Ten thousand words from ‘Ten Thousand Trees’, the chapter from Copse: the Cartoon Book of Tree Protesting which details the fight against the Newbury bypass.
The Newbury bypass. One nine mile road. Which manages to pass three times through North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and obliterate three Sites of Special Scientific Interest, an ancient Stone Age settlement, eleven other archaeological sites and two perfectly preserved Civil War battlefields. As well as destroying the habitats of kingfishers, nightjars, hobbies, bats and dormice – all protected spices – and one of the last remaining colonies of the Desmoulin Whorl snail. And polluting the river Lamborne, one of the cleanest in the country. That is because the whole thing runs through woodland. To build it means chopping down an estimated ten thousand trees.
In December 1994, in the face of concerted environmental opposition, the Transport minister Brian Mawhinney announces a year long review of the scheme and promises to investigate ‘other options’. The World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth commission a £15,000 report into less damaging alternatives, to be presented to the Department of Transport in August 1995. In July, however, half an hour before he leaves his office in a cabinet reshuffle, Dr Mawhinney announces that the review is complete and that the bypass will proceed. No evidence has been considered other than that submitted by the Highways Agency. No Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out (breaching a 1988 European Union Directive). Mawhinney ignores his own government’s 1986 Landscape Committee declaration: the proposed road is “quite unacceptable” and “massively destructive of a largely intimate landscape, unable to absorb the impact of a major highway”.
Newbury already has a bypass, but it is slowed down by five roundabouts where it skirts the town. Sainsbury’s has built a huge superstore on the busiest roundabout, which means that traffic lights are installed, and the road becomes a slowly chugging, fumey car park. Shall we sort out the superstore? Or put tunnels under the roundabouts? Or perhaps invest in public transport? No, let us destroy some ancient forest for a road that will form part of the new network of Euro-routes, in this case connecting Glasgow to Northern Spain (a fact which we forgot to mention at the public enquiries).
We shall also overlook the fact that only 15% of traffic will be removed from the town by the new road. That 70% of traffic in Newbury is local. That there will be just as much traffic in the town within 5-7 years if car use increases in line with forecasts. And that is before we have considered the 700 applications for infill development along the new road – 5000 new houses means 8000 new cars (and 1400 more houses are being built in Sandleford to the south). Just remember that we have the backing of Newbury’s two largest employers, Vodafone and Bayer. We’ll give the pro-Bypass lobby offices and a shop in town at the tax-payer’s expense, and then conduct a media hate campaign against protesters sponging off the state. And then we’ll carry on property speculating, as unprofitable Sites of Scientific Interest become potential Little Chef material.
The 1995 review of the Newbury Bypass calculated that two minutes would be saved on off-peak journey times. The Highways Agency then stated that: “We don’t just build roads to save time. We estimate the road will save 28 lives* over a 30 year period.”
Many more than 28 lives were risked in its construction.
How was Newbury for you then?
DAN: Psychotic, really
*[It didn’t. Traffic fatalities rose sharply after the road opened.]
I spent a rainy November there at Skyward camp, trying, of all things, to fix a crappy little van, in the mud, with my head in little pieces as only a disastrous love affair can leave it.
Then in January my van was kind-of working and I was on my way back to Selar and I stopped in at the Chase, another camp along the route. And then it really was happening; security had been hired and were living in barracks down the road. The tribe gathered, with hugs and shouts and hellos. We were all sleeping in tiny benders together again and getting up at six in the morning to race the security to the trees. This cheered me up quite a lot, the love of good friends being better than the love of crap men. Besides, what was happening each day behind the thin yellow line was so incredibly shit that it put a little personal heart ache into perspective.
What happened, basically, was that every morning, anything up to 1600 security guards would be driven in coaches from strange, macho security bunkers to some point along the nine mile route. One thousand, six hundred men in day-glow yellow; that’s quite an army (and some of them were soldiers on special leave, as it goes). People would track them in fast cars and we’d listen nervously to our CB radios to find out which way they were headed. The Chase was at the South end of the route; sometimes when they were going North I’d go back to bed, but then I’m a slack fucker. Most of my friends were burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle as well.
Omigod!, they’re heading for Penn Wood, Tot Hill, Redding’s Copse… A mad scramble to race them to their destination. You had to get there before the lines were properly assembled as any later attempts to charge them would mean an arrest for aggravated trespass. They weren’t interested in the camps themselves, as possession orders hadn’t been granted for them yet. They were just clearing the land between the camps. Of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trees.
Sit in a tree, in the January cold, without food or water as often as not, while all those trees are felled around you in a sickening frenzy by the chainsaw gangs. Then at night, stick up Section Sixes and squat the land that you saved. Build walkways and platforms by the dim light of head torches. Stumble with flasks of strong coffee through land that had been familiar until the chainsaw men turned it horizontal. God the route was so huge! And they were coming for it all at once.
OLIVIA: Sometimes I felt we are really mad; hardcore like fuck. I can’t believe we are here in the winter in snow and the rain and the mud and we manage to carry on and do it every single day.
NICKY: There were loads of people who overdid it a bit. Somehow I managed to get by without collapsing and giving myself a hernia, but I did overdo if for sure and got loads of sleep deprivation. And it was quite a trip, going round with these bug eyes and my body somewhere behind me; with my head thinking I was really on the case and could do anything while my feet stumbled around in the mud.
