05/05/2004 at 08:00 AM EDT
Madonna has officially launched her challenge to hikers wanting to roam across her and husband Guy Ritchie's $16 million, 1,200-acre Ashcombe House English country estate, in a public hearing that kicked off Wednesday, say British press reports.
The hearing, which pits the celebrities against members of the public who demand free access to the countryside, is expected to run five days, with a decision handed down this summer, says Reuters.
The Ritchies are seeking to appeal a government Countryside Agency decision saying that 100 acres of their land in southwest England is open country and, therefore, open to the public.
Instead, Madonna, 45, and Ritchie, 35, argue that the land should be reclassified as "semi-improved" grassland because Ashcombe House, which is reputedly one of the finest sporting estates in Britain, is used for shooting game and should be classified as agricultural and excluded from public access.
Madonna and Ritchie have said they oppose public access to their land out of fears of invasions to their privacy.
In England, hikers are called ramblers, and one organization, The Ramblers Association, describes access to open country as a benefit to the entire nation. One Times of London editorial even advised Madonna and Ritchie not to worry, because ramblers are far more interested in finding reliable maps than they are in celebrities.
The singer was not expected to attend a public planning meeting at the Royal Chase Hotel, in Shaftesbury, Dorset.