Calm has been restored at Tweseldown racecourse in time for this week’s horse trials, which get under way today and run until Sunday (10-13 March), following two weeks of “direct action” by ramblers shut out of the site.
Dog walkers laid siege to the well-known Hampshire equestrian venue after manager Brynley Powell exercised his right to replace the broken perimeter fence, blocking tracks. The irate walkers repeatedly cut it to regain entry (prompting the calling of police) and mounted “vigilante” surveillance to stop ground staff rewiring the posts.
Following negotiations last week with local councillors and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), from whom British Eventing Ltd leases the site, Tweseldown will introduce “managed access”. The fence stays, with three lockable gates to provide access to the 12-furlong circuit.
Tweseldown has always been regarded as communal open space, but there are no statutory rights of way — access is the “gift” of the MoD and its lessees, under military bylaws, and as a racecourse it is exempt from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
Powell, an international eventing trainer, has lived near Tweseldown since childhood and began managing it in 2002, reinvesting £300,000 of its turnover on reparations and improvements. This includes an extensive programme of scrub clearance for English Nature, as it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The location has been under increased pressure from walkers due to car park closures on adjacent Army land and extensive housing development nearby. There has been £35,000 worth of vandalism, and dog fouling has hampered maintenance of the turf track. But for Powell, the final straw was hundreds of locals climbing through the fence at last month’s South Midlands point-to-point.
“I was sorry to inconvenience our considerate walkers, but a selfish minority forced us to take action. I even found someone practising golf on the turf track,” he said. “People don’t realise Tweseldown is funded by equestrian activity — they think it’s theirs as ratepayers.
“An acknowledgement that Tweseldown has the right to manage access is a major step in securing its commercial viability.”