[Diggers350] Report: last week's TLIO/BHAM/Reclaim the Fields Convergence in Bristol

david bangs dave.bangs at virgin.net
Tue Aug 16 20:06:03 BST 2011

It sounds as if this was a learning exercise for all concerned. 

I am disturbed, though, by the idea of occupying a nature reserve run by a dedicated Trust, and can well understand the distress of the Trust's staff at the occupation. (I have been involved over the years with a number of site-based 'Friends' groups defending important local wildlife sites).

It sounds as though the occupiers concerned would do well to spend some time learning about their local sites, countryside and wildlife to avoid this kind of mistake again.

I am not sure what those seed bombs were for. Were they used for seeding the site ???...Please say that wasn't the case...chalk grassland is already extremely species-rich. If they were used on the site that was very irresponsible. Seed bombs can do a great deal of harm in habitats managed for their naturally occuring species. Even on inner city sites, I would argue that natural colonisation can provide as many, or more, layers of interest than artificial seeding. You can get dazzling and very rich displays of flowers just by 'leaving be' for a bit. You can 'tweak' the natural process of colonisation to preserve or enhance the maximum colour and diversity. Newly colonised bare-ground sites rapidly become very species-rich with naturally occuring 'weedy' species. 

We don't live in the Sahara Desert, but in a country where there is a very rich natural seed rain even in deep urban areas. 

It sounds as though the occupiers should also take more time choosing their targets. There are more than enough genuine barstewards in both the city and its countryside without picking on our friends and natural allies.

What about the occupiers just spend some time exploring their local countryside in depth ? If you don't know your own landscape you won't know when it is damaged or at threat..."What the eye cannot see the heart cannot grieve over"...

In Brighton activists set up an organisation, Action For Access, which has run for three years doing 'free walking' (ie going where they like rather than respecting private prohibitions on access) to encourage people to reclaim our forbidden countryside. The organisation has been involved in three land use campaigns...latterly helping set up two local 'Keep Our Forests Public' groups and holding rallies in public forests threatened by privatisation,

Dave Bangs
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: mark at tlio.org.uk 
  To: diggers350 at yahoogroups.com 
  Sent: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 12:15 AM
  Subject: [Diggers350] Report: last week's TLIO/BHAM/Reclaim the Fields Convergence in Bristol

  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 
  (http://www.squashcampaign.org/) – 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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