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

mark at tlio.org.uk mark at tlio.org.uk
Wed Aug 24 20:34:25 BST 2011

Re: TLIO's land convergence/occupation with BHAM & Reclaim the Fields 
on an area of chalk grassland  in St Werburghs, Bristol on Sun 7th 

Unfortunately, not all of us took the trouble of finding out in 
advance that this area of land was in actual fact a nature reserve! 
Those amongst us who did know this reasoned that our impact on the 
land would be negligible - as I said,  we did confine our occupation 
to one section of the grassland.

This instance has struck at the heart of the debate between land 
access versus land exclusion for preservation, and in weighing up 
between competing interests of access and conservation whilst we can 
concede that in some instances it may be an incompatible one 
(excessive density of numbers), responsible access cannot and should 
not be ruled as being some kind of alien activity.  Land which enjoyed 
customary rights for generations (ok, not this site, but I make a 
general point here) cannot be suddenly deemed off limits because of 
some rare grassland flower is at risk for trampling ..and only with 
significantly large numbers of people. In an urban setting, this is 
also completely unrealistic. And as a landrighst campaign, whilst we 
would never condone willing environmental deterioration of an area of 
conservation value, we would also never counternance restriction on 
access. As such, as I said, access needs to be managed in some way.
The fact is that the site has been host to numerous free parties on a 
regular basis every few weeks, though each of these gatherings of 
upwards of hundreds of people may well usually have been largely 
confined to the top of the embankment at the top of the hill, and not 
the area of grassland below. My report 
(http://www.tlio.org.uk/summer-gathering2011/) of what happened was 
published as the main feature article on Bristol Indymedia where it 
stayed as such for over a week. Hopefully the issues it has raised has 
informed more people who otherwise may not have been aware of the 
nature reserve at this locally well-known area of land, not least our 
own observations on the subject. Infact, our occupation may well have 
facilitate a process for greater awareness and issues of 
responsibility in regard to this site - issues which may have been 
hitherto not in some peoples' minds.

We hope that this report reflecting on this event will have informed 
people of issues that they previously were not aware of.

I would like to feedback these and earlier comments back to the 
Narroways Millennium Green Trust.



On Tue, 16 Aug 2011 20:06:03 +0100
  "david bangs" <dave.bangs at virgin.net> wrote:
> 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
> Brighton
>  ----- 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 
>  http://bristol.indymedia.org/article/705490
>  Report with Photos available here: 
>  http://www.tlio.org.uk/summer-gathering2011/
>  Bristol Housing Action Movement
>  http://www.squatbristol.org.uk/
>  Report:
>  On Sunday 7th August, TLIO, Bristol Housing Action Movement (BHAM) 
>  Reclaim the Fields occupied a piece of land in St Werburghs, just 
>  North of inner-city Bristol, called “Narroways Hill” - well-known 
>  Bristolians and known locally simply as “The Hill”. Narroways Hill 
>  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 
>  was purchased by Bristol City Council in the late 1990s. It became 
>  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. 
>  2000, it has been owned by the Narroways Millennium Green Trust, 
>  manage it as a nature reserve.
>  We got onto the site later than planned at 1.30pm for this 1-day 
>  occupation, an event we arranged for the purpose of providing a 
>  for workshops and discussion, plus outdoors activity such as plant 
>  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 
>  grassland below the steep railway embankment so as not to disturb 
>  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 
>  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) 
>  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 
>  these rare species upon arriving on the site by a member of the 
>  however, we continued in the full-knowledge that our occupation 
>  have a low-impact as was our intention since we expected no more 
>  30-40 in attendance, which proved to be the case at any one time].
>  Reclaim the Fields had been already hosting their South-West 
>  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 
>  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 
>  up the marquee. The raising of the marquee was completed 
>  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 
>  do a foraging/plant id walk in half-an hour, and then asked “..and 
>  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 
>  months ago to coordinate a campaign against the government’s 
>  to ‘criminalise squatting’. The Government announced in June that 
>  intends to bring in legislation at the start of 2012 (to be in 
>  ahead of the Olympics perhaps?) to make occupying a private 
>  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 
>  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 
>  Squash may be doing at present, which is to conduct a research 
>  into the extent and breadth of squatting across the UK, which will 
>  peer-reviewed and completed ahead of the appearance of any 
>  government legislation should it arise.
>  The government's proposals will not include previously announced 
>  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 
>  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 
>  and the amount of money they have received, such as the Queen who 
>  £1,183,508 over 2 years just for privately-owning Sandringham 
>  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 
>  the government that it would not be in the public interest to 
>  these figures belonging to the Royal Family! (read here). James 
>  revealed how even getting an official figure of the UK's 
>  to the EU proved exacting, after no reply from the Office of 
>  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 
>  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 
>  James identified that in order to maintain a fig-leaf of public 
>  accountability, the EU issued a questionnaire on the CAP as part of 
>  consultation over it’s ongoing reform. However, the EU managed to 
>  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 
>  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, 
>  we did in no time at-all. Then, as we proceeded to leave the site, 
>  members of the Narroways Millennium Green Trust caught up with us, 
>  complain about our occupation on the land, claiming we were 
>  an important area of wildlife and rare flora. After some 
>  we were able to appreciate eachother’s concerns, with our 
>  of our “tread lightly” intentions taken on board, including the 
>  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, 
>  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 
>  trust has been managing the land!
>  This situation brought to attention the conflict between land 
>  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 
>  regulated on a site with sensitive environmental value. We 
>  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 
>  the grassland would be a good idea. The merits of this included 
>  discussion on sourcing the wood, as depletion of wood, twigs etc 
>  the area denies local invertebrate life, which in turn has a 
>  effect up the food chain. Providing a wood pile and having a 
>  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, 
>  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, 
>  which would be the local community's prerogative. Again, it raises 
>  interesting issue of how far access should be extended when 
>  environmental considerations are important. It raises the question 
>  to what extent regulated access means access is determined on 
>  conditions laid down by the local community. This is an important 
>  issue.
>  An additional point, to make, however, as identified in our 
>  on the CAP, is that with the nature of wildlife desertification 
>  vast fields of industrial monoculture farming in Britain (vast 
>  of which as far as the eye can see we are not allowed to walk 
>  it is for this reason why a site of rare chalk grassland such as 
>  is afforded such rare status as a direct result of the fact that it 
>  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 
>  __________________________________________________________
>  The Reclaim the Fields South-West Gathering was held on the weekend 
>  the 6th -7th August in Bristol, venue: The Factory, 2-8 Cave 
>  St Pauls, Bristol.
>  Ref: 
>  http://www.reclaimthefields.org/content/rtf-south-west-summer-gathering
>  __________________________________________________________
>  TLIO Autumn Gathering 2011 - 8th-9th October, Monkton Wyld Court, 
>  Axminster, Dorset
>  TLIO's Autumn gathering which will be a bigger and more 
>  event than this quick flourish above. The TLIO AUTUMN Gathering 
>  take place on the weekend of Sat 8th to Sun 9th October this year 
>  Monkton Wyld Court, near Axminster, Dorset. Places will be limited 
>  book early. Details here: 
>  http://www.tlio.org.uk/TLIO-autumngathering2011

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