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The Telegraph - Wednesday 27 July 2011

Obituary - Rodney Legg

Rodney Legg, who died on July 22 aged 64, began his campaigning career with the League of Empire Loyalists before devoting his energies to his beloved Dorset.

In the mid-1960s, both Conservative and Labour party conferences were occasionally disrupted by a determined adolescent figure with a Union flag, shouting slogans such as “Empire Loyalists say this is the flag which stands for British loyalty — not the red flag of Communist tyranny” and “Empire Loyalists say Stand by the White Man in Rhodesia”.

That figure was Rodney Legg, who remained active in the League for some seven years. He then began to focus his attention on securing public access to the military-occupied downland around the “lost” village of Tyneham, in south Dorset, which had been taken over for training purposes by the War Office in 1943 and never returned to its displaced inhabitants.

Passionate and eloquent — and in the days before environmental campaigning was fashionable — he led the Tyneham Action Group, which eventually achieved public access at weekends to the Lulworth military ranges and prevented the land from being ploughed or sold for development.

Rodney Legg was born at Bournemouth on April 18 1947; both his parents, Ted and Gladys Legg, were of Dorset stock. Having left school aged 16 with five O levels, Rodney found work on the Basildon Standard in Essex . Four years later, in 1968, he founded Dorset County Magazine (now Dorset Life), which gave him a platform for his environmental views.

Legg enjoyed a prolific career as a writer. No corner of Dorset was left undiscovered as he recorded the county’s landscape and history in countless books. Meanwhile, toting wire-cutters and secateurs, he sawed and sliced his way along paths which were often overgrown or blocked, so as to write up a walk for his magazine.

An early target was the National Trust: Legg found numerous examples of blocked paths on Trust land, many of which, he claimed, was neither marked on Ordnance Survey maps nor mentioned in the infrequently-updated book Properties of the National Trust. In 1990, a year after he was elected chairman of the Open Spaces Society, he seized the chance to become the society’s appointee on the National Trust council and to change the organisation from within. This proved difficult. Although the society and the Trust shared founders — and the society had been formed 30 years earlier — Legg’s manner and behaviour did not endear him to the Trust’s more traditional members.

In the 1980s, when the National Trust began to concentrate more on stately homes, he constantly urged the Trust to acquire more open spaces and to grant public access to hitherto forbidden land.

In October 1990 he used a lecture celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Open Spaces Society to condemn what he saw as the Trust’s antediluvian attitudes, leading to a lively national debate in the press.

Legg did manage to persuade the National Trust to open some of the rooms at Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s home near Dorchester, in 1993; and by the time he stood down from the council after 20 years in 2010, more of the Trust’s land had become accessible to the public, partly as a result of his efforts.

Among Legg’s achievements as chairman of the Open Spaces Society from 1989 to 2009, he claimed 640 acres of new access land in Dorset and Somerset in 2004, including Cadbury Castle; this was after the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 had given the public a right to roam on certain mapped land.

An eccentric and generous man, Legg was also something of a social misfit; at public events he would usually be hidden somewhere taking photographs from unusual angles. He leaves a large collection of photographs, military antiquities and other memorabilia.

Rodney Legg, who had been suffering from cancer, died on July 22. He is survived by his partner, Di Hooley.

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Rodney Legg