Stanley Johnson in bitter war of words with neighbour over fences and outdoor pigs

Helena Horton
·5-min read
Stanley Johnson at Exmoor National Park, where fencing and grass grazing has been installed  - Dale Cherry
Stanley Johnson at Exmoor National Park, where fencing and grass grazing has been installed - Dale Cherry

From his study in the sleepy, rolling hills of Exmoor, Stanley Johnson looks on to a small piece of fenced off farmland. 

But what should be a pleasant view has become a source of anger for the Prime Minister's father, because he believes the fences were originally put up without the correct permission – a claim denied by the current owner of the land.

The row is now so furious that the Exmoor National Park is investigating and Mr Johnson has been accused of “never having farmed a day in his life” and even “disliking outdoor pigs”.

The 127 acre plot at the centre of the dispute used to be common land. When erecting fences on land which is, or used to be, a common, the Secretary of State for the Environment must be asked for permission.

Solicitors from the Exmoor National Park are currently ascertaining whether this permission was either sought or granted.

Mr Johnson told The Telegraph how the view from the window is simply a hill, bare of trees, and covered in grass and livestock, and it should instead be opened up to the public.

The 80-year-old believes the land, which is now up for sale, should be rewilded with trees and not used for farming.

But Mark Andrews, who is selling the land, pictured below, fears the row may "make it difficult" to attract potential buyers if they are forced to remove the fences.

The land up for sale at Winsford, Exmoor
The land up for sale at Winsford, Exmoor

The hill by Mr Johnson's Exmoor estate was registered as a common under the 1965 registration act. However, in 1975 the former owner of Mr Andrews' farm erected fencing around it after buying the plot, and allowed a farmer to graze their livestock on it.

Mr Johnson said: “Now we have a situation where it's been put on the market, this land, which has been ploughed, fenced and is now nothing like it was, it’s been put on the market at a time when the world has changed.

"I would like to see all the fences come down, I would like to see the woodland area extended, I would like to see gorse and heather come back on the top land.

"This really is a major issue for conservation, if we can't realise that we still have it in our power to repair the mistakes of the past then it's a really sad thing. We really have an opportunity to do so.”

He claimed the land is being used to intensively farm sheep and pigs, and said he would like a conservationist to buy it and remove most of the livestock.

However, Mr Andrews furiously denies the fences were put up without due process, adding that most of the fencing was put up by the former owner of the land, who is now dead.

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He said: “The fencing is not illegal, it was put up by the former owners of the farm decades before we [purchased] it in 2008. In fact records that go back as far as 1946 show that [it] was already enclosed by fencing.

“We have not cut down a single tree on it since we owned it.

“With regard to intensive farming if this ever occurred it was before we owned our farm. 

"There are no livestock sheds on it and we have never even fertilised the land. There were some outdoor pigs that were kept on a patch of the land a few years ago, does Stanley Johnson have a problem with outdoor pigs? Sounds like he does.”

Mr Andrews added: “Stanley Johnson knows nothing about farming and has never done a day’s real farming in his life. His petulant rant just goes to show what a truly unpleasant character he is”.

But Mr Johnson, pictured below, hit back: “As for whether I have done a day's work on the farm, I can only say that my parents came to Exmoor as hill-farmers in 1951 and I certainly remember long days spent over the intervening decades haymaking, dipping, docking, and even – at my father's insistence – replacing the divots after the hunt had galloped through the meadows.”

Stanley Johnson stands on a truck on his estate - Dale Cherry
Stanley Johnson stands on a truck on his estate - Dale Cherry

However, the fencing issue does not seem to be cut-and-dry. Sarah Bryan, the chief executive of Exmoor National Park, has called in solicitors to examine whether the land should be fenced.

She told The Telegraph: "We are looking into it, it is currently with our solicitors. So they are going back to the records to find out what happened.”

The park authority chief said that she would like the new owner to manage the land for wildlife, by planting more trees.

Mrs Bryan added: "We would be delighted to see it managed for nature and landscape. I have been involved with this for quite a long time, in the late 90s we put a big bid in to create woodland on site. On the back of that [the park] decided to create woodland on our own land which is next door to the common, [the park has] about 50 acres next to that.

“It's potentially a fantastic site in terms of landscape restoration. It's a shame it was ploughed and agriculturally improved, I'd like to think it couldn't happen now and it's really sad that it did."

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