It was a shame that everyone – I mean it seemed like the thing to do at the time, but everyone got on such a mission about it all! And we were looking after each other, but we could have looked after each other more. We could have been more sensible and more into cosiness.
I was well into cosiness.
I wasn’t. I was crap. I used to go and lie in my unheated treehouse with all my clothes on. I spent maybe one night in a communal bender which there was a stove, and that was only because they’d chopped down all my treehouses.
The route was huge, and they were coming for it all at once, but lots and lots of other people were coming there too. The press are fickle in their affections, but this was January, a dull time of the year, and Newbury was only a short blat away from journalistic London headquarters. With saturation media coverage, hundreds of people headed for the protest.
OLIVIA: Every time you met someone new. There was so much knowledge and inspiration going on. So many different people from different backgrounds coming together.
If there had never been a road building security operation on this scale before, it was because they had never encountered this amount of opposition.
TROLLIE: I remember the first day it kicked off, walking into town, all of us Kennet posse, seeing all these cars full of protesters; people that were coming because they’d seen it on the news. It was like, “Yes!” The Clocktower [pub] at happy hour, it was a pound a pint. It was buzzing. Loads of amazing people coming together and having a party. Sod them chopping down trees.
But me, I couldn’t get much consolation from the new people that were constantly turning up. I wanted to include them and would make introductions and explanations, but then I’d instantly forget their names. Sometimes it would take a while to register what I had seen.
Like the day in Penn Wood when they moved the security cordon and I happened, for once, to be in the right place to climb a tree that was then behind the lines. There were three chainsaw operators working at the same time, as quick as they could, laying the trunks down one on top of another like a very sick game of spilikins. Licensed chainsaw operators are supposed to ensure that no other person is standing within an area twice the height of the tree that is being felled, but here those rules were being flouted and the Health and Safety Executive seemed strangely unconcerned.
They would slash at the trunks and then sometimes they would push them the last little bit, two men leaning on the trunk to help it fall, then on to the next.
I was watching them, blankly, at the base of a tree not ten yards away from mine and I watched the trunk start moving, backwards, towards them, the wrong way. It fell the wrong way. It fell onto a tree with someone in it and I saw the white face of the man in the tree who it so narrowly missed. He was wearing a hat. I thought it was the face of a dead man. Later I saw it was Jem.
The tree bounced from there on to the line of security guards, but before it reached them it was stopped by the thin blue rope of a walkway that had just been rigged up. It took the security a second to look up and see it and leg it away in panic. The rope stretched perilously. Matt was standing on the other end of it; no harness; he would fall if it broke, and he was shouting his head off. All the people on the ground were shouting and screaming too.
Jem didn’t look like he could speak.
So there’s my battle story. But worse were the days when the coaches would pull up and discharge their yellow armies and I wouldn’t get there in time, or I’d run the wrong way in panic.
All those beautiful alder trees around the Chase; they’d made such slender, fragile, winter patterns against the sky. I discovered that alder wood is bright orange when its cut.
Further into Penn Wood my friends had more living nightmares. Diggers began to progress through the once-forest, shovelling the trees into huge hell fires, that would burn for days and nights, spewing out thick clouds of smoke and raining flakes of ash. It looked like some bizarre nuclear winter. People huddled stoically around the cooking fires. “Bloody hell I think we’re on the set of Apocalypse Now!” Several security guards were hospitalised for smoke inhalation. Our lot just got hacking coughs and chest infections.
At times the yellow jackets would return for spontaneous illegal evictions where trees were not actually inhabited would be felled.
OLIVIA: Its really hard if you try and protect lots of trees at the same time, running around. They were climbing up with spikes on their boots; two of them go up, and one threatens to cut one walkway, and the other to cut the other walkway… and each walkway leads to a tree. Have you ever seen the movie Sophie’s Choice?..
DAN: They came in one morning without any paperwork and just started cutting down trees and trashing things and cutting walkways on people and being pretty out of order. Beating people upon the ground as well. But we managed to save what we saved and carried on.
Dealing with the media was strange.
So why are you against the road?
I’m not, I’m for the trees. And could you call us environmentalists rather than Eco-warriors PLEASE.
How can you justify your presence when the people of Newbury don’t want you here?
I think you’ll find what the people of Newbury want is a solution to their traffic problems. And that will best be achieved by a comprehensive system of public transport, not by this needlessly destructive new road, which traffic forecasters have predicted will be redundant within five years in any case.
That one was too eloquent for ITV and they didn’t use it.
And then the other way around, me interviewing Meridian film crew about what their angle was as a particularly stunning avenue of huge sycamores crashed down.
Well, yes, we’re not actually going to do a report as such – we’re just here in case anything happens.
What do you mean? Things are happening. Look at those beautiful trees on the ground.
Um, actually we were looking at more of a human interest angle.
Like what, exactly? After a little prompting, this was the reply:
I mean just look at the way Jill Phipps brought the whole issue of animal exports into the public eye.
Death. That’s my friends, you bastards, That’s me.
But then I did get to draw cartoons for The Guardian newspaper which was a buzz, although rather complicated in the mud. I bought a vehicle with the money, to replace the one that self destructed while I zoomed it through Newbury rush hour. True to the curse attached to all roads protesters that try to own vehicles, it fell to pieces.
Actually, a large proportion of Newbury residents did not want us there at all. People would greet us on the street with icy stares. Taxis wouldn’t take our money; buses didn’t stop. I once watched the women in the cake shop systematically search out and give me the smallest doughnut on the rack.
