Reports from UK Direct Action Camps
This is a listing of the direct action camps that have been set up, or have continued to be occupied, since the last issue of Do or Die was published in August 1999. As well as new camps, some of the older ones are still there - whereas some have won and moved on and some have been evicted. Last year's Do or Die had news from 34 direct action camps - in this issue there are only 10.
This massive reduction may be accounted for by a general diversification of direct action issues and tactics - genetics and globalisation for example. Perhaps it's also because the state has become so used to handling evictions that it just doesn't seem worth the months waiting in one spot - or maybe "the energy just isn't there anymore, man!" Whatever the reason, those camps that have existed have been successful, empowering campaigns and so respect to all those involved. Over the last year or so a noticeable concentration of camp activity has occurred in Essex, the North and in the South West - whereas Wales and East Anglia have been quieter than in past years. One aspect of camp life that should probably be mentioned is the enormous increase in surveillance and police harassment, especially since the actions on June 18th 1999. At the Gorse Wood camp several people had their benefits cut off - and at least one protester was offered money for information whilst in police custody.
The accounts below were gathered in a variety of ways. Some pieces were written specifically for this article, others are taken from over-the-phone interviews. Both people who had lived in the camps and those who lived locally have contributed. Where campaigns are ongoing, contact details are listed.
Faslane Peace Camp
Faslane Peace Camp celebrated its 18th year of opposing the nuclear submarine base, and is again under threat of eviction. A fortnight of actions in August 2000, in which there were 90 arrests in the first week, has raised the profile of the camp, meaning that there is again pressure on the Council to evict. Faslane, to combat this, has now joined the co-operative network Radical Routes and become a housing co-operative with a plan to buy a piece of land in the area and so maintain a constant and permanent presence.
There are always ongoing actions against the base, from regular leafletting and talking to people at the gates, through to convoy actions every few months. Recent successes include stopping the April 2000 convoy for a record 2 hours by locking on to concrete in barrels that had to be moved by forklift, and shutting entry to the base for 2 hours - with one gate blocked for 13 hours!
New energy and enthusiasm is always welcomed at Faslane. To find out more read Faslane Focus, published every 4 months. Just send an A4 SAE to: Faslane Peace Camp, Shandon, Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, Scotland G84 BHT, UK.
Telephone: 01436 820901
There is currently an application to re-open two dormant quarries (at Encliffe and Lees Cross) on the hillside close to the Nine Ladies stone circle on Stanton Moor. If the application is granted to Stancliffe Stone, over 30 acres of land will be destroyed. Stancliffe Stone was originally granted planning permission in 1952 for the extraction of more than a million tonnes of gritstone, which now contravenes National Park policy. In order to preserve the site permanently, the untested 1995 Environmental Act needs to be enforced. Applications have been submitted by English Heritage for archaeological assessment of the area but are not expected to arise until after the next court hearing in September 2000.
A fully active protest camp has been in occupation of the site since September 1999. Environmental activists have launched a petition and erected tree houses and walkways to assist in protecting the site. Activists from the site visited London to highlight the plight of Stanton Moor, with nine masked ladies attempting to connect with the powers of the Nine Ladies stones outside various Government offices. Police interest in the protest is growing with regular visits from their notorious yellow and black helicopter. More help and supplies are always needed.
Contact the Nine Ladies Quarry Campaign
Tel: 07779 431820 or 07714 779957
Web: http://www.pages.zoom.co.uk/~nineladies/ [13 Aug 2002 Link not working]
Park Nook camp was set up on the May Bank Holiday of 1999. It is a small site on the corner of an inner city park in Liverpool. The site had formerly been the grounds to a large mansion, which meant that the trees had remained untouched for around 50 years allowing natural growth. Local people have been using the land for a similar amount of time. Cyril Webb, the developers, want to build 3 blocks of luxury flats on the land. However, locals and protesters are pushing for the land to be given 'town green' status, which would mean the Council has a responsibility to look after and preserve it.
People are maintaining a constant presence on site and are awaiting an outcome from the Council. The developers, a small company, seem to be waiting for the protest to die down and for people to leave the site which, of course, is not happening.
Arthur's and Cedar Wood
The campaign to stop Manchester Airport's second runway has been going on for many years with direct action campaigns peaking in the spring of 1997. Then land was occupied in the Bollin Valley from the summer of 1998 through to the autumn of 1999.
This second phase of occupation occurred because it emerged that a new belt of trees would be felled and coppiced in order to create a clear line of sight for aircraft using Runway 2. And surprise, surprise, this belt of felling that was always known to be necessary was not included in the public inquiry. Interestingly enough, this belt of trees is on land owned by the National Trust (NT), who claim to 'protect and preserve' land in their care. It seems, though, that the NT, who had initially kicked up a fuss, were bought off by the runway developers.
