It's (Not Really That) Grim Up North

It is really hard to write a regional round-up without making regionalist assumptions, so I thought I'd get one straight out of the way in the title, hopefully there won't be any more. Here goes. Definitely the major story in the North of England of late has been the M65 extension. The campaign began in May 1994 at Cuerden Valley which has now been totally devastated by Stage One of the £142 million (!) 12 mile M65 road extension, which stretches from Junction 29 on the M6 to Blackburn. There has been serious opposition since work began, with constant direct action, squatting of properties en route, and tree-sitting. The most well publicised period of the campaign has been the recent defence of the Stanworth Valley 'Village in the Sky', at the beginning of Stage Two of the motorway. A small group of people squatted the ancient wood and despite the grim weather conditions, and lack of full time people over winter, they managed to construct the largest tree village in England, if not the world!!!!

 

There were over 40 tree houses ranging between 30 and 70 feet in the air protecting both sides of the approximately 100 metre wide valley. High tension cable walkways connected all the treetop homes and crossed over the River Ribblesworth, that surged (due to the rain cloud vortex over Lancashire), through the middle of the valley.

After many false alarms the legal battle to save Stanworth ended on April the 27th and that weekend more than 300 activists gathered to defend the trees. In a defiant party mood, last minute preparations made way for Beltane celebrations. With music all around and the forces of doom and destruction gathering on the hill, the compound was stormed by naked protesters who left Group 4 in an embarrassed quandary not knowing what to do.

Monday morning - May 1st [1] - saw the start of the madness. The Under-Sheriff had hired a team of climbers to do the dirty work. Andrew Wilson, Under-Sheriff of Lancashire, claimed that the climbers were "trained to mountain-rescue standard". This was simply not true. Two climbers attempting to put a woman in a harness up a tree, shouted down to another two, "How do you fasten this buckle?"!! They were recruited unknowingly through a vertical access company and an advert in a climbing magazine. When they complained about what they had to do, they were threatened with the sack, and had their wages upped to £300 a day. Upon entering the treetops they were quite shocked to find that people were not just passive spectators to their own removal. A gentle but firm push with the foot often kept them out of a treehouse. The activists in many ways had the advantage that as a body they knew the territory. Two climbers tried to manhandle an activist out of the trees, mistakenly thinking they were alone. The calls for help were quickly answered and to the climbers' astonishment out of the thick shroud of leaves above, activists abseiled down, others painered up from below and yet more appeared from both sides running along walkways and branches. The climbers could be forgiven for thinking they were caught in a spider's web. The police, climbers and bailiffs throughout the eviction endangered lives with crazy stunts. People defending walkways, some 70-90 ft high, had them cut from underneath them. Without any warning people were grabbed and their harnesses cut. Adrenaline flowed, tempers flared. Despite a brutal first day, only five treehouses were lost and 10 arrested. That night some of the lost walkways were replaced. Although 53 vehicles pulled up that morning and a lot of costly he-man power came to hack down the woods, they gained a pathetic amount of ground and were still unable to get their cherrypickers in.

The Youth of Today

Two boys, eight and ten years old, asked if we were the tree people. "Could we come and see the valley?" they said. "And could we maybe, possibly, like, well, join you?" We tried to talk them out of bringing their tools, what with the police and all. But it was OK, they reassured us, "When I see the police, I put my tools down my trousers!"

First light on Tuesday and you could already feel the temperature rising. The dawn chorus was drowned out by the cry of "Aruga!", followed by machinery. More madness on the walkways, absurdity on the ground, a helicopter in the sky, cameras nicely out of shot, and up the trees - a different world. The climbers moved in again and took another six treehouses, but still they hadn't cleared a way to the valley floor. The cargo nets which had been so effective at Claremont Road proved difficult to defend and despite spirited attempts to delay the bailiffs with interesting knot workshops, they mauled and removed many of those on the nets. Wednesday night and Liz's tree on the west bank was re-occupied and walkways replaced. After a hard day's struggling on the walkways, the climbers were visibly exhausted but the planetarian resistance kept busy repairing and retaking the walkways. With over 50 arrested by now, and some re-arrested for breaking bail conditions, they had made way for the big cherrypicker to get to the valley floor.

Unleashed chainsaws ripped through the valley, carelessly (or purposefully?) felling trees onto inhabited trees to screams of "murderers". Bulldozers gouged the earth, hitting roots of shallow rooted beech trees, also inhabited; more screams, then silence.