The town was polarised. There was those who vehemently opposed the road, who did their bit and more: making food, distributing supplies, taking to the trees. But the town has been Tory since time began and the shopping streets were crowded with rednecks and County types who directed at us, the invading crusty hoards, a singular amount of unspoken venom. It was a bit of a contrast with the generosity, curiosity, and friendliness of the people of Cwmgwrach.
IT’S HARD NOT TO BE PARANOID WHEN THEY REALLY ARE OUT TO GET YOU.
As time went on our numbers diminished. Every time someone was arrested, the police would set bail conditions excluding them from the ‘Newbury Sausage’, a one mile perimeter around the route. And the next time they got nicked they ended up in prison.
The government of this country employs private detectives to spy on environmental protesters, which is an extraordinarily blatant abuse of peoples civil rights. I suppose you can take it for granted that the Secret Service include monitoring ‘enemies of the state’ in their make-it-up-as-we-go-along-because-we’re-not-answerable-to-anyone remit. In fact, since the end of the Cold War, it is difficult to see what else they do. Then Special Branch officially announces that people who non-violently protest are terrorists and subject to it’s ministrations. On top of this, Bray’s Detectives, a Southampton firm, get paid to harass and spy on us; an outfit who are officially unconnected with the government and are answerable to none, but who just happened to be paid several million pounds by the Home Office.
Brays didn’t seem to have made it into South Wales; I wasn’t really aware of them before. Now, by the smoky security lines, a man with a yellow jacket and a green hat said, “Hello Kate” and I looked up, then felt sick that I’d given him that spark of recognition. I had never been charged with any criminal offence.
A month later I was stopped in London the night that the IRA bombed Canary Wharf, and maybe the policeman got some special ‘terrorist’ information on his screen when he punched in my number plate because he said, “Great march they had at Newbury today, wasn’t it?”
I’m not a paramilitary soldier. I’m a cartoonist that likes living in trees.
SUNFLOWER: How serious are they when they record you? Is it just a tactic to make you paranoid? You don’t know what they’re going to do with it. Are we all enemies of the state that are eventually going to be– ???
They were out in force, trying to fit up and seize the men that they saw were good at getting into trees. There were teams of photographers, and snatch squads, and a large book of photographs which they were matching with names. People found themselves being tailed by police, marking their every move. Then squads of police started coming into camps to get people, which was horrible, because it was our space, and they had no right to be there.
The strange thing was, though, that when you were arrested, the Newbury police were none the wiser and you could get away with giving a false name and date of birth. What do they do with the information? I’d love to see my file.
That was the clearance work around the camps and it went on for 10 weeks. The court cases came and went and we vaguely hoped that “they’’ the lawyers, the unmuddy campaigners, would get us an extension or an appeal or something. The authorities had until May 1st to clear the route, when the bird nesting season began: this was a new European law and assurances had been made that it wouldn’t be broken. Back in January we had slowed them down so much that we hoped, what with the court cases and everything, we did hope we would delay it. We could have had some storming festivals on the trashed bits in the summer.
The court cases were lost. The evictions were imminent, except they decided to stop off at Selar [potential opencast coal mine, Cwmgrach, South Wales] and evict that first.
Selar had been very quiet over the winter. Very quiet and very cold.
You were there in the winter. What was that like?
Yeah, it was really nice. You’d get dry days and wet days basically. And you’d wake up and on a dry day there’d be frost on the ground and there’d be icicles hanging from the bottom of the tree house, your abseil line would be frozen, all the branches and twigs would be covered with frost. You know where the water meadows were all trashed? …you could see what it would have looked like before.
At one point it must have been about minus eight, probably colder than that with the wind chill. I remember waking up one morning, I wore a hat in bed, and I rolled over and my perspiration had frozen the hat to the side of the tree house. I pulled it off and thought, “Well this is a bit silly. I’m going to have a drink of water”. Went down in my sleeping bag pulled out my water bottle and it was frozen! I was like, “Now this is getting really silly. It’s Very Cold.”
…we were outdoors, when it was light, working away doing something and sitting round the fire… You didn’t get cold because you were busy doing stuff. Or you’d go for a walk.
The locals were going, “You’ll freeze to death!” but no! Even when it snowed you’d wake up and the treehouse would be covered in snow, and it would be warmer because there was this layer of snow insulating it. It was like, “Wahey, this is alright!”
I remember at Newbury when it froze and the vegetables were frozen, and the gas bottle was frozen. Trying to chop a cabbage with a machete.
That was a problem. You’d wake up and try and have a cup of tea and the big, solid water-butt would be frozen all the way to the top. You’d have to kick it and kick it and drop bits of ice out.
You’d get warm kicking it though.
Cold, and beautiful. The streams were ice sculptures. The winter silhouettes of the trees could take your breath away.
It only took them three days to evict Selar. It was probably the most violent eviction the Sheffield climbers have done. Perhaps, when there are no national TV cameras about, then they have evicted other protest sites like that, but I don’t think they have, because people would be dead.
Tree evictions are fraught and physical things, and unless you have been in a tree and seen a layout of walkways and tree houses it is difficult to describe what they are like. The protesters were scared at Solsbury Hill and Stanworth and Brynhenllys. Their lives were endangered, when ropes were cut when people were about to clip onto them, or when people took their harnesses off to evade capture. But at Selar and Newbury, the climbers were systematically brutal. They were under pressure to evict a large number of camps in just a few weeks, and they did it by every means possible.
