The Land Is Ours – Newsletters Archive
The Land is Ours Newsletter
Issue 15 – Spring 99 This newsletter is @nticopyright – (feel free to use information as part of the wider free real news distribution network).
1649 – DIGGERS 350 – 1999
`All the Commons and waste Ground in England, and in the whole World, shall be taken in by the People in righteousness, not owning any Propriety; but taking the Earth to be a Common Treasury, as it was first made for all.’
Gerrard Winstanley, The True Levellers Standard Advanced, 1649
`When clubs and diamonds cast away, for hearts and spades must win the day’-from the Diggers Christmas Carol
Hearts and Spades is the name of a conference celebrating the of occupation of St George’s Hill which will be held on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th April 1999. Venue for Friday: Brooklands College, Heath Road, Weybridge. Venue for Saturday: St Mary’s Church, Walton-on-Thames. Both venues are near the Hill, and the church has strong connections with the Diggers – they were illegally imprisoned there in 1649. Speakers include Michael Foot and it promises to be the greatest concentration of Digger expertise for 350 years! On Friday evening there will be a presentation of the film `Winstanley’ with a talk from the producer and two of the cast.
For enquiries or to lend a hand, contact Andrew Bradstock on 01243 532717 (e-mail; email@example.com).
For a brochure or to book a ticket: Sonia Craig, King Alfred’s College, Winchester 5022 4NR (tel. 01962 827289, fax 01962 817458, e-mail S.Craig@wkac.ac.uk). The cost for the whole two days, including the film, is just £l6 (reduced rates for single days only).
Diggers Working Week
The `Working Week’ is being organised to provide backup for a Summer of successful land actions and activities. On Saturday 20th – Sunday 28th March a venue near Brighton will be used to assemble all the essential components for a large scale land occupation. We are hoping this week will be the springboard for a summer of land based actions and activities. For a successful week, and consequently a kicking Summer, all hands are needed to help out making, preparing and repairing canvas structures (we have an industrial sewing machine), portable compost toilets, kitchen resources, banners, defences, etc. If you want to get involved or can offer resources, skills etc. please phone 0961 373385. Whatever your skills are there is something for you to do.
“Largin’ it” – post Diggers 350.
Many people have expressed an interest in being part of a high profile and maybe long term land occupation. If this is to become a reality then we urgently need the people to make it happen. Ideas
mooted so far include; MST style land occupation; solidarity action for one/some of the international land rights organisations; action against the new `kingly power’- corporations. Whatever we decide to do we need a committed core of people to pick up the ideas and follow them through. Anyone interested should get in touch with the networking office on 01865 722016.
STOP PRESS: Land occupation starts Sat 3rd April – opening the enclosures and turning miserab1e monoculture into positively polycultural playspace!
The 1999 Digger 350 Celebrations:
In 1649, at the end of the English Civil War, The Diggers declared the earth `a common treasury for all’ reclaiming commons as rent-free land. From 30th March to 10th April 1999 and beyond, Diggers 350 will be celebrating and reviving the spirit of the Diggers.
Now till Sat Apr 10th – Exhibition: The Diggers and St. George’s Hill, Elmbridge Museum, Church Street, Weybridge. 01932 843573
Thu Apr 1st -Digger discussions & entertainment 7pm, Weybridge Library Hall, Church St., Weybridge, Surrey.
Sat Apr 3rd – Grand Pageant to St George’s Hill and placing of the Diggers Memorial Stone: Meet 12.30pm, The Centre, Hepworth Way, Walton-on-Thames. Bring spades and seedlings, banners/costume/musi c!
Fri & Sat Apr 9th & 10th – Two-day Diggers 350
Contacts for Diggers 350
The Land Is Ours office: 01865 722 016, firstname.lastname@example.org
Academic conference: info – 01243 532717; bookings – 01962 827 299
Diggers Working Week and “Largin’ it action”: 0961 373385, email@example.com Education: 0961 460002, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Long term Digger colonies: 0117 955 6769, email@example.com
March and stone raising: TLIO office
Media and Publicity: 0961 373385, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pageantry: contact Ed, 0171 435 1035 or 359 3487
Theatre and entertainments: 0171 35513487
The Diggers were who. exactly?