Thursday morning and what seemed like security, but later turned out to be police, were cutting walkways with blades tied to poles. This was part of a police operation to isolate and capture certain people who had instinctively resisted more enthusiastically when grabbed. Before the cherrypicker arrived for that day's work, many walkways had been replaced and improved. The walkway leading out of the compound was held and well defended, but now the system was considerably reduced. It remained an effective means of delaying the eviction however and provided escape routes for those who needed to get out. That morning protesters visited the Under-Sheriff of Lancashire's office. The poor Under-Sheriff had to leave his beloved eviction, because this time HIS space had been invaded. As if this was not enough, he found activists squatting HIS roof and the treehouse in HIS garden. His father had been Under-Sheriff before him, so was the treehouse there as a training ground for his kids? Andrew Wilson of The Cottage, 483 Garstange Road, Broughton, Preston, Lancashire - Red Audi, number plate A2USL (personalised plate: 'Andrew the 2nd Under-Sheriff of Lancashire' - sad bastard!) was not amused.

Friday evening and it was done. It had taken five days. Over 120 people had been removed from the trees, over 60 arrested and all (plus 13 arrested in February whilst defending six houses further along the route) invited to a SERIOUS PARTY in, on, outside and around Blackburn courthouse on June 13th. This resulted in a marauding crowd of around 70 causing chaos in the court, banners hung, files thrown out of windows. A number of people were arrested for public order offences. Who said court proceedings are boring!

Many of the population of Blackburn have been won over. Support came flooding in from local people. Free bus rides led to free chips and free beer. Visible proof that YOU CAN'T KILL THE SPIRIT beamed out of the woods; people made the connection that this was not just a game. Lives were put at risk because lives are at risk; at risk from big business ravenously consuming the environment, creating more transport chaos, more polluting in the pursuit of profit.

It's da Pigs!

Panic spread outward from the camp one night as the cops turned up. Someone shouted, "It's a raid", and all the little elves, busy demolishing security fences, tried turning into toadstools, failed and ran. So the police ran after them. Through a combination of diversion and that old trick of lying down very still, a bail-breaker got away. What did the cops want? A couple of locals to make an example of. Don't join the tree people whatever you do - and, kids, don't take drugs!

So far the No M65 campaign has added an extra £12.2 million onto the cost of this senseless road. Stanworth Valley may be down, but its spirit gets ever stronger as hundreds of people across the country learn to build tree houses and walkways and then pass these skills on to more and more people: It's easier than you think... so just do it! The resistance at the M65 continues with the occupation of 'Jacks Barn' in the village of Guide near the end of the M65's path of destruction, with actions every day!

To the south of the M65, the final link to the Outer Manchester Ring Road is the proposed M66, which will completely encircle Manchester with motorway. Work has started on sections of it, but is already faced with uncertainty and delay - and that even before the direct action is thrown into the equation.

Locals set up camp in Medlock Valley, Site of Special Biological Interest, in the path of the Hollinwood to Dention section of the road, due to be started mid September. Also on-the-route houses have been squatted and treehouse building started. The enthusiastic local campaign needs help to build treehouses and maintain en route camps over autumn and winter. Human resources permitting, local campaigners plan to take on the destruction of nearby Beale Valley, due to be landfilled so that a golf course can be built! Get on down there.

Liverpool EF! scored a notable victory when combining with other local groups, they stopped a monster incinerator from being built at the University hospital. This would have spewed out dioxins by the shedload on to the people of the city. The company that was going to build it, AEG (a subsidiary of Norwest-HoIst), identified Liverpool as a place where there would be the most apathy to their heinous plans. How wrong they were. AEG then tried to get an equally big poison generator built at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Manchester EF!, again within an alliance, sent the bastards packing in January. AEG will be lucky if they can even burn a match in the North West for some time to come!! Ring the Emergency Dioxin Alliance on 0161-274-4665 if interested, inspired.

The traditional mining areas around Garforth are, like other coalfield areas such as South Wales and Durham, being ripped apart by opencasting.

Leeds EF! are taking direct action to try and stop these quarries. On Tuesday 30th of May, 30 activists invaded the worksite at the Garforth opencast mine. Work was stopped until the cops arrived. Twenty riot police appeared, quickcuffed people and dragged them away. 'Quick Cuffs' are basically plastic tags (that used to be used for electrical stuff) that if placed around someone's wrists or thumbs, tighten every time they move, causing severe pain! Nine protesters were arrested under the CJA and bailed off ALL opencast sites in the country!!

A camp has been set up on an island of trees surrounded by opencast. The owner of the land is on our side so there should be little danger of eviction.

Demonstrations, actions etc. are happening - contact Leeds EF!

Several northern towns including Manchester, York and Lancaster have all been staging Critical Masses. Much fun was had by all (except irate motorists behind the velocentric convoys, who wouldn't have got home much faster anyway!). Critical Mass seems to be taking off big-time. Let's hope these monthly celebrations of the joy of cycling can be one further nail in the increasingly nailed down coffin of the car culture.

The EF! Gathering is near Lancaster this September so we will see you then.

We've only just begun... Yours sustainably,

- A collective of anons

1) May 1st is the pagan festival Beltane and also a holiday in many countries, this is due to it being International Workers Day, created to commemorate the murder of Chicago Anarchists in the last century.

 

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