There was a false alarm and we travelled to Neath for it, then another and we didn’t go. Then on the third Sunday we squeezed into a van and arrived at Selar at midnight, and there were all the old faces from the Selar crew. We looked at each other and we knew. I went and swang on the swing under the tallest oak tree, and let Selar go blurry and whirl around.
At first light: the police and the security guards and the new all terrain cherry pickers and the climbers. More climbers than ever before.
TONY: When they came in on the morning there was loads and loads and loads of them coming clinkety clanking across. It was a really scary sight – all the frost on the ground and them all coming across in their armour like, I don’t know what, like the army basically.
Selar was a big site (unsurprisingly, given the scale of the opencast). Defences had been built across as much of it as we could, but then when the eviction came the fifty or so of us that made it to that remote, frozen mountainside were scattered about; a few in this tree, a few in another. Whereas at Brynhenllys we were all defending one clump of trees against one cherry-picker and four climbers, at Selar a few people in each tree were no match for three cherry-pickers and fourteen climbing bailiffs.
The first thing they did was to storm in and cut the web. This was a complicated hexagon of walkways which connected the tallest trees on ‘the Boulevard’, the road which ran up one side of the site. We were ready for them, standing on the web, some wearing wrist clips rather than harnesses. Justin knew that if everyone clipped onto the top line of the walkways, they could cut the bottom one, so he clipped his harness to the bottom rope.
They cut it, and everyone fell with their weight onto the old polyprop of the top section of the web. Che was dangling by one wrist, and Justin was falling, falling, until a knot in the rope caught in a tension bar, a small section of rope connecting the top and bottom walkways of the web. Matt had rigged up the tension bar about 15 minutes earlier. Justin swung down and stopped just short of the ground
I was in my tree on the other side of site. Kel and I were asleep still, wrapped up in the spell of our tree house. A gently rocking cocoon.
We awoke to shouts of, “They’re on your walkway!” as climbers came through our side of site, cutting what they could. Then we were pretty much left alone for the rest of the day, listening to the screams and crashes and the roar of the chainsaws from across the fields.
About mid-morning they ran a bulldozer across the bank in front of our tree. That was where Nat and the kids had lived in the summer, and it had been the children’s play area, with a special low-down tree house. I had learned the path that ran through it so that when there was no moon I could let my feet predict its turns. We were inordinately careful about not crushing the little oak saplings. They ran a bulldozer through it and it became some corrugated earth and a pile of splintered bushes.
The battle went on around the web all day.
NICKY: It had always been my idea that I would like to have offered them a cup of tea when they came into the treehouse, but I had quite a while, so I managed to open loads and loads of cans of eviction stash as well. They started kicking up at the trap door, and I’d just finished making my cup of tea and I offered them a cup of tea and they didn’t want one. So I managed to drink it while bouncing up and down, while they kicked at the bottom of the trap door. Then they stared to break through, so I took the bucket of rice pudding-spaghetti-baked beans-lucozade-pickle that I’d gotten together and poured it through the little gap that they had made. It sort of oozed out, and the geezer goes “Go on then, get him” and the other one goes, “Ah! No, I can’t. I feel sick! I’ve got to get this stuff off me!” And then I got taken down from there without a big load of fighting. The original plan was to have four people locked onto the walls and stuff, so it was a shame it was just me in there.
LEILA: I don’t really know what happened. What I think happened was that there were three of us on a walkway. We decided to stay on a walkway, me Huw and Mel, and I was in the middle. And we all clipped on to each other and then clipped off the walkway. A climber in the tree grabbed onto Huw and they tried to handcuff him behind his back. Which I think they did, eventually. And they were, like, pulling. There was a big tug-of-war type thing.
He was clipped onto you two who weren’t clipped onto anything?
Yes. And, there were three climbers and a cherry-picker, they took Huw , belayed him down. Me and Mel went back to the middle of the walkway. The cherry-picker came up one side and grabbed hold of Mel, so [a climber] was holding Mel, with a rope wrapped round her, and I was hanging off Mel’s cowstail. Then they cut the walkway, so basically they were holding Mel with me hanging off her.
Then they cut the rope between me and Mel.
And at some point, I don’t know when they did it, they clipped a really long tape onto me, which was about seven feet long, probably; so when they cut Mel’s cowstail I just swung down on that tape, which I didn’t know at the time I was attached to until I stopped swinging.
TROLLIE: She was in a Leveller’s video
You were in a Leveller’s video?
LEILA: Yeah, that bit was on it.
You’ve been on MTV?
I’ve been on MTV twice, I think.
At the end of the day that side of site was unrecognisable; a huge jumble of rope and earth and trunks and tarps. The security guards stayed through the night, making fires with burning plastic under the treehouses and trying to stop people getting up their trees.
OLIVIA: I had this confrontation with the security guard looking him straight in the eyes. And he was saying “No.” I was saying “I am going to get up!”
That was my home! That was really my home. You know a lot of time in evictions you say, “Oh this is my home, blah blah,” but that was really really really my home; my only home. My real home. Who are you? You are getting paid by the fucking hour! You say I can’t get up this tree?
Olivia called people over, one of whom went through the history of Reliance Security with the red hat in charge. He traced how Reliance had grown from a poxy little collection of jumped up night-watchmen, before Solsbury Hill, to the awesomely huge force that was presently building the Newbury bypass. The red hat was eventually persuaded that it was in fact in the interest of his company to let protests become as long and as effective as possible: “We pay your wages, mate.” So Olivia and others got up the trees and at dawn the whole thing started again, and today they came for our side of site.