Think of election night 1997. Now multiply that by a thousand. That’s what it must have been like after the English Civil War- the feeling that anything might now. be possible. The King, in whom all land ownership was vested, and from whom all landowners drew their titles, had been defeated. To the Diggers, this meant that a fresh start could be made.
In April 1649, twenty poor and landless people assembled on St George’s Hill at Walton on Thames, where they began cultivating some common grazing land. They argued that the land was a common treasury for all, and that none should go hungry while others grew rich. Digg er activist, Gerrard Winstanley, identified enclosure (or privatisation) of land as the root of a fundamentally unjust class system: ‘so for any to enclose them from its kind, to his own exclusive use, is tantamount to the impoverishment and enslavement of his fellow men’. Through pamphlets printed on liberated printing presses, the Diggers encouraged everyone, especially the poor, to colonise and cultivate the commons and the wasteland. The Diggers’ numbers grew rapidly during the year, and their activity spread to some ten other sites, some as far away as the Midlands. This, predictably, alarmed both the Commonwealth government and local landowners, and, by the end of 1650, the Diggers were dispersed by a potent combination of legal actions, military intervention and mob violence. Like the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Diggers stood for common good and against private interest, but unlike the Martyrs, there is, as yet, no memorial to them. Yet, with landlessness, homelessness and poverty rife at the end of the millennium, Winstanley’s message is just as exciting and relevant today.
Find Out More. . .
Winstanley’s pamphlets -printed on illegal presses during the English Civil War, now on the web with Digger pictures: www.tlio.demon.co.uk/diggers.htm
Diggers 350 Newsletter: www.oneworld.org/tlio/ or see the TLIO merchandise list on the back page. Anyone want to put together same display boards for the Diggers get in touch with TLIO office on 01865 722 016
`… yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts ran into me, that words and writings were all nothing and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dust nothing’. Gerrard Winstanley: A Watch-Word to the City of London and the Armie.
RIGHT TO ROAM
Despite the government’s attempts to get landowners to clamber into bed with it, a statutory right to roam may still become a reality. Labour backbencher, Gordon Prentice, has sponsored a Right to Roam Bill, which gets its second reading on Friday 26 March. The Ramblers Association were heavily involved in drawing up the new bill, so it’s not nearly as radical as it might be: the basic assumption behind the bill is still that land is closed until the law says it should be open, and not the other way round. However, the bill has the backing of a large number of MPs, including some ministers, and there is a good chance it will pass its second reading. This is important, because a bill passing its second reading becomes a real item on the political agenda, and cannot be ignored by the government. For the bill to pass, at least 100 MPs must be present to vote in its favour: if these MPs fail to turn up, then countryside access will vanish as a political issue until after the next general election.
The Right to Roam Bill is far from perfect, but it is a foot in the door. Even the limited right of access which the bill proposes will be a major blow to landowners and to organisations like the Countryside Movement, and a substantial victory to those campaigns – like The Land is Ours – trying to bring the countryside under democratic and community control.
What you can do
?:? Write to your MP at House of Commons, London SW1, urging them to attend the debate on 26 March and to vote for the bill. Get your friends to write, too. Any MP who receives half-a-dozen different letters on the subject is very likely to attend.
?:? Go and watch the debate – ask your MP to get you tickets for the gallery. A crowd of well-behaved supporters will provide a big boost. ?:? Attend the Ramblers Association Rally on 14 March (see events listing).
