Harpenden research centre closes off public access to popular bluebell woods

THE UK’s largest agricultural research centre, based in Harpenden, has sought to reassure local people that a popular path through bluebell woods on its estate may reopen to the public, but only in spring while the flowers are blooming.

Concerned resident Chris Glover contacted the Herts Advertiser after discovering that the bluebell woods through which he has regularly walked his dog, near former railway route the Nickey Line, has recently been fenced off to prevent public entry.

The woods are part of the Rothamsted Research Centre’s estate, which has confirmed the beauty spot’s recent closure after local users said a sign had gone up saying it was private land and there was no public access.

Chris said: “There has been a path through them for years used by many people. Perhaps it is one of the woods to be sold off by the government so they are now stopping access to the public.

“Lots of people walk through there – loads of families walk there, with no damage caused at all. There is absolutely no reason to close it. If someone tripped over I don’t think they would sue the landowner.”

However a spokeswoman for Rothamsted Research said: “There is no intention to sell this.

“Recognising the public interest in this area we are considering ways in which this wood might be reopened on a trial basis during the bluebell flowering time.”

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She said she believed residents were referring to Knott Wood, which is part of the prominent research centre’s estate. The public bridleway runs to the northeast side of the wood.

The spokeswoman went on: “The woods are private with no public rights of way running through them but the fencing and hedging are in poor condition.

“As part of a constant review of the estate it has been pointed out that it is our responsibility not to prevent access [through Rothamsted] as any accident in the wood would be our responsibility if fences are inadequate.

“This is especially true because these trees are not regularly surveyed. The farm staff have recently fenced off holes in the boundary hedge by hedgelaying some of the trees into the gaps. Over recent years a large number of areas have been worn down by new foot and cycle paths appearing.”

But Chris disputed her comments and said the only damage caused has been by people “hacking trees down”.

He said: “They have just chopped lots of stuff down to make way for the hedge.”

He questioned the point of re-opening the woods during the bluebells’ flowering time only.

He added: “That is all very well but they should keep it open for the entire year. They have spent money on something that didn’t need to be done. They have taken away from everyone.”