, in the Cotswolds, spans more than 3,000 acres and has been free for members of the public to use for 326 years.

But Lord Bathurst, whose family has owned the land since 1695, says fees must now be introduced to cover the cost of maintaining the land and new facilities.

Adults are now charged £4, while those living in Cirencester or in nearby villages can pay a £10 deposit to access the park indefinitely.

Leigh Chapman joins the protest Credit: centre

On Sunday, more than 500 residents and protesters from across the West Country walked through Cirencester Park’s main gates on Cecily Hill – which were open – as part of a mass trespass.

They chanted “Whose park? Our park”, with some holding placards reading “Right to roam”.

Other signs included one reading: “The peasants are revolting” and “Nature should be for everyone, not just for those that can afford it”.

John Moses, organiser of campaign group Right To Roam, said the park land was bought by Benjamin Bathurst with profits from the transatlantic slave trade.

Mr Moses said a price had been already paid for the park over the years, including by the slave trade, lost local transport links, and government agricultural subsidies.

The park spans more than 3,000 acres and has been free to access for members of the public for 326 years Credit: Claire Hayhurst/PA

“All that has been asked in return for these multiple extractions is that the park remain what it has always been – a community space, an open space, a free space available to everyone,” he said.

“And now, even that must pay. None of us are responsible for our ancestors, the Bathursts are not responsible for theirs.

“But you cannot profit from a legacy while refusing responsibility for its origin. Nor is it the responsibility of a democratic society to continue bearing its cost.

“Yet here we are, expected to pay once again. Pay in cash just to enter, pay in dignity, expected to carry a photo ID just to go for a stroll, to pay in joy as our way to the wider countryside is shut away, and pay in safety as commuter routes are forced on to roads, your kids unable to wander to school without remembering the household pass.

“Our simple message to the Bathurst Estate is this: If the Bathurst Estate cannot continue to meet its obligations to the park, and there is no room in their annual accounts for its maintenance, then fine, we accept, we’ll take it.

“Please, by all means, give it back.”

Resident David Watts, who regularly uses the park for exercise, said local people “just want to walk in the countryside free of charge”.

Mr Watts said there were historical rights of way through the park, with the main turnpike going up the main path towards the Gloucestershire town of Stroud – until it was bought by the Bathurst family.

“People say, isn’t it reasonable to ask people to make a small contribution, the bins have to be empty and the grass has to be cut, all of that costs money,” he added.

“Some people say it’s reasonable and it’s not a lot of money. Well for me, it’s not really about money. It’s about the freedom to walk in the countryside.

“But if we want to talk about money, let’s talk about the wider Bathurst enterprise, which is built out of the slave trade.

Cirencester Park is one of the country’s largest open green spaces Credit: Claire Hayhurst/PA

“It is enormously wealthy. It is many different companies, all of which have tens of millions of pounds to them.

“There’s 15,000 acres of land, properties, farms, property development, holiday cottages, cafes, car parks, there’s even a heated dog wash.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to make money without charging people to walk in this park.”

The Bathurst Estate has owned the land since 1695 Credit: Claire Hayhurst/PA

Leigh Chapman, 76, who has lived in Cirencester for 50 years, brought a sign reading “The peasants are revolting” to the protest.

“The park has fond memories for people who live here – walks with the family, the kids and the dog.

“It is so close to the town centre and then it is Bathurst land for about five miles,” he said.

Lord Bathurst, who stood by a gate to watch protesters gather in the park on Sunday morning, said the charges are important to maintain the land.

He told ITV West Country: "They've got every right to come in and make their point and their point is very well made and is taken onboard.

“People don’t like change, I don’t like change, but unfortunately to keep the park running we have to have some change in here.

“It has changed enormously over the last 20-30 years and it will continue to evolve.

“People might find it unpopular to charge people for coming in, but for local people it is still free for people to come in – they can pay a £10 deposit.

“There are so many other places, National Trust properties, Westonbirt Arboretum, that we have to pay to go into.”

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