I own a piece of land with a burn running through it, wooded slopes and meadows. For some years now I've invited local people on a purely voluntary basis to recreate there, to picnic, trout fish, watch the local badgers and birds, and, if the mood takes them, to contribute a little by improving the paths and bridges, and to help with the brush cutting and tree thinning in the winter.
They seem to have enjoyed themselves over the years, and although not all behave precisely as I would like, even to the point where I have had to spend some time admonishing them for leaving litter or making undue noise, in general they have made the place a more vibrant and lively location.
Tomorrow night, without warning or discussion, without consultation or explanation, without even a chance for them to collect the various little contributions they have made - a cute sculpture of a squirrel, a brushwood witches broom and hat, a carved picnic log, a woven willow bird hide, two silver birch hollowed nest boxes, and much more - I am going to slam shut the gate and padlock it.
The recreational resource will quite simply disappear overnight.
I have consulted my lawyer, I own the site, I can do what I like.
Yet in the early hours as I lay awake I had pangs of conscience. Legally in the right maybe, but morally? What sort of a person have I become that I would take this action I wondered.
And in the morning I resolved to ask my friends in my moral philosophy group what they thought. Does legal ownership absolve one of a moral duty in a case like this? Is there, indeed, any moral duty? If so, how far does it extend?