The background to this was reported to members at the AGM. The Society and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust are involved in a dispute with a neighbouring landowner. The neighbouring landowner with whom the dispute arises has made an application to the Land Registry in which he claims a possessory title to strips of land on the South and East of Middle Amble Marsh – that is to say, against the River Amble and against the Northern boundary of Walmsley Sanctuary. One of these strips lies between the Marsh as shown on our Land Registry title and the position where the hide was erected.
Disputes of this kind are referred to the First Tier Tribunal – a court in other words – and that has occurred here.
The board have been very well aware throughout that, within reason, settlement would be far more attractive than spending a lot more money on running the case through to a Court hearing, but settlement of course depends on both parties being willing to settle. At the time of the AGM both sides had agreed to a mediation meeting to be arranged by the Tribunal. Before that stage was reached the Trust and Society had tried to settle the matter by direct “without prejudice” proposals to the claimant, but the claimant rejected those proposals and made no counter-proposals. He did, however, agree to the mediation, at which an experienced mediator attempted to move the parties towards settlement of their differences. There is a duty of confidentiality over the proposals offered in the mediation meeting, but I am able to say that all proposals offered by the two organisations via the mediator were rejected and no counter-proposals have been made, either at the mediation or subsequently.
Having engaged in the unsuccessful mediation – which in itself added considerably to the ever-increasing legal charges – the board have had to take a decision based on the assumption that there is no realistic possibility of a settlement, and that going to trial or discontinuing the case are the only options available.
The Society’s half of the legal costs is already in the region of £22,000 and rising. The Tribunal case, having been paused pending the mediation, is as yet only in its early stages. The Society does not have large cash reserves and continuing to trial could exhaust the Society’s funds. Even if unlimited funds were available, the board could not justify the expense of continuing to trial as being proportionate to the value and importance of the strips of land in dispute. Your board have therefore taken the decision to discontinue the Society’s involvement in the Court case.
The Cornwall Wildlife Trust, as joint respondents to the Court case, have taken the same decision.
In the light of this the hide and the bridge leading to it have been dismantled and laid aside. This is with a view to its being re-erected in a different position, off the disputed strips, subject to a final decision of the Society and the Trust as to that position, and the grant of a new planning permission.
Greg Adams, May 2019