Howe Court, once part of a much larger estate owned by farmer
Hughie Batchelor, has been sold to the Woodland Trust! It
will be remembered that Mr Batchelor twice went to prison for
felling large numbers of trees that were the subject of tree
preservation orders. The damage he caused to his land on the
North Downs was almost as great as that caused by the Great Storm
of 1987. Not only were trees destroyed but many paths,
including headland paths and part of the Pilgrims' Way, on the
estates at Hollingbourne, Swanley and Crockenhill, were ploughed
up, with a complete disregard for the law, and waymarks and
finger-posts mysteriously disappeared.
The Batchelor estates eventually went into receivership and were
sold off. Now, the 570 acres of Howe Court near Maidstone,
have been acquired by the Woodland Trust with help from the National
Lottery Heritage Fund.
The Trust aims to replant 390 acres with broad-leaved native
trees, and to convert the remaining arable land to grazing, with
hedges being restored, as a landmark project for its 25th
Anniversary year. Walkers, riders and anyone with a love for
the countryside will be delighted that this section of the North
Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will once more be managed
for the benefit of the public.
It is very encouraging to know that, at long last, farmers are
generally observing the law relating to ploughing and cropping on
public rights-of-way. A small number fail to do so and KCC
officers have to spend time checking and chasing up up this hard
core of offenders.
To deal with this problem the authority has introduced a shorter conciliation
procedure. Since 1992 KCC has gone to court on 48 separate occasions on
RoW cases. Many actions cover more than one path and only 3 cases have
been lost. Up to the Spring of 1997 the courts fined farmers a total of
£9925 together with costs awarded to the KCC of £8000. The level of
fines - currently in the order of £300 to £500 per path - is increasing as
Magistrates become more aware of the problems caused by these offences.