By Frances Kelly
KENT — Protesters are occupying a piece of woodland as part of a campaign against a new road.
The 50 protesters managed to stop bulldozers clearing the last two hectares of a four-hectare area of trees by erecting a hut called "Ted's House" and claiming ownership of the common land.
"It was really funny", said Sheila MacLurkin, one of the protesters. "The contractors had to ask permission from us to collect their diggers and lunch boxes from the land we had put a line across."
The occupation by members of the Blue Route Action Group (BRAG) is part of a larger protest against a road called the Blue Route, which will cut across farmland and wooded countryside, concreting over yet another piece of ever-shrinking common land in the south-east of England.
The route runs parallel to an existing major road, which will leave the countryside between the highways good for little else but development.
Chris Stone of BRAG said, "That effects us all — those in Whitstable [a town near the route] cannot get out to the country. Walking to the countryside will be impossible from here. Another piece of rural England has disappeared."
In a country that is already carved up from top to bottom, with 1% of the population owning 75% of the land, the fight to stop destruction of a small piece of common becomes quite significant.
Stone points out that the fight is over how people interact with the environment, transport and housing. "We're talking about sustainable living in what little land there is left", he said.
"The 1% have rights over the land that the rest of us don't have, but what they do with the land affects us all."
What is left of common land in England has become even more vital since the passing of Section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act in November 1994. The new law locks people out of any private land. It is aimed primarily at travellers and campaigners like those in BRAG.
Trespass is now a criminal rather than civil offence, and the charge of aggravated trespass can be brought against anyone who is found on a piece of private land, no matter how remote, if they refuse to leave it on demand.
The law was used against the anti-Blue Route campaigners. As Chris Stone points out, it can be used against "anyone that wants to use the land in ways that are not predetermined by the British establishment".
At present there is a stand-off. The campaigners have heard nothing, and the contractors are keeping their distance. The contractors will apparently have to go to court to get the protesters off the woodland site. Meanwhile, people have been appearing from all over the world in solidarity, having learned about the campaign on the internet.
Sheila MacLurkin said, "It really is a totally unnecessary road, and it is destroying a lot of beautiful countryside. They're just raping the future for our kids."
The totally unnecessary road is going to benefit some, however — those who profit from subdividing the land between the two roads, once it is rendered useless for anything else.
As Chris Stone points out, "Who ever heard of a road, a supermarket or a major housing development being stopped by our planning laws?".