In England today there exist nearly 120,000 miles of public footpath – half what it was 100 years ago and amounting to just 8% of the land in the country. Of England’s 42,000 miles of rivers, we have access to just 3%.
The enclosure of common land, and the exclusion of the people who lived upon it, was a violent process that began almost a thousand years ago, and reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries. This ‘accumulation by dispossession’, as David Harvey has put it, was frequently met with rebellion, but nonetheless continues to shape the landscape around us today.
The story of the loss of the commons and the emergence of private property is not just of historical interest. Today a third of Britain is still owned by the aristocracy, and the rights of the land owner to do what they please with their land are paramount. Property remains inextricably linked to power.
We’re joined on the show this month by Nick Hayes, author of The Book of Trespass: Crossing the Lines that Divide Us (2020), and a co-founder of the Right to Roam campaign. We discuss the history of the commons and enclosure, and delve into the power of trespassing as a form of direct action.
Find out more about the campaign: righttoroam.org.uk
Artwork by Nick Hayes