Although the land was owned by the National Trust, the actual camp was evicted by Manchester Airport. This was against the rules, as Manchester Airport had been granted a licence only to fell the trees and not to evict. The nature of the 'work' done on the trees varied from felling at the top of the valley to coppicing at the bottom. The Airport and the NT produced a flyer claiming that it would be beneficial to the valley ecosystem, although tree experts have emphasised the damage done to valley ecosystems by removing the upper part of trees.
Much of the direct action during the campaign was directed at the NT, who were seen to be letting down the nation whose heritage they are supposed to be preserving and protecting. NT owned Quarry Bank Mill was occupied as protesters had a picnic and handed out information in the Museum. This was particularly appropriate as Quarry Bank Mill is famous for Luddite loom breaking. A banner drop was also carried out at the NT HQ in London. Protesters were invited in to talk to the boss. Locals fought for a judicial review, but to no avail.
Arthur's Wood was evicted in June 1998 and Cedar Wood in October 1999. At the Cedar Wood eviction, tunnels were occupied for a record-breaking time - although this record has now been broken! At first, the protester-nominated safety officer was not allowed on site. However, one activist managed to get into the Undersheriff's press conference and questioned this decision in front of the media. A BBC report described the Undersheriff as 'sloping off with his tail between his legs' as a result!
Britain's first toll motorway - the Birmingham Northern Relief Road (BNRR) - has dogged local residents for 20 years, through three route changes along the 27 mile route from Coleshill to Cannock, through the Midlands' dwindling green belt land, affecting over 1,000 homes, 65 farms, 3 schools and over 100 sites of archaeological/ecological interest.
Direct action started some 3 years ago, encompassing 7 protest camps along the route. The first, Boundary Cottage, was evicted after the death of 'Sorted Dave'. Police used this sad event to bring everyone outside to clear the scene, thus declaring the cottage vacant and moving in to seize possession.
Moneymore was evicted after a 2 week battle with bailiffs on duty 24 hours a day and under orders to be finished by Christmas. Protesters then looked to set up a new site in an old nuclear bunker at Shenstone. Within the hour, six protesters were arrested and bailed off-route.
The Greenwood Site was evicted after more trickery. Police lured out the one remaining protester for a friendly chat - the sixty friendly officers 'hiding' outside then declared the site vacant.
Within the last year, a new site was set up at the Spinney and things were looking good until June 18th saw protesters off-site to visit London. The two protesters on site were awoken and told they had an hour to leave or face arrest. The site was then completely trashed under the nose of the security firm on 24 hour guard. Police blamed angry locals. All valuables were untouched, but materials were slashed and smashed.
Since then the remaining protesters and locals have continued a policy of rearguard actions. At present, Midland Expressway Ltd. are looking for someone with a spare £700 million, as the old backers have pulled out. Currently short listed are 8 high street banks. There is also currently no contracted builder and we believe that a renewed campaign of direct action and a well run site could win this campaign. For more details contact: 0121 643 9117.
Wales and the South West
Siston Common was set up to resist completion of the A4174 outside Bristol and the trashing of the Sustrans cycle path. It was predicted that the new road would bring suburban sprawl - and this is now happening.
After five years of effective legal challenges, a protest camp was set up in November 1998, attracting flak from the "You're not from here" brigade of locals, who want the new road to divert traffic from their villages. During the campaign, by South Gloucestershire Council's own admission there were 94 "security incidents" - 21 considered "serious". Everything from a two-week building occupation through to strange markings on the road. The point was made, and it all cost them money. Local support was won, and come the eviction in June 1999 local people had - thanks largely, it must be said, to successful media tarting - a better understanding of what people were trying to do. The road will be built - but no-one locally can say they didn't know about the environmental threat it poses. Just one battle in a big on-going war nationwide. For more details telephone: 0797 999 0389.
Hagbourne Copse protest camp won earlier this year saving over 200 oak and ash trees from industrial development. Hagbbourne Copse, a 5 acre site of protected woodland next to Junction 16 of the M4 in Wiltshire had progressively been cut into over the last 10 years by industrial development in the form of the Euroway Industrial Estate, which now totally surrounds the copse. Additionally a nearby farm, which was bought for £50,000 pounds 8 years ago, had been sold off to industrial development for £8 million.
On arrival, it was found that the area of woodland had been dangerously neglected. Drainage was completely blocked with rotten matter which had caused the water table to rise to 3ft below the ground at the peak of summer. This had caused irrepairable damage to the 60-80ft oaks and ashes. All but one of the silver birch trees had died (rotting from their roots upward), most of the blackthorn was dead and the hazel was growing at an angle of about 30 degrees.
The estate agents dealing with the sale (Loveday) have enormous interest in industrial development and strategic housing, as shown by their adverts. The land owners names had been kept quiet, but it was discovered that it was owned by three London solicitors. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust were trying to buy the copse, but their first bid had failed. The implications of this were considered and people decided on direct action.
Legal occupation of the land was gained using Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, with recorded notification being sent to those concerned. Work to lower the existing water table (i.e. clearing the neglected drainage system) was started. Nets and walkways were then erected high in the trees, and a clean active protest camp was set up on the ground with the number of protesters kept low until the surrounding bluebells had a chance to seed. The local press was informed of this local plight and flyers were given out in the surrounding areas. A local person then visited and got a petition together to secure the woodland's future. Pressure was focused on Swindon County Council.
