Report: last week's TLIO/BHAM/Reclaim the Fields Convergence in Bristol

mark at mark at
Tue Aug 16 00:15:08 BST 2011

The Land is Ours & Bristol Housing Action Movement (BHAM) in association with Reclaim the Fields organised a land occupation in St. Werburghs, Bristol, on Sunday 7th August. Read the report below as to what happened (this was the 2nd day of Reclaim the Fields SW Gathering which this event merged with). 

TLIO BHAM & Reclaim The Fields August Land Convergence In St Werburghs

Report with Photos available here:

Bristol Housing Action Movement


On Sunday 7th August, TLIO, Bristol Housing Action Movement (BHAM) and 
Reclaim the Fields occupied a piece of land in St Werburghs, just 
North of inner-city Bristol, called “Narroways Hill” - well-known to 
Bristolians and known locally simply as “The Hill”. Narroways Hill is 
a little grassy & wooded ridge dissected by railway lines and is an 
area of outstanding natural beauty (non-officially designated), 
located via a public footpath at the end of Mina Road. A former 
railway embankment, this area of green space lined and interspersed 
with small woods and flanked by a steep railway embankment on one side 
was purchased by Bristol City Council in the late 1990s. It became a 
Millennium Green in the year 2000, with a 999 year lease to keep it 
free and open to the local people and allow wildlife to thrive. Since 
2000, it has been owned by the Narroways Millennium Green Trust, who 
manage it as a nature reserve.

We got onto the site later than planned at 1.30pm for this 1-day land 
occupation, an event we arranged for the purpose of providing a space 
for workshops and discussion, plus outdoors activity such as plant id 
to take advantage of being in an area of great environmental value. 
  TLIO, Bham and Reclaim the Fields sought to tread lightly on the 
ground there; our intention was not to use groundsheets, and to 
confine our occupation to one section of the flat ground area of chalk 
grassland below the steep railway embankment so as not to disturb such 
rare grassland species such as Field Scabious, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, 
Greater Knapweed and Sainfoin present in the chalk grassland (the 
grassland is apparantly also home to butterfly such as Marbled White, 
Common Blue and Small Copper).* As soon as we got onto the site, we 
got on with the business of erecting the yurt (now owned by BHAM) and 
later on a 20 x 20 marquee.  A fire was lit on an existing fire-pit 
using wood we took onto the site, for the purpose of cooking food. 
[*we were only made aware of the environmental sensitivity of some of 
these rare species upon arriving on the site by a member of the trust; 
however, we continued in the full-knowledge that our occupation would 
have a low-impact as was our intention since we expected no more than 
30-40 in attendance, which proved to be the case at any one time].

Reclaim the Fields had been already hosting their South-West Gathering 
the day before on the 6th August (which they were having over the 
whole weekend - details below) at The Factory social centre in St 
Pauls, with various workshops and activities. This land occupation 
provided a space for them to decamp to in the open air, as 
pre-arranged, and so the first few hours of this gathering was taken 
up by Reclaim the Fields concluding various talks and practical 
workshops such as producing seed bombs, most of which took place in 
the yurt during intermittant afternoon rain, which delayed us putting 
up the marquee. The raising of the marquee was completed assiduously 
and was another practical workshop for all involved like the yurt, 
after which we converged and gave time for people to announce which 
workshops/talks they would like to do/hear next. A few were 
identified, which were pre-advertised. One person announced they would 
do a foraging/plant id walk in half-an hour, and then asked “..and if 
anyone knows anything about foraging, that would be great!”

First workshop was from a guy from the Squash Campaign 
( – a new campaign which set up several 
months ago to coordinate a campaign against the government’s proposals 
to ‘criminalise squatting’. The Government announced in June that it 
intends to bring in legislation at the start of 2012 (to be in force 
ahead of the Olympics perhaps?) to make occupying a private property 
illegally a criminal offence, launching a consultation on the 
proposals at the time. He gave a detailed talk about the government 
proposals, the government consultation and the incidence of concerted 
biased media reporting against squatting in the lead up to the 
government announcement of their proposals and Squash’s detailed 
multi-pronged response – for instance, Squash’s attempts so far to 
counteract the negative media against squatting through press 
releases, press briefing papers, the online campaign and zines. The 
speaker also mentioned what is possibly the most significant project 
Squash may be doing at present, which is to conduct a research study 
into the extent and breadth of squatting across the UK, which will be 
peer-reviewed and completed ahead of the appearance of any potential 
government legislation should it arise.

The government's proposals will not include previously announced plans 
to make any unauthorised access to land a criminal offence, such as 
camping on private land, under a mooted new law of 'Intentional 
Trespass' which seems to now have been abandoned.

After that, whilst most people went off to explore the site doing a 
foraging/plant id trail, some people continuing making seeds bombs and 
a few others went about starting to prepare hot food, daal and 
chapattis, which was richly enjoyed by all later on.