What the Right to Roam Bill offers:
The bill gives everybody the right to walk over `open country’ in England and Wales for the purposes of `open-air re creation’. Open country is defined as any area which consists wholly or predominantly of mountain, moor, heath or down, or which is common land; the definition also includes any other land which may be defined or designated as open by the Secretary of State. These land types are not defined in the bill, but provision is made for maps to be drawn up by the (soon to be) Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales, showing all accessible open country. The following are specifically excluded: land covered by buildings or the curtilage of such buildings; urban parks and recreation grounds; quarries, railways and airports; and `land used for the purposes of a statutory undertaking or a telecommunications code system and the curtilage of such land’. Applications may be made to have areas included or excluded from the open country maps. Agricultural land may be excluded, but common land and rough grazing land may not. Land may be closed for organised shooting (up to 12 days in any year); to protect new lambs, or prevent fires in dry weather (up to 28 days, renewable); to protect wildlife, or geological or historical features, to restore grazing land or important landscape and recreational areas, to protect newly planted trees, or to prevent accidents on dangerous sites (up to 3 years, renewable). The local authority will regulate such closures. Where there i s no means of access to an area of open country, the local authority may take steps to provide it. Any landowner/manager blocking access to an area of open country will have to remove the obstruction within 14 days of being requested to do so, in writing, by any person. The payment of any agricultural grants and subsidies will in future be conditional upon landowners/managers keeping footpaths open and passable. Any landowner/manager who is found to have blocked a public footpath will have to repay all the agricultural grants and subsidies received during the previous five years and relating to the land over which the footpath runs. Local authorities will be able to prosecute anybody who puts up a sign `likely to deter the public from entering or being on’ an area of open countryside. Local authorities will also be able to remove such signs and recover the costs from the landowner/manager. Landowners and managers will be obliged to cooperate with local authorities in publishing information which identifies accessible land, and this includes land conditionally exempt from Inheritance Tax (the scam which Mark Thomas has done much to uncover). The provisions in the bill will apply to Crown land, government land, and land held by the Duchy of Cornwall, as well as to everyone else. The right to roam only applies if you behave yourself, and conditions include not lig hting fires, keeping dogs under control, and, weirdly, not wilfully damaging `any plant, shrub, tree or root or any part thereof’ (what, no bramble picking?).
Government backs voluntary right Of access
The Guardian reports that the government is preparing to sabotage the Right to Roam Bill by bringing out its own access legislation based on voluntary agreements. This is despite the fact that over 80% of respondents to last year’s consultation called for a statutory right of access. A voluntary arrangement is unlikely to bring any real benefits, as most landowners are desperate to keep people off their land. The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act contained measures promoting voluntary access agreements, yet these have scarcely ever been used. The CLA may boast about the (pathetically small) area which has been opened up over recent decades, but in fact most of this had to be opened as a condition of woodland management or landscape improvement grants (see below). Whatever happens, the Right to Roam Bill will get debated, and may well succeed, as Private Members Bills are traditionally a free vote.
New book from Marion Shoard
Campaigner and broadcaster, Marion Shoard, has just published A Right to Roam, calling for a radical approach to countryside access. Over 400 pages, she gives the background to our exclusion from the countryside, challenges the idea of voluntary access, and examines the practicalities and benefits of a right to roam anywhere in the countryside. Anyone who has read Shoard’s excellent This Land is Our Land will want to get this book. A Right to Roam is published by Oxford University Press at £8.99. ISBN 0-19288016-0. Get This Land is Our Land at TLIO’s bargain price – see list on back page. See also events listing for talk!
From the Country Landowners’ Association website: `Independent research has shown that owners voluntarily provide more than six million acres and 68 000 miles of paths the countryside users’. However, according to the University of Hertfordshire, the CLA research contains `serious methodological flaws and problems with calculations’ making `much of the data inaccurate and unreliable’ – in other words, as the Guardian pithily put it, `it is rubbish’.
