CONSERVATIONISTS have launched a legal fight to reinstate 50 yards of hedge they argue “helped to make John Constable a painter”.

The Dedham Vale Society says the hedgerow in Dedham followed a pathway the famous artist quite possibly took each day to grammar school.

But they say it has been unlawfully removed by a tenant at the farm the land is part of and asked Colchester Council enforcement officers to take action.

An independent solicitor has also started to investigate.

However, while the land owner and tenant admitted having the hedge cut by a contractor, they insist the act was not unlawful.

But society chairman Charles Clover said: “The hedge is in the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty beside the footpath from Dedham to Flatford.

“This path is one of two paths the landscape painter could have taken from his father’s house in East Bergholt to the Royal Grammar School in Dedham, where he was educated.

“He wrote, famously, ‘these scenes made me a painter’. This route is now the most-used footpath from Dedham to Flatford, where Constable’s father’s mill and Willie Lott’s Cottage still stand, owned by the National Trust.”

The hedge, on land adjacent to Dedham Hall, was where Mr Clover grew up and he said it could even have been associated with a Mediaeval manor which stood there.

It contained hawthorn, elder, ash, bramble, elm and other species but all that now remains is an “isolated clump of hawthorn”.

The society complained to Colchester Council’s planning enforcers who issued a reinstatement notice.

But land owner Anne Fletcher, speaking also for farmer Mr Moorhouse, said a hedge barely existed before any cutting back happened.

“It was a lot of undergrowth and mess. If it had been a hedge at some point there in the past, there was absolutely not a hedge-like structure recently.

“We have been through the process with Colchester Council and they did issue a notice. I had to put the hedge back in. I refused to be bullied on the subject.”

Mrs Fletcher said she appealed and said the council rescinded the enforcement notice.

A spokesman for Colchester Council said: “We are in the process of seeking clarification from Defra about this matter and until they confirm whether the land is for agricultural use, we are unable to comment further.”