They had a new method of pulling people from the trees; they put a loop of steel cable around a person’s chest and threaded it through itself so it tightened up as they dragged them away. They haven’t used that since.
I was hauled out of my tree, which now seemed very small and undefendable. Kel was the last out and the steel noose tightened around her ribs as she was crying. It left a long, purple bruise.
By the time we had been taken off site and walked back around the cordon, our tree had been felled. It grew at an angle, out over the bank, and the stump had split so you could see that it had only taken one slash of the chainsaw for it to crash down.
Olivia’s tree was larger, and it took them a while to get everyone out.
OLIVIA: Che, he was looking at the climbers; I can’t remember the words he was saying but basically it was like “I’m strong – you’re weak. I’m strong in peace and you’re weak in your violence. I am with life and you are with death.” It was powerful, what he was saying. They ended up tying him up and pulling him with the cherry picker away from the branch. Che was so strong that he held onto the branch for ages and ages, and all the strength of the cherry picker, and all the people driving it, all the climbers and all the security guards couldn’t get him off.
NICKY: They put a steel tape around Che’s middle and then they used the hydraulics of the cherry picker to pull him out of the tree. The tape was made in such a way that it got tighter the more pressure was put upon it. Olivia was having a really hard time, really crying, and then they came and got me, and they did the same thing with the steel tape and the cherry picker. I was trying to hold onto the tree. The guys were breaking the branches so they came away in my hands, this tree that Olivia had lived in for so long. And I was saying sorry to her, but I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t want to be pulled off.
They got me and I was really winded and suspended in the air by this horrible steel tape thing; I tried to hold onto the side of the cherry picker and [the climber] stood on my fingers. Anyway, I managed to gasp out that I was winded and he let me hang on.
They suspended these men, by a self tightening wire loop, outside the cage of a cherry picker while it made its slow hydraulic descent. That is not just dangerous; it is vindictive.
OLIVIA: I remember clearly this feeling of them cutting the branches; it felt like they were cutting my arms and legs. I felt it physically in my body. Actually a climber asked me, laughingly, he said “Oh, it looks like we are cutting you”, and it was like that. Lots of people have been telling me how I was screaming and shouting and crying – I can’t remember that. I remember crying after, but I don’t remember shouting and screaming while it was happening at all.
I ended up climbing really high up and I think they broke the branches beneath me and took me away with the whole branch. I can’t remember exactly – I was really off my head…
Maybe I’m spoilt, but I usually manage to get what I want when I want it badly, I usually do. If I concentrate all my energies and really fight for it, I get it.
I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t save Selar. That was the thing that mattered most to me in my life. Although now I see it in perspective, at that time that was my only desire. And my life wouldn’t have saved it. I could have died for it and it wouldn’t have changed things.
TONY: The guy that took me out, never seen him before or since, but he was a complete psychopath. He had dead eyes, like a fish, and ant time I’d go to do anything he’d go, “That’s assault. That’s assault.” It ended up with me whipping the chainsaw [with some frayed rope]; I got the polyprop caught in the chainsaw and it stopped and they went down, and I thought, ‘Wicked. They ain’t going to do anything.”
Then four of the climbers came up, and they bent me over this branch, a really thin, bendy branch, and they handcuffed me behind my back and said they were going to lower me down like that. Handcuffed. I said, “No you’re NOT!” and started kicking about. They’d put a rope around my waist, but I didn’t know about that, and I slid off the end of the branch and I thought I was falling out of a tree. I went wooop and stopped. I was dangling upside down in the air… [No harness, just a rope, upside down, hand-cuffed. Oh dear.]
Cathy got nicked because she was swearing so much at the copper on the ground, going, “You’re going to fucking kill him!” He goes, “Say that again and you’re nicked” and she goes, “YOU’RE GOING TO FUCKING KILL HIM!” She got nicked.
They put me in the cherry picker and the guy said, “Do you want me to give you a kicking now, or are you going to come peacefully?” I said, “I’ll come peacefully” and he just went, ‘oh, I’ll give you a kicking know then” and he starts kicking me in the ribs!
I got down and there was Andrew Wilson standing there [the under sheriff responsible for the eviction] and they took off one handcuff and I went [two finger salute]. So it’s Fingers Up to Andrew. I thought I was nicked for sure but they just let me go.
The only not-particularly-bad thing about the eviction was that relatively few people were arrested
The next day was the last day, when they took all the other trees around the edges that had never been lived in before.
NICKY: It was a really fucked up morning actually. That was the morning that one geezer went to set fire to his leg and a branch and some walkways. Some people nearly fell. They just managed to get off in time.
Someone else was going along with a noose around his neck going, “There’ll be the first hanging today if you cut this tree.” Everyone just got so desperate because the whole eviction was supposed to last for ages with loads of defences, and we’d just been totally trashed in a matter of days.
TONY: But it was really symbolic, that last day. There were these four big oaks, at the top by Terry’s caravan, and this huge digger was going like, I dunno, like a dinosaur, like a huge dinosaur head THWACK on the trees, like that. Trying to knock them over, and they wouldn’t go. I was cheering, “Hooray! Yeah! Stay up!”. Bang Bang BANG.
Those trees had bats in, and the ‘conservation’ geezer from Celtic Energy had said, “Oh, we’ll lower that tree with the digger arm. We’ll knock it down.” So that’ll be alright. Instead of chainsawing it, we’ll knock it over. That’s their idea of saving the animals that live in the trees – much less distressing.