Gargoyle Wharf in Wandsworth was the location of `Pure Genius’, the Diggers-style land occupation set up by TLIO in 1996. Since the urban Diggers were evicted, and the site levelled by its owners, the site has remained empty. Wandsworth Council is currently considering a planning application for a 17 storey block of luxury flats (designed by nobs’ architect, Norman Foster) on the site, contravening their own unitary development plan on 15 separate grounds. A public inquiry is almost certain. The Government Office for London has placed a `stop notice’ on the Gargoyle Wharf development, as well as on two other riverside sites in the borough. Last November, Secretary of State, John Prescott, rejected plans for 470 flats at nearby Point Pleasant, at least in part because of the lack of affordable housing in the proposed scheme. Another Norman Foster luxury development near Battersea Bridge has also been `called in’ for public inquiry.
Land reform in Scotland
The Scottish Office Land Reform Policy Group published its Recommendations for Action in January this year. The objective behind the land reform recommendations is `to remove the land-based barriers to the sustainable development ofrural communities’ through:
?:? more variety in the ownership and management of land, leading to less concentration of ownership and management in a limited number of hands; and ?:? increased community involvement in the way land is owned and used.
Proposed measures include i ncreased accountability for landowners, advice and support for community ownership of land, community involvement in the management of public land, reform of the feudal system, and increased rights for crofters and tenant farmers (including giving crofting communities the right to take control of the land. Further measures may include a general right to roam, and a requirement for the registration of all landholdings above a certain size. The land reform proposals will be put before the Scottish Parliament, which comes into being in the summer. Get your copy of the Land Reform Policy Group Recommendations for Action, ISBN 0 7480 7251 9, free of charge from HMSO’s Edinburgh Bookshop: phone 0131 228 4181. At first glance, these proposals look like a real step forward. However, it would be nice to have a northof-the-border analysis of the good and bad points for a future newsletter. Any takers?
“England is not a free people, till thepoor that have no land, have a free allowance to dig and labour the commons…” Gerard Winstanley, 1649
Bits & Pieces
Access to Boulsworth Campaign
ABC has been campaigning for 3 years for access to Boulsworth Hill, on the Yorks/Lancs border near Burnley. They produce a natty little newsletter, and a smart postcard showing upland trespassing in progress! Contact ABC, 5, St John’s Close, Hebden Bridge, W Yorks.
Big Hurray News
Tinkers Bubble has got planning permission! Yes, its official the Bubblers can stay put for at least 5 years (subject to certain conditions – see last newsletter) following their long and expensive battle with the planning system. Simon got to do a big write-up, complete with colour picture, for the Guardian’s environment pages, and neatly managed to work in a plug for the Defining Rural Sustainability book (see merchandise list on back page).
Chapter 7 is TLIO’s new planning campaign group, coordinated by Simon Fairlie from his Yeovil office. Chapter 7 will publish reports and newsletters, respond to government consultations, lobby decision-makers, and provide a planning consultancy service for low-impact developments. To get on the mailing list, send £5 (waged )or £3 (unwaged), plus your name, address, phone and e-mail, to Chapter 7, 20, St Michael’s Road, Yeovil, Somerset BA21. Chapter 7’s first policy document, Defining Rural Sustainability, is out now priced £5 (or £3 if you’re skint); see back page for details.
Summer Sun brochure
TLIO activists in Oxford are compiling a `holiday brochure’ for summer 1999. It’ll be a guide to positive land-based projects of all kinds from around the country, from urban landgrabs to rural permaculture projects. We will be contacting these groups asking if they would like to host workshops, camps, etc. – and offering them help with organisation and expertise. If any group needs a house building, they’ll be able to get 20 willing pairs of hands and a straw-bale tutor. People can go to the cutting edge of radical action knowing they’ll be welcome and that there will be something positive to do. The booklet will come out in early May and will be sold for a quid around the country. If you would like to offer people the chance to be involved in your project or would like to help in another way, please contact Jon on 01865 432920 or check out the website: www.lowimpact.com/1999/.
