VILLAGERS are fighting for freedom after a former UKIP treasurer bought up vast swathes of beloved countryside and started fencing it off.

Residents in Dorchester-on-Thames were shocked when city lawyer Andrew Reid bought 303 acres of the 845-acre Bishop’s Court Farm estate for £4m for farming last year and started putting up barbed wire fences around fields where families have played and picnicked for generations.

The rolling patchwork of pastures, in the shadow of Wittenham Clumps hill on the banks of the Thames, includes the famous meadow by Day’s Lock where the World Pooh Sticks Championships were held for more than 30 years.

The previous owner of Bishop’s Court Farm, Anne Bowditch, had always been happy for villagers and visitors to tramp across her meadows, but she passed away in September 2015.

Mr Reid, a senior partner at RMPI solicitors, bought the property last year through a company called Vision Residences (Two) LLP.

The first many villagers knew about it was when spiked fences started shooting up across the fields in October.

Mr Reid then sent Oxfordshire County Council an official map of the entire estate, marking out exactly which paths were public rights of way, with the rest being private land.

That official declaration means the villagers now have exactly one year from the date it was submitted (November 2) to challenge the fences – and that is exactly what they are doing.

A group of residents, led by lawyer and mum-of-three Becky Waller, are preparing to apply to Oxfordshire County Council for two of Mr Reid’s fields – Day’s Lock Meadow and Dyke Hills – to be granted public Village Green status.

If they get can convince the council the land should be publicly accessible, it will mean villagers and visitors can picnic, play and even hold fetes there in perpetuity.

If they can’t, generations of tradition will be lost, they warn.

Mrs Waller, 49, who lives in Dorchester with her husband Martin and their three sons, said: “We won’t want to make this a personal thing but people have been really upset by this because this area of land has always been open.

“There have always been areas people saw as places to picnic and play games.

“What has happened feels enclosing and suffocating, not least because these fences have two lines of barbed wire on them.”

The villagers’ campaign has now been backed by the head of the national Open Spaces Society.

General secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “We deplore the mass of ugly fencing which has been festooned across the paths and green spaces in this beautiful landscape, and we welcome the campaign to record people’s long-held rights to enjoy these historic paths and spaces.

“We look forward to helping the local people to record their rights so that they are protected for ever more.”

The Oxford Mail attempted to contact Mr Reid through his law firm RMPI but did not receive a response before publication of the article. 

After publication Mr Reid contacted us to say that he is acting to protect the livestock he plans to keep on his private farmland and he says he has given away some of the land to make sure the existing rights of way are wide enough for comfortable use.

He also disputes the campaigners’ claim that the land’s previous owner  was happy to let locals wander freely over other parts of his land. He says he made enquiries of the estate before purchase and it was confirmed that no wider rights had been recognised and the previous landowner’s staff had tried to keep walkers and their dogs strictly to the public footpaths.