•Newsletter No. 16 Summer 99
• •Diggers 350
•Ketts Rebellion revisited
|The Land is Ours NewsletterIssue 16 Summer 1999 This newsletter is @nticopyright – (feel free to use information as part of the wider free real news distribution network).|
For I took my spade and went and broke the ground upon George-hill in Surrey, thereby declaring freedom to the Creation, and that the earth must be set free from intanglements of Lords and Landlords, and that it shall become a common treasury to all. Gerrard Winstanley.
The Diggers 350 celebrations proved another great success. The ground on St George’s Hill was broken once again to show that the land belongs to all of us, and not just to the wealthy few. Some 400 people marched from Weybridge to the site of the original Diggers’ encampment – now a posh golf course – where a rally was held. This was followed by the occupation of an unused plot of land by around 150 people, who set up a camp, and erected a stone commemorating Winstanley and the first Diggers. The plot was owned by the local water company (and so was public land until recent privatisation) and lay at the heart of the St George’s Hill Estate, which is one of the most (literally) exclusive areas of land in the country, complete with gated entrances and security guards.
The camp remained for a fortnight,’ complete with a marquee, the TLIO yurt, and a vegetable plot.
The camp was open to visitors, and many people came to view the stone and to see how the camp was run. Local people were very supportive, and there was good coverage in the local press and in The Guardian. The police were quite fluffy: the camp had its own liaison officer for what they called Operation Hannibal. Even the security guards were OK for the most part. There were, just a couple of incidents over access to the site, and an alleged assault on one of the Digger squatters (see below).
The camp was eventually evicted. After a sympathetic hearing in the High Court, the eviction date was delayed for a couple of days, and the latter-day Diggers left in a procession, with music and banners, and carrying the memorial stone. This was an important action which showed that ordinary people like us can really put land rights issues in the public eye. Remember, the stone is still looking for a permanent, safe, accessible home on St George’s Hill, so the campaign still goes on.
? Were you there? We’d love to have your memories, comments and views for our full report on the Diggers 350 action. Write to Diggers, c/o the office.
Diggers on the road
Following the huge success of 350th anniversary celebrations, the Diggers have hit the road in TLIO’s smart, yellow transit van. This summer, and beyond, there will be a multi-pronged attack on the land-owning establishment. ? Short, sharp occupations of abandoned land. This will draw land-owners out into the open, so they can be held to account. The Diggers will work alongside local people to bring the land into good, practical community use. ? Compiling a register of unowned land in association with the Community Land Trust: registered land can then be put to green/social uses. ? Compiling info on bad landowners – and paying them a visit or two. ? Instigating spontaneous direct action. ? Supporting other land-issue campaigns, such as Genetix Snowball.
Kett’s Rebellion revisited
Norfolk campaigners have commemorated 16th century land rights activist Robert Kett in an anniversary occupation of land in Norwich. Over the weekend of 10 July, local campaigners and latter-day Diggers set up camp in the grounds of a former hospital on the edge of town, right opposite Drayton Wood, where Kett camped 450 years earlier. The hospital, set in extensive and beautiful grounds, has been allowed to fall into disrepair while the local NHS Trust look for a private buyer. The sale will almost certainly result in the loss of a handsome and useful building, and of an important local amenity area. The occupation has received extensive coverage in the local press and on TV, and is becoming a focus for local opposition to the proposed sale and development; dog-walkers from local villages have been dropping in for a cup of tea around the fire, and sharing their ideas and local knowledge.
Meanwhile, the local campaigners have joined forces with local amateur theatre group, Common Lot, who have devised and performed a play about Robert Kett: performances are now followed by a short talk about land rights and TLIO. The land occupation will continue until evicted, and was still on site as we went to press. For up-todate info, call 0961 460171.
In 1549, Robert Kett, a wealthy landholder, began enclosing common land adjacent to his private estates, provoking local peasants to take direct action and pull the enclosure fences down. However, instead of putting down this uprising by force, Kett not only allowed his own fences to be torn down by the peasant activists, but also took a leading role in the destruction of those belonging to a wealthy neighbour. From this action grew an anti-enclosure movement which at its height numbered 20,000. Under Kett’s leadership the peasants proceeded to defeat the armies sent to destroy them and only fell to a large force which included hired mercenaries. 3,000 peasants were killed and Kett was hung, drawn. and quartered. Many of the large private estates surviving to this day are the direct result of the legalised theft and gangsterism that Kett and his followers tried to resist.