One of the last trees, by the road, had a big Welsh flag in. And the first they did when they climbed the tree was they cut the Welsh flag off. It fluttered down, floated down, and then it lay in the road and all the vehicles drove across it and ground it into the mud.
Bye bye Selar.
MARK: To have to go to such an extent to get some publicity about some English people raping the Welsh Valleys is quite unbelievable.
OLIVIA: I have each little branch still in my memory.
Back at Newbury…
…they started the evictions immediately.
They went into Snelsmore with a load of bailiffs who didn’t really know how to climb so they could take out the tunnels while Jose, the man who built them, was still at Selar. So there was a showy kind of mock-eviction for the TV cameras, like the digger diving back on the very first day. Then the climbers arrived.
From PP3’s log: Thurs 29th Feb: Snelsmore.. Fri 1st March: Snelsmore… Mon 4th: Granny Ash… Tues 5th: The Chase… Wednesday 6th: Bagnor Lane… Thurs 7/3/96: Snelsmore and Skyward… Fri 8th: Skyward cont… Tues 12/3/96: Gotan… Weds 13th : early hit on Kennet… 14/3 Kennet… Friday 15th Kennet then Castle Wood… 18th Seaside, Babblebrook, Manic Sha 700 police, 30 vans… Tues 19/3/96: Manic Sha cont. (12.40) Heartbreak Hotel… Wednesday 20th: Reddings Copse, big cherrypicker… 21/3 Tot Hill… Friday 22nd: Enbourne Row...
I woke up at six in the morning at the Chase to a dream that my mother’s house was on fire. Tongues of flame were licking her bedroom ceiling as I tried to abseil out of the window onto the street. The pictures stayed with me as I groped for my harness which was hung from the roof of the bender, and went out and made tea for what I knew was the last time.
They came in at ten to seven, I think. There was fifteen of us in the trees and the same number of bailiff climbers, so it was over by lunchtime. It was all very anti-climactic. When we had lived there and built the defences there had always been a vision that this net and those tree houses and those high walkways and that swampy terrain would delay them for days, weeks, not hours.
Still it happened early enough in the day to make the papers.
This photo of Ellie got everywhere. They did the same to her as they did to Chris at Brynhenllys, in a thinner, twiggier tree. When they brought the cherry-picker up to her she climbed even higher in the branches. The climbers snapped the trunk of the tree as she clung to it – they didn’t have to use a saw. Later, I clambered through the corpse of the copse and found that silver birch on the ground. I could close one hand around the truck at the place where it broke.
The next day I walked nine miles to the other end of the route and snuggled up next to someone in a tree house at Skyward camp, where I had lived before Christmas. At half past six the following morning his mobile phone went off and the office informed us in a nauseatingly cheerful way that, “It looks like it’s you this morning chaps.”
At Skyward and later at Gotan there were more Sheffield climbers, but these ones were not paid by the Department of Transport – they had come along to bear witness to what their mates were up to. They shinned up into the trees at Skyward and were stunned by the beauty of the place. Huge oaks. Clear winter sky. And by the scale of the destruction. One of them was telling me in disbelief how he had travelled for years with Ian Harrison, climbing some of the worlds wildest, loveliest, natural peaks, while at the same time his former friend was in a cherry-picker, helping another bailiff to jump on Matt’s legs.
So now we had our own Sheffield climbers, and some amazing aeriel acrobatics resulted.
Britain’s best climber Ben Moon tied up the bailiffs at the Gotan eviction and was arrested for attempted kidnapping. That made the papers again (Oh, to think of the number of column inches of dead trees that we filled). It was very educational, watching these guys, as they used strength and skill to outwit the bailiffs. They were clipped on all the time. They were safe: they removed the whole suicidal aspect from the contest, which was an infinitely better way to fight.
Ben Moon demonstrates his immunity to gravity.
eviction was nasty. There was no cherry-picker access to the camp, which was situated between the river Lambourne and the Kennet canal. So the eviction had to be climber only, and this meant there was a chance for as serious showdown between the protesters and the bailiffs – it is quite possible for a motivated group of people to prevent climbers from getting into a tree from the ground.
THEY’LL NEVER TAKE THE KENNET!
The authorities decided to load the dice back in their favour by storming the camp at three o’clock in the morning; an SAS style raid, with police wearing balaclavas and black overalls over their uniforms. They started on the trees before it was light, despite the obvious risk incurred by protesters climbing without safety equipment in the dark.
TROLLIE: We were so sure, because we’d put so much work into defending it. We had loads of walkways – the whole place became an island because we dug trenches and flooded the canal – all sorts of things..
Then that was it. Three in the morning. I remember Ruth shouting “THIS IS IT THIS IS IT THIS IS IT” – it was like, “Down half a bottle of brandy. Sorted. Out of my treehouse. Wahey! On the walkways” but ours was the first tree they came up, which was unfortunate.
It was pitch black. I remember looking down, there were two of the tree surgeon geezers [bailiffs] and there was this other guy. I remember him arriving the night before; I think he was German, or something like that, and he was running around going, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?” The tree surgeon just punched him in the face! I remember hearing the punch and hearing him fall to the floor, and then I remember seeing him run up to the police going, “They just punched me!” and the police just looked at him like ‘Yeah? And? What?”. And he was just an average human being that was fucking freaked out to fuck, and I’d hate to have been on the ground; thank God I was in the trees.
