Saturday, 6 August 2011

Britain is no longer a country for an indefatigable campaigner for 'open countryside' called Rodney Legg

Rodney Legg, radical campaigner for the environment and historian of Dorset has died at the age of 64 and surrounded by 80 of his friends, was buried in a wildflower meadow on on the brow of the hill overlooking the Dorset and Somerset countryside he loved, in a spot he had chosen a few weeks before he died.

His farewell ceremony, officiated by the Reverend Stephen Batty, took place in a barn where his friends sat on straw bales, while swallows flew in and out and began with a short profile of Rodney, calling him a :"monographer, a cutter of wires, a necessary irritant and a liberator of closed pathways".
After singing ‘I vow to thee my county’ his friends were invited to tell stories about him and his partner, Di, read about his first memories from his autobiography,‘Legg over Dorset’.

What you possibly didn't know about Rodney, that he :

* was born in Bournemouth and on leaving school at 16, got a job as reporter for
a newspaper in Essex and 4 years later, in 1968, returned to his native Dorset and founded 'Dorset County Magazine' which gave him a platform to express his, then 'radical', environmental views.

* as an adolescent in 1960's, disrupted Conservative and Labour Party Political Conferences, wrapped in a Union flag, shouting : “Empire Loyalists say this is the flag which stands for British loyalty — not the red flag of Communist tyranny” and “Empire Loyalists say Stand by the White Man in Rhodesia”.

* led the campaign to restore the army-occupied downland around the evacuated village of Tyneham in South Dorset to public access after it had been taken over for training purposes by the War Office in 1943 and never returned to its displaced inhabitants.

* as the fiery secretary of the disparate and mostly elderly, 'Tyneham Action Group' and after a long struggle, won 'weekend public access to 10 square miles of the Lulworth ranges and prevented the land from being ploughed or sold for development.

Rodney talking about the lost village of Tyneham :|

* joined the 'Open Spaces Society' at the age of 16, and served for 20 years as an 'ineffective' chairman, too close to the issues, diving into debate, creating division rather than harmony, making impetuous pronouncements in the 'name of the society' concerning matters outside its remit, like the 'disappearing genitals' of the Cerne Abbas chalk giant, obscured by unkempt grass.

* published 125 books, which he calculated filled six feet of shelf space, mostly about Dorset, its history and landscape and with the novelist John Fowles, transcribed and published John Aubrey's 300-year-old 'Monumenta Britannica'.

* helped to purchase 'Steep Holm island' in the Bristol Channel in 1976, in memory of his friend the broadcaster Kenneth Allsop and opened it to the public and was for 25 years its warden.

* persuaded the National Trust to open 'Max Gate', Thomas Hardy’s home at Dorchester, to the public in 1994 and believing that people should have access to all land, 'an access passport', was delighted when the 'Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000' enabled him to claim 640 acres of new access in Dorset and Somerset.

* knew every inch of his countryside and its history and was often out on the paths plying secateurs and wire-cutters as he cleared the route to be followed in his next walks book.

Kate Ashbrook, from the Open Spaces Society, said: "Rodney was an unusual but extremely effective campaigner and impossible to ignore" and "although he was a huge irritation to the National Trust for many years, he made a difference, persuading it to open up secret properties."

P.S. The old Dorset accent as recognised by Rodney :

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