After most people had reconverged after food, James Armstrong from 
TLIO then gave a workshop on the subject of the Common Agricultural 
Policy (CAP) - as a protection-racket for large landowners and 
corporations. James first began by quoting examples of CAP recipients 
and the amount of money they have received, such as the Queen who got 
£1,183,508 over 2 years just for privately-owning Sandringham (20,000 
acres, £81 million to British Sugar in 2009 for building a biofuel 
plant, and £19 million per annum to sugar/biofuel broker Czarnikow 
(E129 million across Europe). Tate & Lyle across Europe get E828 
million. The figures for the UK-only were retrieved from the DEFRA 
website, but are now no longer available following an annoucement by 
the government that it would not be in the public interest to reveal 
these figures belonging to the Royal Family! (read here). James 
revealed how even getting an official figure of the UK's contribution 
to the EU proved exacting, after no reply from the Office of National 
Statistics (it was finally revealed by the Treasury in a written 
correspondence; puzzling however how the figure quoted of £10.3 
billion was ommitted from the Annual Abstract of Statistics by the 
ONS). After explaining the origins of CAP and how the new system of 
Single-Farm Payments (reformed from the previous system of 
production-subsidies) still rewards the largest landowners, this time 
quite unashamedly in accordance of land-area, he went onto a 
discussion around the subject of comparing this situation with the 
original objective of what CAP actually stands for – which was to 
“reward agricultural-workers” (Treaty of Rome). In a situation of 
widespread closures of small farms, the merits of this were discussed. 
James identified that in order to maintain a fig-leaf of public 
accountability, the EU issued a questionnaire on the CAP as part of a 
consultation over it’s ongoing reform. However, the EU managed to get 
just 196 respondents to the questionnaire in the entire UK!!! James 
also identified how this questionnaire was filled up with loaded 
questions, such as “do you believe agriculture is important in the 
EU?”, suggesting the existing framework should continue which a 
positive response from a respondent would consent to. James then 
briefly introduced his own questionnaire, which he had been doing all 
afternoon to people individually. In it are questions about the 
reality of the CAP, (ie; who it benefits, amount of money for whom, 
asking people’s opinions on whether these aspects are a good or bad 
thing). We also touched on the subject of supermarket power and 
further trends in agricultural intensification with megafarms and 
related animal welfare issues.

By the end of this workshop, we decided it was time to pack up, which 
we did in no time at-all. Then, as we proceeded to leave the site, 4 
members of the Narroways Millennium Green Trust caught up with us, to 
complain about our occupation on the land, claiming we were disturbing 
an important area of wildlife and rare flora. After some discussion, 
we were able to appreciate eachother’s concerns, with our reassurance 
of our “tread lightly” intentions taken on board, including the fact 
that we did not start a new fire pit, instead using an existing one 
(one of a few there). It was acknowledged by the trust members that 
over this summer and previous ones, there has been a frequent 
incidence of Saturday night parties on the top of the embankment, and 
so, the area is flooded with people on a regular basis, which they 
suggested is a main reason why species count of the rare chalk 
grassland plants on the site have reduced over the course of time the 
trust has been managing the land!

This situation brought to attention the conflict between land access 
and conservation protection. The 4 trust members accepted our view 
that access cannot be denied – access which gypsy travellers for 
instance have long enjoyed. Meanwhile, we accepted that access is best 
regulated on a site with sensitive environmental value. We suggested 
that an area should be earmarked to be not trampled on, save from 
fencing it off. There was some discussion about whether providing a 
designated fire-pit alongside clear signage prohibiting open fires on 
the grassland would be a good idea. The merits of this included 
discussion on sourcing the wood, as depletion of wood, twigs etc from 
the area denies local invertebrate life, which in turn has a negative 
effect up the food chain. Providing a wood pile and having a regular 
community fire each Saturday night in the Spring and summer were 
suggested as options for the trust to consider so as to provide a 
presence in the area so that if open-air raves came onto the site, it 
might afford protection to the area of chalk grassland as revellers 
might stay clear of walking down the embankment to a known presence 
below (or starting up fires). This suggestion was not made to 
encourage liason with noise abatement regulation from the council, but 
which would be the local community's prerogative. Again, it raises the 
interesting issue of how far access should be extended when 
environmental considerations are important. It raises the question of 
to what extent regulated access means access is determined on 
conditions laid down by the local community. This is an important 

An additional point, to make, however, as identified in our workshop 
on the CAP, is that with the nature of wildlife desertification across 
vast fields of industrial monoculture farming in Britain (vast acres 
of which as far as the eye can see we are not allowed to walk over), 
it is for this reason why a site of rare chalk grassland such as this 
is afforded such rare status as a direct result of the fact that it is 
rendered an island of rare biodiversity in a sea of sterile 
biodiversity. Reform of CAP steered back in the direction of small 
farmers and smallholders would single handedly improve this situation.


The Reclaim the Fields South-West Gathering was held on the weekend of 
the 6th -7th August in Bristol, venue: The Factory, 2-8 Cave Street, 
St Pauls, Bristol.



TLIO Autumn Gathering 2011 - 8th-9th October, Monkton Wyld Court, nr 
Axminster, Dorset

TLIO's Autumn gathering which will be a bigger and more comprenhesive 
event than this quick flourish above.  The TLIO AUTUMN Gathering will 
take place on the weekend of Sat 8th to Sun 9th October this year at 
Monkton Wyld Court, near Axminster, Dorset. Places will be limited so 
book early. Details here:

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