TLIO autumn gathering 3-6 September 1999
Come along to celebrate the past year’s successes, and to plan and look forward to the coming year. There may also be along-term land-occupation as the gathering ends, using site in obscure ownership! The gathering will take place at Flying Pig Farm near Stroud, set on a wooded hillside with great views over the surrounding countryside. It runs from Friday evening to Monday afternoon, and planned events include guided walks around the local countryside, visits to ancient hillforts, discussions on land in obscure ownership, workshops on aspects of living on the land, etc, etc. And, of course, friendship and fun: please bring musical instruments. There’s no parking on the site, but there will be free lifts from Stroud and Gloucest er stations. Camping/yurt space will be available, but please, no dogs, as there is livestock on the farm. Details from the TLIO office or mobile.
The Diggers need you!
Wish list of equipment and supplies (aka `tat’)
The Diggers are crying out for the following tat, so please contact us (see back page) if you can help (we can collect): Tarpaulins, caravan, axes, bill hooks, scythes/ sickles, slashers, machetes, spades, forks, bow saws, hacksaws, joiner’s saws, hammers, cold chisels, wood chisels, screwdrivers, sharpening stones, spanners, socket sets, pliers, paraffin/ hurricane/tilley lamps, chain saw, buckets, water butts, water standpipe, water hydrant key, diesel transit van manual (1989), calor gas rings/bottles, paint, paintbrushes, camcorder, telescope, binoculars, nightsights, climbing gear, steel guys for a wind generator, garden tools, seeds, folding chairs, paraffin, nails and screws, food, pots (especially a big one with a lid), kettles (large, nonaluminium), cups and plates, cutlery and utensils, waterpurification tablets, sawdust, OS landranger maps, laptop/modem, car radio/cassette, polytunnel, rotavator, straw bales, trailer, money for diesel etc, and help with collecting tat.
Special non-tat wish:
The Diggers need a press liaison person who is at home most of the time, and is equipped with phone and fax. If you’re happy dealing with the press and can offer a long-term PR base for the Diggers’ campaigns, please get in touch via the office, or on the Diggers mobile (see back page).
Plus – who are the bad lads?
Who are the really annoying and unpleasant landowners, the people who block paths and enclose land? You probably know one. The Diggers are looking for targets for possible direct action, and need suggestions – contact us through the office.
A TLIO benefit gig in London is planned for the end of the year, and some big names have already been approached. If you have contacts with suitable venues, or with bands/performers who might like to appear, please get in touch with the office.
Diggers `attack’ goes to court
A St George’s Hill resident has been charged in connection with an assault during the recent Diggers occupation. Local people are the key witnesses. The date of the trial has not been confirmed; contact the office for up-to-the minute news.
The TLIO office will soon be moving to new premises, complete with windows and a kitchen! The premises will be managed by the Ethical Property Company, with the possibility of wind and solar electricity being provided in future. There’s also been a personel shuffle – Sophie is now focussing on the allotment campaign, ACT, and Tracey, Lilia, David and Jon currently form the’ new office team. More voluntary help is still needed, and we’d love you to join usplease contact the office on 01865 722016.
Right to roam.
Many thanks to all of you who bullied and cajoled your MP into supporting Gordon Prentice’s Right to Roam Bill. As you will have spotted in the news, the government has said it will bring its own Right to Roam legislation in the next parliamentary session. Gordon Prentice has therefore withdrawn his original bill. The new access legislation has been planned to form part of along-awaited countryside bill, which will also tackle other environmental issues, such as the strengthening of protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Ministers have promised that the new bill will be included in the Queen’s Speech, and therefore be guaranteed parliamentary time. Now it is beginning to look as if they may go back on their word something they are getting rather too good at. We know that most Labour backbenchers, and a good number of ministers, are backing a Right to Roam. So please keep up the pressure on your MP over the summer.
Access debate in print
Newly published is A Right to Roam by writer, broadcaster and lecturer, Marion Shoard. If you have read her last major work on land rights, This Land is Our Land, then you will be familiar with the passion and scholarship which Shoard brings to her work. If not, then this book is an ideal introduction. As in This Land . . . , the historical and cultural basis of the our current landholding system is examined in detail, but with a focus on the gradual erosion of access which has occurred over the past thousand years. But, crucially, A Right to Roam is a practical book, which examines the ways in which access to the countryside can be improved, dealing sensibly and pragmatically with possible statutory mechanisms and with resolving potential conflicts. If Marion Shoard’s writing has a fault, it is that it makes so much information available that it must, of necessity, be read slowly and carefully. That having been said, the book is clearly written, eminently understandable, and presents the best possible argument for a general Right to Roam.