Twentieth Century Diggers are still on the look-out for suitable land to look after and live on, but living on the land Digger style isn’t the only way we can care for it. Wasteland that has fallen into obscure ownership, or simply never been claimed, can be turned to so many community uses: allotments, forest gardens, community parks, etc., but always with the proviso that no-one should pay to use it. We have sympathetic trusts that can register it for free community use. As was the case with Easter Garden in Bristol, local management is infinitely preferable to letting it fall prey to developers. Send your suggestions, preferably with a map and contact number, to Tony Gosling, 10 Highwood Close, Orpington, Kent, BR6 8HT. And we’ll be in touch.
Eithinog protesters in Bangor, North Wales, recently clogged up the so-called justice system this week for three days, after collectively pleading not guilty to obstructing bailiffs. They fought off eviction from access road builders in a two-day struggle. The site, a nature haven, is still under threat, although Gwynedd Council has proposed a Nature Park with a generous 4% extra land to be left alone. “The proposals would destroy some of the most sensitive areas on the site,” said resident, protester and tunneller, Maredudd ap Rheinallt. “That’s why we’ve taken things into our own hands and started to manage the fields ourselves.”
Belle Vue Gardens
An historic, communal garden is threatened by building developers and selfish householders. Belle Vue Gardens is documented back to 1792, and was intended for communal use by the residents of surrounding houses. Recently, some residents have been claiming ownership of parts of the garden through adverse possession. Now a planning application has been made to build on one of these plots. Local resident, Poppy Green is fighting the proposals. To find out how you can help, call her on 0117 973 5091 especially if you have infor about adverse possession law.
Life is not always easy for the residents of mobile homes situated on private parks. We have been hearing stories about substandard housing, landlord intimidation, and trashing of gardens. The laws governing private mobile home parks appear to be obscure, and may be in a state of flux – the DETR has set up a working party on the issue. If there is anyone out there who has more info, or can offer legal advice to mobile home residents (and does not mind us publishing their contact number), please contact the TLIO office in Oxford.
In theory, if local people can show that they have used an area of land for recreation `as of right’ for at least 20 years, they can register that land as a town or village green. But in practice, the 25 year old greens registration system is not working. The Countryside Commission is now calling for clear and fair criteria for the registration of greens, and better protection for open space through the planning system. They are also helping fund a test case which is being taken to the House of Lords. For more information on town and village greens, read Getting Greens Registered – a guide to law and procedure, and Making Space – advice on protecting urban open space; both are available from the Open Spaces Society, 25a Bell St, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon RG9 2BA, tel 01491 573535.
Urban Task Force
Richard Rogers’ Urban Task Force recently presented a report, Sharing the Vision, to the government. The report calls for an `urban renaissance’, and an end to `Britain’s damaging antiurban culture’. A final report is expected in the summer.
The Urban Task Force comprises representatives from the development industry, big city councils, and academia. No community groups appear to be involved, so whose vision are we expected to share? You might want to ask why there isn’t much wider grassroots input into this planned urban renaissance: write to Lord Rogers of Riverside, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW.
Stewards Corporation Movement
The British Columbia based Stewards Corporation Movement is a movement of working and non-working poor people who seek to become increasingly able to work together to care for one another and the planet. They sum their approach up as: `Organize the planetary underclass as the Stewards of the world!’. For more info, check the website at http://www.stewards.net, or e-mail: email@example.com
The rest of the World…
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs fights for the recognition of aboriginal rights, and respect for aboriginal cultures and societies, in the Canadian Province. Check the website at www.ubcic.bc.ca.
One of the last surviving nomadic tribes of the Amazon now has legal title to all of its traditional lands. The Nukak Indians first came into regular contact with white people in 1988, and subsequently suffered massacres by colonists and started dying from western diseases, such as flu. Survival launched a letter-writing campaign, and the Nukak received full title to all their land at the end of last year.
Czech environmentalists in the town of Kasperske Hory have won their 2 year battle against Canadian mining company, TVX Gold. Their mining concession was cancelled by the Czech government shortly after the local mayor, an opponent of the mining, was returned to office in a landslide electoral victory. TVX had employed a PR firm to change public opinion and to smear the mayor in order to oust him from office, but – ho, ho, ho – failed miserably.