They were firing catapults at us and everything, in the dark. And then they came up our tree.
Trollie was sent to Holloway for a week for the way she reacted to the bailiffs when they came up.
The Chase… Skyward… Gotan… The Kennet… Castle Wood… Seaside… Babblebrook…
One after one, the big camps and then the little ones. There was only one time when they faltered in their stride….
They came for Reddings Copse, the camp with the 120 foot Corsican pine tree. (The “Pinus”; some men got so excited about it.) For the biggest tree they needed the biggest cherry-picker, which was imported specially on a boat from Holland. They drove it triumphantly down the winding lanes of Enbourne to what had been an ancient oak forest at Reddings, but which was now reduced to just five trees.
They were tall, these oaks, at sixty foot, and the pine was twice their height. But the shiny new cherry-picker was taller still, and the bailiffs jumped eagerly into the bucket and proudly extended it until it was as large and as long as it could be. They raised it up to the very top of the pine and took the flag that flew there that could be seen all along the route.
Now they worked at different things all the time in these evictions. When the cherry-picker went up, a digger driver climbed into his cab and started wrenching earth and saplings from the forest floor. And when it came down again, he shunted around the trunk of the oak that bordered the pine and started digging at it’s roots. And when the bailiffs got out and went to stand ten yards away, the bucket of the digger caught the roots of the great oak tree and sent it spinning, spiralling, crashing down, across the big shiny cherry-picker and onto four bailiff climbers. They saw it fall and ran away, but one of them didn’t make it and a branch caught him across the head so that only his climbing helmet saved his skull.
Nicholas Blandy [the under sheriff] didn’t even stop eating his lunch, He wandered over and had a look, and just carried on munching on his sandwich. –[press photographer that was present at the scene.]
I was sitting in PP3 when the news of this filtered in over the CB, along with another report that a Landrover full of Brays detectives had rolled in a ditch, and one of them had broken his leg. I thought my head would explode. All this time worrying, worrying, about when one of us would die (please don’t let it be anyone I know) and then Mother Nature strikes an almighty blow at two of them.
My friends offered sincere condolences at the hospital, since we were not in the business of wishing anyone injured. Sheriff Blandy did not repay the courtesy and told reporters that protesters had sabotaged the ambulance. Which wasn’t true, but who was going to believe a load of anarchic hippies against the word of the Under Sheriff?
All the parts of the route I had known now looked like the one wide, flat, deep brown stretch of earth, except for Penn Wood, where the chainsawmen had stared three months before. I returned there on the first true day of spring, a quiet Sunday afternoon when golden sunshine was streaming sideways through the branches of the trees. The camps were what had been snatched from the chainsaws, and here were a patch of pines, there a line of oaks, every hundred yards another little outcrop of the old forest. It looked like the ghost of Penn Wood; a sort of sculpture of half road / half country. Birds sang. Local families put their wellies on and brought us sandwiches and flapjacks.
They started on Penn Wood the next week. The evictions were still pretty low-key: so many people had had to leave and those that were left were exhausted from having to stay. No one screamed or shouted any more except when they were being tortured out of lock-ons, and always there were too few people to really hold them off. I did feel bitter, when the yellow lines arrived, as I thought of the people who really cared about Newbury, and about roads, and about the world, and wondered were the fuck they were.
Seaside… Babblebrook… Manic Sha…
Shamanic Manic Sha
was one of the nicest, fluffiest camps in Penn Wood, in a group of rather lovely oak trees.
OLIVIA: Compared to most we were a pretty sorted camp and we always managed to have proper communal meals and a warm communal bender.
A good fire, good music.
The best fire around Penn Wood I would say.
However, it wasn’t the nicest, fluffiest eviction:
NICKY: ... they’d cut the rope walkway, but there was a steel cable that they couldn’t cut in between the two trees. When they went down and came back up with some bolt-croppers to cut the handcuffs off the girl in the tree opposite me, I realised that they could go for the steel cable, so I lay across it to make sure they didn’t cut it.
They cut the girl’s handcuffs, and they took her down, and the guy had the bolt-croppers and he went to cut the steel cable and I thought “Ha! He won’t do that. I’m lying on this steel cable with nothing else to support me!” and then he looked across at me, and then he chopped it. I was stunned. I was like, “Uh?” It felt like for a few seconds; I just didn’t know what to do, and then I started falling and luckily I grabbed a branch on the way down. The branch went all the way to the point where it was going to break, and then it didn’t. I screamed at the two guys, and then got my head together a bit and I talked to this bailiff, I said, “You really should have seen that; you should have done something about that,” and he just hung his head in shame.
The guys who were going down, that had done it, they were wiping their hands across their foreheads going ‘Phew!
And before that everyone had been going like “Keep it fluffy, keep it fluffy.” Everyone had been really nice and fluffy and our camp had been full of really nice, fluffy people, and it was all going fine and even people who weren’t usually fluffy were being fluffy. And then suddenly it was like FUCK FLUFFY – YOU NEARLY KILLED MY BROTHER!!! And they were like, chucking baked bean cans at the bailiffs and one of them got cut, and they went down and just stopped the eviction for that day.
The next day:
OLIVIA: It was Sally, Kath and me inside the tree house, and we had this mad idea of taking our clothes off. The feeling was, well first of all, it would take them ages to take us down, because they would have to get blankets, and get authorisation , blah blah blah. The other thing we thought was, what is more powerful than vulnerability? We felt there was a strength in our nakedness. It was just us. Against the sheriffs, security guards, cherry-pickers…
What happened when they came up?
