Kinder Scout, the old battleground of ramblers' rights, to be fenced off

Sheep-proof barrier to be erected at scene of 1932 Mass Trespass in Peak District

• Conservationists warn of threat to national parks

Parts of the greatest shrine in the fight for free access to the countryside are in line to be fenced off again – but only temporarily – to tackle the effects of two centuries of pollution and over-grazing.

A sheep-proof barrier with access points for walkers is being proposed by the National Trust on Kinder Scout in the Peak District to allow new cottongrass, heather and bilberry plants to take root on the eroded plateau.

The plans for the vast moorland still depend on a public consultation and careful negotiations with ramblers. Kinder was the scene of the 1932 Mass Trespass which broke a long stalemate over access and led in time to Britain's national parks, long distance trails and finally the 2004 Right to Roam Act.

The trust wants to press on with a five year, £2.5m restoration of the plateau, but is still in talks with hill farmers about a possible "weekly shepherding" system for controlling grazing. This has made little progress, however, because of foot-and-mouth preventative measures and the area's complicated pattern of flock ownership and land tenancies.

Terry Howard, chair of the Kinder Advisory Group which brings interest groups together, said: "While there is an ongoing search for other options, we may have to accept the need for a fence if no other solution is sufficient. It's important to know that walkers would still have access, attempts will be made to minimise the visual intrusion and the fence would only be temporary until such a time that Kinder flourishes again. This would be a short-term price to pay for the long-term sustainability of Kinder Scout."

The trust plans to restore the plateau's four square miles with a mixture of blocking drainage gullies, brash spreading, sowing and planting. The work would revive patches worn bare by grazing and further damaged by past pollution from surrounding cities including Manchester and Sheffield.

The trust's general manager for the Peak District, Mike Innerdale, said: "Kinder Scout is one of our most iconic landscapes because of its vast open moorland, the diversity of wildlife that calls it home and the world famous mass trespass. But it is also one of the most damaged areas of moorland in the United Kingdom.

"Its future is in jeopardy as a result of catastrophic wildfires, a long history of overgrazing, air pollution and the impact of people. We need to take action now with our partners, to save Kinder for future generations."

Kinder's eerie landscape of peat hags, blocks of dark soil standing more than human height above boggy rifts, also includes dramatic rock formations such as the Kinder Downfall. Its dramatic history includes a period in the mid-1970s when peat burned underground for more than a year, wrapping walkers on the surface crust in sweet-smelling smoke.

Kinder's 2,087ft summit was chosen for the trespass because of activists' frustration at the lack of progress by moderate rambling leaders towards a right to roam. The communist-inspired British Workers' Sport Federation organised 400 walkers from Lancashire, led by the inspirational Benny Rothman, while a similar party set out from Sheffield to meet on the plateau summit.

A Manchester Guardian reporter walked with the Lancashire party, noting the event's mixture of fisticuffs and decorous stops for cups of tea, as well as the final procession back to Hayfield, singing the Red Flag behind the local police inspector in a "baby" Austin car.

"There will be plenty of bruises carefully nursed in Gorton and other parts of Manchester tonight," he wrote, adding that local villagers, many of whom worked for the moors' landowners, were "jubilant" and "crowded every door and window to watch the police triumph" when six men were arrested.

But public opinion swung the other way, conclusively, when the six were jailed for up to six months by a court in Derby in spite of evidence clearly showing that violence had been instigated by the keepers. The jury consisted of two brigadier-generals, three colonels, two majors, three captains and two aldermen, who had to be warned by the judge against prejudice at some of the accused's "strange-sounding names" – referring to the Jewish Rothman, Nussbaum and Clyne.

The trust, which owns most but not all of the plateau, said that open access would remain within any fence, with "multiple access points" for walkers. The consultation will emphasise the relatively-recent interest in peat moorland's value for carbon capture and storage, as well as the importance of restoration in absorbing rainfall and helping to prevent floods and pollution of the Peak's many reservoirs.

Innderdale said: "Through the consultation we want people to get involved, including telling us where they think the fence line should be and where they would like to see the access points." The proposed line runs on the north side of Kinder from Park Hall Moor to Fair Brook, on the eastern boundary from Fairbrook to Blackden Brook and then possibly across the plateau to Grindsbrook. The western and southern edge of the moor is already stock-proofed by existing fences and walls.

The £2.5m cost includes funding from the Biffa Awards Scheme, United Utilities and Natural England's environmental stewardship funds as well as the trust itself. The proposal follows a successful fencing initiative on neighbouring Bleaklow in the Dark Peak. New planting there has flourished through the temporary exclusion of sheep by the Moors for the Future partnership of landowners, farmers and amenity bodies including the trust.

The birth of Britain's National Parks

It took another 17 years from the Kinder Scout trespass before the post-war Labour government passed the Access to the Countryside Act in 1949 which set up the mechanism for the creation of Britain's national parks. The first to be designated was the Peak District in 1951, which included access agreements with landlords to the battlefields of Kinder Scout and Bleaklow. The country's first national trail, the Pennine Way, designated across the plateau in 1965. Walks in the area now include a Trespass Trail, taking in the spot on Kinder where hats were passed round to collect money for possible fines, and Hayfield's former police station.

Despite this legislation, the public was barred from large areas of moorland until the passing of the Countryside Rights of Way Act in 2000 and its final implementation in 2005.

Benny Rothman, the man who had led the trespass died in 2002, aged 90, spending much of his retirement with family or on his allotment. But he remained a campaigner for access until the end, advising local parents from his wheelchair on how to keep a footpath open to give their children a convenient short cut to school.


Martin Wainwright

The GuardianTramp

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