The Imataca forest, an important wildlife reserve and home to native peoples, has been handed over by the government to mining interests. Th is has sparked nationwide protests, and the Supreme Court is now investigating the legality of Presidential Decree 1850 – the legislation opening the forest to mining. Write (politely) to Senadora Lucia Antillano, President Comision de Ambiente y Ordenacion del Territorio del Senado, Congreso Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela. Find a sample letter and background info at www.amanakaa.org.
Campaigners have unveiled a battle plan to fill England’s 750,000 empty homes. Homeless people’s organisations, environmental activists and church groups are among those partici pating in the campaign co-ordinated by the Empty Homes Agency, a charity funded in part bY the Department of the Environment and the National Lottery. The campaign is `calling upon people to do whatever they think is necessary to get the message through to elected representatives’. While the campaign does not actively advocate the squatting of empty properties, it `would not oppose it where it seemed appropriate’.
The campaign aims to identify empty homes, put pressure on owners to fill them, and encourage local authorities to bring empty council-owned properties back into use. Check out Homeless People’s Network – http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn.
121 Centre Squatted for 18 years, the 121 Centre in Brixton, London has asserted a radical presence in London, providing services to the community and serving literally thousands of people in its time. Currently, the centre houses a resource space, meeting space, radical bookshop, library, cafe and printing facilities all of which are used by local and London based squatter, feminist, autonomist, anarchist, queer and animal rights groups. Lambeth Council are trying to evict the centre right now. You can help by getting on the phone tree and being ready to move when the bailiffs arrive; protesting to the council; or sending money. Check the website (http://i.am/121centre), or phone 0171 978 8214. Events
Don’t forget to check out our weekly updated website events diary: www.oneworld.org/tlio/eventsd.html 😕 14 March: Mass Rally by the Ramblers in support of the Right to Roam. Meets Cowleys Wood, Oxfordshire (Grid ref SU718951) at 12 noon. A group will probably be going from Oxford under the TLIO banner (literally). Contact Oxford office for details or ramblers direct on:
😕 19 March: Land reform workshops at Green Party Conference – Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London. Nonmembers welcome. Details from Nicola Watson 01522 539828. ?:? 20 March: A Right to Roam – Environmentalist and campaigner, Marion Shoard, talks about her new book (see page 2) and what it means to be campaigning author. Oxford Union, 2pm. Tickets £4.50. ?:? 21 March: Mass trespass – Meet Brighton Station loam. Bring packed lunch, warm clothes, good boots. Sorry, no dogs. Details 01273 620815 / 685913. ?:? 21 March: Lyminge Forest Gathering – to create a ‘No Single Issue Site’ where everyone can join in under a single banner. Starts noon. Details and directions from Jani 07970 253931. ?:? 30 March to 10 April. Diggers 350 celebrations see front page for details and contacts. Includes Grand Pageant to St. George’s Hill and placing of the Diggers Memorial Stone, on Saturday 3 April, meeting at 12.30pm, The Centre, Hepworth Way, Walton-on-Thames. ?:? 17 April: genetiX snowball national day of action Contact 0161 834 0295, or send SAE to genetiX snowball, One World Centre, 6 Mount Street, Manchester M2 5NS. http-://www.gn.apc.org/pmhp/gs. ?:? May/June: Inter-Continetal Caravan hits the UK. Several hundred campaigners from India will be touring Europe and joining forces with people here to show that we all share common enemies – economic globalisation, `free’ trade, and corporate rule – and that the only way we can defeat them is through united action. Contact ICC Welcoming Committee, c/o 44 Charles St, Oxford OX4 3AS; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; mobile 07970 896736. ?:? 18 June: International Day of Action aimed at the heart o f the global economy. To subscribe to discussion group, email email@example.com with ‘subscribe june 18 ‘ as text.