Two months of occupation went by until only two of the bidders remained, both with the intention of looking after this beautiful woodland and making it into a nature reserve for all to enjoy. The camp then closed and work was started to remove any trace of the protesters' presence. Many thanks to everyone who took part.
The South East
Until a greedy company by the name of Laing decided to halt the dance for evermore by piercing the heart of the woods with a six lane, £360 million 'village bypass'. They proclaimed it would serve as an M25 relief road; an outer London orbital motorway. With glee they planned thousands of houses, incinerators and golf courses. But they failed to consult the badgers or the skylarks, the foxes or the owls.
Many local people were unaware of the monstrosity until the bluebells flowered and a band of merry activists came to occupy the land. They set up site in protest at the monstrous greedy plans to take this stretch of green near the Essex town of Chelmsford.
Many moons waxed and waned, through summer haze, autumn glow and misty winter frosts as the activists worked and played to protect the sacred land where life was given and adored.
But when the frosts were ending and the trees sprung forth new buds, the Sheriff's men descended on the peaceful magic woods. The people climbed the trees and descended underground to inconvenience and dissuade their road plans to the sum of £8 million.
And finally when the trees were felled and the local people finally understood the extent of the lies the council had told them, tears of sadness were wept. But there were tears of joy, as a copse was saved where the people once had lived. And the wise oak who has stood for 400 years, still stands there now today.
The protest camp at Hockley in Essex, near to Gorse Wood, was set up on the 26th July 1999 in response to Countryside Residential's plans to build 66 mammoth luxury homes, each consisting of 6 or 7 bedrooms, 4 toilets and 2 bathrooms. The area of land under threat had been divided into plots in the 1920s and 30s and sold for next to nothing to people who were moving out of London who used the land to build their own houses. In the 1970s, however, Rochford District Council declared the land 'public open space', and denied the owner-occupiers the right to improve their own bungalows, therefore causing the properties to dilapidate. This allowed the council to then repurchase the plots for very low prices, for example £3,000 per plot, when the plots were worth about seven times this price at the time. Some residents, however, took the council to court over this dubious practise and forced the council to pay the proper prices for the plots, leaving the council owning pockets of land which were left fallow in amongst the remaining bungalows.
Then, ten years ago, the council put a fence around the area of land, which falls within the Green Belt and put it out to tender. Therefore self-built homes were forced to decay in order for the council to profit from selling Green Belt land to a private developer.
The camp, set up in July 1999, was based on council-owned land for one month, before it then moved on to privately owned land. The developer then applied to the court for an eviction, but because the land occupied was not yet owned by the developer, the court ruled that it would be illegal for the developer to evict.
On securing ownership in early February 2000, security guards totally sealed off the camp. Protesters were allowed to come out for water and medicine, then eventually for food as well. The camp remained in this state for 20 days, in which time, locals and protesters suffered extreme harassment from the security guards. People were stopped and questioned on a private right of way and visitors to private houses were assaulted. The police, however, declared that the behaviour of the security was 'reasonable'. Protesters eventually drifted off as the conditions under which they were living resembled a concentration camp.
A demonstration in mid-February finally prompted the security to enter the camp and 10 days later, the camp was fenced off and felling began. The remaining three protesters were evicted, but the local campaign is ongoing. Telephone: 01702 206181 or 0831 717815.
The Ashingdon site was located in a 6 acre area of woodland and wildlife habitat from which the council removed Green Belt status in the 1980s. Wilcon Homes, the developers, plan to build 73 houses on the plot which is the only bit of woodland in the area.
Initially, planning permission was not granted by the Council for 4 consecutive months as the development was not in line with local planning regulations. However, the developer threatened to appeal which could have cost the Council £100,000, and that is a surcharge that would have come directly out of the pockets of individual councillors, so planning permission was quickly granted.
The local people have been resisting the plans for development on a couple of grounds. Planning regulations specify that in an urban development in a rural area, the maximum number of houses that can be built is 46, whereas in Ashingdon planning permission is for 73. Local people have also managed to register the land under threat as a 'Village Green', under the Commons Registration Act 1965. This Act states that land that has been used as common land for 20 years should stay as such.
The protest camp was set up in early February 2000 and received plenty of police attention from the beginning. Harassment of protesters and intimidation of local people became the norm, as had previously occurred on the Gorse Wood and the Hockley sites, also in Essex. Despite the victory of the land being declared a Village Green, the protesters were evicted on 9th May 2000. The Undersheriff and his men surrounded the site and evicted 10 people. The tower that had been built lasted for 5 days.
Legal action may now be taken against the Undersheriff of Essex by the RSPB for evicting during the nesting season breaching Section 19 of the 1981 Wildlife Act. Despite all of this the local campaign to stop the development continues. Telephone Golden Cross Action Group on: 01702 541167.