Who we are and what we do
The Land Is Ours is a campaign, not an organization. All the work at present is done by volunteers, scattered around the country, who come together for regular meetings.
Our role is to highlight ordinary people’s exclusion not only from the land itself but also from the decision making processes affecting it, and to campaign and facilitate other people’s campaigns to put this right. As well as organizing events itself, TLIO functions as an umbrella group, putting local campaigns in touch with each other, providing research, media support, political lobbying, contacts and ideas.
The story so far. The campaign began with the occupation of a disused airfield and set-aside land near St George’s Hill in Surrey, which the Diggers seized in 1649. Around 600 people built a village and gardens, performed a play and distributed information in the neighbouring towns. We succeeded in starting a national debate on land, with favourable coverage in all the broadsheets and most national TV and radio news programmes.
Soon afterwards, we occupied Shirburn Hill, near Watlington, Oxfordshire, the property of the Earl of Macclesfield, in support of people trying to get access to his 2000 acres and to try to stop him neglecting one of the county’s last areas of chalk downland. Oxfordshire County Council adopted a motion supporting us and calling for land reform.
At the end of 1995, TLIO launched a competition for Britain’s best and worst landowners. Nominations from the public were assessed by a panel of independent judges. The Duke of Westminster was voted worst landowner (he has got a special dispensation to inspect tenants’ homes at any time, while excluding walkers from thousands of acres of his Forest of Bowland estate, on the basis that they are intruding on his privacy) and Daphne Buxton of Norfolk was voted best landowner, after she established the first common in England this century. Another competition was launched at the end of 1996.
In May 1996, 500 Land is Ours activists occupied 13 acres of derelict land on the banks of the River Thames in Wandsworth, highlighting the appalling misuse of urban land, the lack of provision of affordable housing and the deterioration of the urban environment. The site was destined for the 9th major superstore within a radius of a mile and a half.
We cleared the site of rubble and rubbish, built a village entirely from recycled materials and planted gardens. We held onto it for five and half months, until it was evicted by bailiffs acting for the owners, Guinness. It was visited by thousands of people, many of whom had come from abroad to see it. It attracted publicity all over the world, and pushed the issues it highlighted up the political agenda.
From the mid 1990s to the late 90s, TLIO through mass trepasses and land occupations such as at Luton Hoo Estate in 1998, raised the issue of the Right-to-Roam, working also at a grassroots level with local ramblers groups around the country. Thankfully, one of the few good things undertaken by the New Labour administration when it came to power in 1997 was to speedily put through a bill called the ‘Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act’, which increased access to more British Countryside though falling short of a full right-to-roam (TLIO now does not necessarily support a 100% right-to-roam across the country, but certainly supports greater access to the British countryside than currently exists under CROW, such as coastal paths). CROW became law in the winter of 2000.
In April 1999, TLIO occupied a piece of land on St George’s Hill to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Digger’s first occupation, by squatting a piece of land within what is now a private housing estate (the diggers community of St George’s Hill were one of many scattered around the country in 1649). Have a look at the following TLIO newsletter feature: Diggers350 – Return to St George’s Hill. Three years on, activists succeeded in their campaign for the local council to place a memorial stone to the Diggers to be put on the hill.
Then later the same year in July 1999, TLIO embarked on an action to save a greenfield piece of land on the outskirts of Norwich – land owned by the Norfolk Mental Health NHS Trust – which local activists suspected was about to be sold off to housing developers. The action also had the dual role of commemorating the 450th anniversary of the Ketts rebellion, when in 1549, landowner Robert Kett led commoners to Norwich to protest against the injustices of land enclosure. More info here: Ketts Rebellion revisited
TLIO as a fully-functioning campaign has been on the back-burner over recent years and had its last TLIO Gathering event in February 2000, hosted by the Exodus Collective in Luton. That is with the exception of Chapter-7 – the planning office of TLIO, which started up in around 1998. Chapter-7 have been giving planning advice over the phone and planning consultancy at affordable rates to people living or attempting to live on the land since this time.
In 2004, during the Easter Weekend 8 -13 April, TLIO organised an action to prevent the demolition of Tony Wrench’s Roundhouse at Brithdir Mawr, in Pembrokeshire National Park. Original report of the TLIO action here. Report on the history of what happened to the Roundhouse and Tony & Jane’s eventual planning victory here.
Then in 2006, on April 14th, activists from TLIO together with an action group of small farmers and local residents occupied an empty farm owned by Somerset County Council in the village of Chiselborough, near Yeovil – Balham Hill Farm – which the council had put up for sale. It was one of several which the the then Lib-Dem run County Council was planning to sell off as farm tenancies expired. The occupiers brought farm animals onto site, including cows, pigs, chickens and a cart-horse (Sam). The protesters also reopened the farm, selling locally produced vegetables, meat and eggs. Unfortunately, they did not succeed in preventing the sale, but in a partial victory to the activists, the farm went to tender rather than being sold at auction, ensuring it was not broken up. Read this article from Issue-1 of The Land for a complete story here …and also this Guardian article on the occupation published at the time here.
Nowdays, TLIO’s work is mainly focused upon low-impact planning (Chapter-7 – the planning office of TLIO) and campaigning about inequitable dispersal of CAP payment (for the latter, read here) – an issue which directly reflects the vast inequity of land ownership within the British Isles. It is an issue which is developing into becoming the main focus of The Land is Ours campaign. We plan to use our 2011 Autumn Gathering as a re-launch of the Land is Ours campaign, whilst recognising that newer campaign networks such as Reclaim The Fields have emerged in the meantime who we are now working alongside.
For information and the websites of past campaigns & actions go to our Campaigns archive ????????????