Water meadows victory
East Anglia TLIO have sc ored a major success in halting the development of water meadows at Bury St Edmunds. At the end of along campaign, initiated by the East Anglia group (later joined by other campaigners), a High Court judge has ruled the local council acted illegally when granting permission for the development by brewers, Greene King. The ruling was made under European laws on the use of Environmental Impact Assessments, and it was the first time that such rules have been used in British law to overturn planning permission. Although the legal challenge was mounted by a local campaigner, backed by Friends of the Earth, it was East Anglia TLIO which first brought the issue to public attention, and which first occupied the development site.
New regional office
East Anglia TLIO now has three active groups in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, and is in need of funds for an East Anglian Regional Office. The office will be used to network information, support local campaigns and court cases, and provide information on land rights and sustainable living. Present funding is from local activists and from selling books, t-shirts, etc at local festivals. If you live in East Anglia and would like to support land rights campaigns in your local area, please send donations to The Land is Ours, c/o Linda Joslin, 20 Ess ex Avenue, Sudbury, Suffolk CO 10 1YZ. Please make cheques payable to `The Land is Ours’. East Anglia regional gathering planned for September-phone 01787 880694 for details.
Developers are casting a greedy eye over land at Trinity Buoy Wharf, right opposite the Dome of Doom in London’s docklands. This is likely to involve cutting off public access to 3 acres of land, a listed lighthouse and the river itself, in order to create a `cultural quarter’. Meanwhile, local workers and artists (what could be more cultural?) find themselves on short licenses or simply evicted. Claims to sustainability also seem a bit wobbly, since offers from renewable energy companies have been dismissed. It’s no surprise that the plans have the backing of Eric Sorensen, former chiefexec of the terrible Thatcherite disaster that was the London Docklands Development Corporation and it’s also no surprise that local dissent is growing. Agitation, legal challenges and creative protest are all on their way-to join this important new campaign, contact Anne Nicholson, who is spearheading a new TLIO group to fight the proposals: phone 0181 6925891 for more info.
An allotment co-op in Brighton is looking for more keen, organic growers to help them open up more disused allotment land. To get your name on the waiting-list, contact Karl Heyman of Whitehawk Hill Allotment Gardeners’ Association on 01273 292215.
EarthRights Solicitors will provide campaigning groups or individuals with legal advice on environmental issues, especially where there is an identifiable public interest. For more information, contact them on 07071 225011, write to EarthRights Solicitors, Little Orchard, School Lane, Molehill Green, Takeley, Essex CM22 6PJ, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pressmennan Oak Woods
Mass felling is likely to go ahead this autumn unless the woodland can be occupied in time. A long legal fight has failed to stop the chainsaws, so only direct action is left. Contact Woodland Awareness and Network of Defence (WAND) C/o PO Box 1021, Edinburgh, E118 9PW. WAND act as an agent for nature in the realm of human society, bring people together, provide information on woodland ecosystems, and monitor threats to natural woodlands. A new book,, `The Anti-Wicca War’, is due out from WAND soon.
If you live in a mobile home and are having trouble with your site-owner or landlord, you may be able to get the help you need from one of these sources: * Park Home Advisory Service who offer `help and advice to park owners and residents without bias.’ They are at 17 Ashley Wood Park, Tarrant Keyeston, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT 11 9IJ. * Shelter may also be able to offer advice, including access to legal advice. Look them up in the phone book, or ring Shelterline on 0808 800 4444.
The Urban Parks Forum support the regeneration of public parks and gardens in towns and cities. They’ve just had a narrow squeak with their funding, but are now set up for the next four years. Find out more by writing to Jane Schofield, Urban Parks Forum, PO Box 266, York, Y026 5YS, or e-mail email@example.com.
The Tories started the great sell-off of Forestry Commission land in 1981. Since then, about half of our publicly owned forests and woodlands have been lost to the private sector. When the woods go private, public access often disappears (despite government assurances to the contrary) – for an example see Lyminge Forest, where developers and planners thought a fenced footpath along one boundary would make up for loss of open access to hundreds of acres of wood land. Under Labour, the rate of sales has slowed, but the loss continues. In 1997/98, the Forestry Commission sold 8364 acres of public forest, but acquired just 6499 acres.
