Spiders by post – that’s got to be cruel, hasn’t it?

In a bizarre news item, the BBC reports:

A man has admitted sending a rare venomous spider in a package to a colleague at work. Mahlon Hector, 22, of Leicester delivered the Mexican red-kneed tarantula in a box addressed to a Marks & Spencer branch in Leicestershire. Hector handed in his resignation after dropping off the parcel at the Fosse Park store.

Mexican red-kneed tarantula

Now that’s curious enough. Curiouser still, however:

A Leicestershire Police spokesman said: “The spider may also have suffered and we would have pursued the matter under animal cruelty legislation but it does not cover invertebrates.”

How crazy is that? Just look at that cute, furry spider and imagine it being shaken up in a box for some weird practical joke! What if it was one of those sweet little grey squirrels, or rats? People would be marching in the streets, probably led by Sir Paul McCartney. Well, the spider was probably OK, but the Ranger is very fond of spiders, and was startled to learn that there’s no way in law to be cruel to invertebrates. Perhaps there’s room for one more pressure group? No more flyswats! Ban the beer-trap! Calamari and prawns will be off the menu when the Invertebrate Cruelty Act is finally passed…

First published 2006. Republished with corrections 2013.

Is there a legal right to collect firewood?

Round about this time of year The Ranger always gets a query or two about firewood. There’s the idea going around, rather conveniently, that there is a legal right for anyone to take fallen wood for firewood.

Alder logs cut in a woodland


A typical enquiry was this one, from Ranger reader Graham:

I understand that common folk such as myself were given the right to collect firewood for personal use from common land as part of the great Magna Carta. Or have these rights gradually disappeared as land has been ‘stolen’ by the landed gentry?

So, is he right?

Actually, no. There is no general right in English law to collect wood for any purpose. In simple terms, all wood belongs to somebody, normally the person who owns the tree it grew on. You can’t lawfully take it away without their permission. It’s as simple as that. The fact that plenty of people do help themselves to fallen wood doesn’t make it legally right that they do so.

It’s a very practical way of getting rid of surplus wood, as any ranger or forester knows. If someone asks you for your employers’ wood, you have to refuse. But if you haven’t been told to bring back┬áthe firewood,┬áthen rather than sweat and gather all your logs up into the trailer and lug them back to the depot, just pile them neatly by the side of the path. Next morning when you return to the worksite they will have mysteriously evaporated. Very convenient, but not in any way a legal right.

Continue reading Is there a legal right to collect firewood?

Village Greens: the Oxfordshire ‘Trap Grounds’ case is decided at last

This one’s complicated but do try to keep up. Land can be registered as a town or village green if it has been used by local people for’lawful sports and pastimes’ (ie informal recreation) for 20 years freely and openly. What this means has until now been less clear but it certainly makes it harder for a developer to build on a bit of land if this status can be proven. Sadly, the law behind this is a right tangle, and the Ranger has had many dealings with it which don’t really give him much confidence in it. Recently, the House of Lords ruled on a bit of this law and clarified one crucial part of this whole mess. Lots of people have been waiting for this ruling for months or even years; the original application dates back to 2002. The ruling concerned a bit of land in Oxfordshire called the ‘trap grounds’. However it is relevant to land throughout England.

Local people on the Trap GroundsLocal people on the Trap Grounds

In short, the previous (Appeal Court) ruling held that if somebody applied to register a village green, all a disgruntled landowner had to do to defeat the application was to fence off the land and keep people out in the period after the application had been made but before it was decided. So almost any such claim could be defeated very easily, regardless of whether or not local people had been using the land for lawful sports and pastimes in the past. The recent ruling changes this and says that the use of the land has to be up until the application, not necessarily up until the decision. So nothing the landowner does to exclude people after he finds out that an application has been made will necessarily affect the application. A number of other interesting matters are addressed in the judgement. The issue of what you can and cannot do on a new village green is considered at last, and it is suggested that

…land registered as a town or village green can be used generally for sports and pastimes.

The judgement also clarified the application of a Victorian statute (Section 29 of the Commons Act 1876) which says:

An encroachment on or inclosure of a town or village green, also any erection thereon or disturbance or interference with or occupation of the soil thereof which is made otherwise than with a view to the better enjoyment of such town or village green or recreation ground, shall be deemed to be a public nuisance…

This statute is now clearly applicable to newly created village greens – a point of great significance for potential developers. So, this means that it might be easier to claim Village Greens, and then keep them. However, the Ranger finds the system still unjust. There is still no real duty or even expectation that anyone would manage or maintain such places. It is still possible for an applicant to use the process to frustrate or at least seriously delay legitimate development proposals – similarly, it seems to encourage landowners to prevent such customary use of their land at all costs, rather than consider ways of accommodating it, even if new development occurs. Uniquely amongst the legislation he is required to administer, the Ranger believes that the entire Village Green statutory process is a red herring that confuses and misleads both those objecting to planning applications and those seeking to gain consent to develop land. It is so complex and flawed that the whole thing should be swept away and new purpose-made primary legislation should take its place.

How dare trees ‘self-seed’ themselves?

What is it with people and ‘self-seeded’ trees? If you read this newspaper article you’ll read of a very common situation across the country, this time in Middlesborough. It will have happened somewhere near you, too. A bit of land is threatened with development. It has trees on it. Some people want to keep the trees. Others prefer development. Conflict ensues; arguments rage one way or another. In this particular case the land has some trees on it of which the pro-development lobby says:

…there is no record of any official planting of trees on the site and they have “self- seeded”

This apparantly means to them that the trees are of less value than if somebody had planted them, let alone somebody ‘official’, which would presumably have made them even better. The anti-development lobby hits back with this:

They say the trees are self-seeded but they are in rows. It’s uncertain who planted them but who has ever heard of self-seeded silver birch growing in rows?

So they, too, think that if somebody has planted the trees they might be more worthy of protection. Both parties in this particular debate are quite wrong. This concept is quite widespread. The Ranger encounters the misapprehension regularly in his work. But he believes that it’s actually completely back-to-front. Self-seeded trees (or ‘natural regeneration’ as we like to call them) are actually more valuable than planted ones. Yes, much more! Why is this? Here’s why.

Common Ground
  • Self-seeded plants are likely to be more robust, having grown up resistant to the local weather and wildlife, appropriate for the soil, and with any weaklings already selected out by natural selection.
  • Self-seeded plants are free! How much more sustainable than that can you get?
  • Naturally grown plants are more pleasing to the eye, being different shapes, sizes ages and colours and not a uniform crop.

So next time you encounter somebody decrying trees as ‘merely self-seeded’, stop and think. What do they really mean by this? Are they perpetrating an injustice on our tenacious trees? What makes us think that we can do better than the trees left to themselves?