A nationally important Iron Age hillfort in the middle of St George’s Hill belongs in part to the local council, which was given it `to hold with a view to the enjoyment thereof by the public as an open space’. However, the management company which owns the surrounding roads and verges is actively discouraging access to the monument. June was an interesting month for heritage/direct action conflicts. Seahenge, a timber circle on the Norfolk coast was occupied by activists protesting at attempts by English Heritage to remove the timbers in order to prevent their destruction by erosion. Objectors included pagans on spiritual grounds, and locals upset by lack of local consultation. The issue had not been resolved as we went to press. The j18 demo resulted in graffiti damage to listed buildings and statues in Trafalgar Square. And there were the usual confrontations at Stonehenge, resulting in the cancellation of the `special access’ arrangements by English Heritage. At least some of the white-robed, `trad’ druids blamed police heavy-handedness. A new leaflet and newsletter is being prepared by TLIO’s Archaeology and Cultural Heri tage group: contact the office for details.
New international land rights newsletter A new TLIO magazine will look at international land rights issues, inviting discussion and encouraging networking amongst different groups worldwide. The first issue will look at `development’ and what it means in reality . . . and will tackle ecological footprinting, cultural imperialism, global sustainability and more. If you have ideas/articles to submit, useful contacts we should know about, or want to discuss the project, contact `TLIO international’ at the office address, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Australia Australia Aboriginal activists have gone to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva to try and overturn recent Australian land rights legislation. They say that the new laws are discriminatory, a claim denied by the Oz government: the Prime Minister has stated that restrictions to Aboriginal rights are necessary to end the uncertainty faced by miners and ranchers on land title issues. So that’s all right then.
You may like to check-out (though it’s unrelated) the Ozbased (I think) website at www.whoseland.com, which is billed as `an interactive documentary of land rights’.
Brazil Members of an uncontacted tribe in the Tumucumaque reservation in northern Brazil have attacked and killed 11 illegal miners and injured 2 others. The attacks were in retaliation for the death of an indigenous woman and child in a fire which miners had started. The Tumucumaque region is home to several thousand indigenous people, many in isolated tribes which have been forced to move deeper and deeper into the jungle to avoid contact with illegal miners and loggers.
Ecuador Over 400 hundred members of the Cofan people have surrounded an oil well near Lago Agrio, in protest about the contamination of their environment. The well is only 20 metres from the community’s water source, and a military presence in the area is not making the situation any more stable. To find out how you can help, go to www.amazoncoalition.org/cmtupdf.htm.
Guyana Last October, the leaders of six Akawaio and Pemon indigenous communities filed the first ever land rights law suit in the country’s history. The leaders are claiming an unextinguished aboriginal title to 3000 square miles of the Mazaruni region. Their claim is an attempt to defend their lands and people against the environmental and social problems brought to the area by commercial mining.
New York Community groups in New York have got together save over a hundred community gardens from development. These gardens – part of a network of around 700 throughout the city – are run by residents’ associations, and used by local people in much the same way as we use allotments. Many of the gardens have been reclaimed from derelict land, and were claimed by the city authorities who were keen to make a quick buck from building developers. The gardens have now been bought on behalf of the community following direct action which included public embarrassment of Mayor Giuliani by the `Garden Guerrillas’ who appeared as giant sunflowers, tomatoes, and other allotment produce.
Nevada The Shundahai Network is an anti-nuclear campaign which campaigns against the bomb tests still carried out on traditional Indian lands. Two Shundahai activists recently found themselves in court for `not conforming to a direction given by a federal authority’ when they chained themselves to a federal building in Las Vegas. The judge allowed the pair to air their grievances in court before handing down sentences of 12 hours community service each, plus $20 in costs which was paid by a whip-round in the courtroom.
18-23 Aug. Eart h, First! Summer Gathering in East Anglia. Includes skills/ experience workshops, campaign planning and analysis. £10. Bring a tent, but, sorry, no dogs. For more details, phone 0113 2629365. For site/joining info, send a first class SAE to Earth First! Summer Gathering, C/o Cornerstone Resource Centre, 16 Sholebroke Avenue, Chapeltown, Leeds; or see the web page www.ecoaction.org/gathering after I1 August.
Sun 22 Aug. Another chance to join the mass trespasses organised by South Downs TLIO. A truly excellent – and laid back day out in beautiful countryside. Bring a packed lunch and be prepared for a walk of up to six miles. Sorry, no dogs. Meet at Brighton Station, 11 am.
3-6 Sept. TLIO Autumn Gathering. Meet other campaigners, discuss issues, plan ahead, have fun. See front page for details.
Sun 19 Sept. Access Day. Ramblers’ groups all over the country will be staging events to highlight the need for legislation on the Right to Roam. Contact Nicky Warden on 0171 799 1602 for details of events in your area.