It went all totally crap.
There was this guy, this climber on the roof of the tree house, laughing and saying “Hey you’ll like this guys.” The tree house had a lot of chicken wire underneath so when they were taking apart the roof they scratched us and we were going, “Oh, stop it” – it was really painful because it kept getting on our skin, and then they made lots of really sexist, silly comments. And there was this dodgy, psycho climber, the brown hat –
I know him
– he grabbed me from behind, tried to put this rope around me, and he kept on grabbing my tits. And it was really hard because. Yeah, OK, I had put myself in this situation, but it was being abused. It was really hard to defend myself.
I was the only one arrested because, I think Sally and Kath walked into the cherry-picker and I was faffing around, so in the end they tried to put a rope around me. I was the last one in the tree, all the others had gone and I was surrounded by male climbers. And I had forgot why the hell I was there with no clothes instead of being with clothes, running around, running away from them! Climbing higher up. With a harness on that I could clip on somewhere. Really, I thought, “I am so stupid. Why did I do this?”
I was taken down after having been touched loads by this wanker and I was arrested. I was all on my own and all these policewomen were telling me, “Oh you bitch. You did a really outrageous thing. Disgusting!” When you keep on getting told something and you are shocked and vulnerable and unsure, I started to, not really to believe it, but – I wouldn’t think it would hurt normally, policewomen saying things about me but it did.
I got charged with Obstruction of the Sheriff and I got 28 days conviction for that, which I have appealed against now. The policemen were lying their heads off in court because they said I was being really violent and kicking the bailiffs. There was six climbers around one naked woman and I was being violent? Then the police said I tried to jump out of a cherry-picker – naked with a blanket around me – and grab branches. And in the video it showed when I got in the cherry-picker I just sat down in it.
was different. That was a YeeHa! eviction – a totally storming one. Through some complicated arguments in court the eviction date had been delayed until the last possible opportunity so people managed to gather together there and put up a proper resistance.
The land was untouched by preliminary clearance. The trees were coming into leaf and the river Lambourne flowed around the camp; it was an island of tranquillity and beauty in a sea of desecration. People gathered in the trees with bated breath. And then a kamikaze sound system in the trees kicked in, and people cheered, and it became, well, a party:
EMMA: They were playing I Shot the Sheriff, and I was singing, ‘Sheriff Blandy always hated trees, For what, I don’t know….”
OLLIE: They sent a guy across the river in galoshes and put up a bridge, and the police came over on it. Blandy came over and gave his little spiel, yeah, then off it goes; standard eviction stuff. Lots of climbers up the trees. By the afternoon they got the cherry-picker in and they worked their way around.
But just after the second break on the second day they really had difficulty getting started. They’d cut down about a third of the trees, or something, but lots of other people had come. Everywhere they’d looked to try and get going there were loads of people in the tree saying, “Come on then!” They were nearly at a stage where they couldn’t continue.
There were some brilliant lock-ons. A platform had been built on an intersection of steel cable walkways, and then a lock-on put on it, which was too heavy for the cherry-picker to bear. They had to build a scaffolding tower to take that one out.
‘Standard eviction stuff”:
EMMA: The things I saw people do! The most amazing things I’ve ever seen human beings do. There was this guy who carried on making walkways all the way through the eviction like it wasn’t going on around him. More and more walkways to the bitter end. He was at the top of this really bendy tree and just bouncing across trying to reach this other tree to rope it off…
OLLIE …one of the bailiffs got onto the platform with us, and it started cracking. One of the major branches cracked so the whole platform was at a thirty degree angle. We said, “You will be careful won’t you, because we don’t all want to die”…
They worked their way around gradually, and everyone did all the insane and heroic things that they never believed they could or would, and it took them three days to take that site.
OLLIE: It was very strange at the end. Totally trashed. I’ll always remember that big pile of mud; piles of burning trees. Like a first world war no-mans land. Like the Somme, the landscape. And a load of hippies wandering around in the mud going: “Have you seen my sleeping bag?” “Do you know where Abi is?” “Have you seen my climbing tape?”. All in a total daze.
And that is when I left Newbury.
Plenty of people stayed after the last camp, Camelot, went. They set up ground camps, vegetable gardens, tunnels, and had a good time. There was a whole other set of evictions, months later, of the new camps that were established and many more trees were felled. But I left. I felt it was definitely time.
NICKY: I sort of came to the end of my tether with thewhole Newbury thing. It was most of my time from November to the end of March that I was there and it was just too much destruction. Doing my head in. I found myself on the ground in an eviction, for the first time, and I just wanted to go and slap the bailiffs – and I knew that would get me into trouble. I was getting really really increasingly agitated, and the Selar eviction didn’t help things at all….
Much too much destruction. I could see rows of trees toppling against my closed eyelids. Image after image of woody, leafy, magical places – the most beautiful places I have ever lived in – coming down around my ears. When I saw fluorescent jackets my heart would race. I would jump when I heard the word ‘eviction’. No matter how proud we all were that we had been part of the resistance, we were all carrying mental scars.
CRASH Morning after morning I awoke, with friends, from yellow jacket dreams. We would look at each other and say, “Not more evictions!” Still, today, the sight of a fresh tree stump makes me suck in my breath. Even now the sound of a chainsaw makes me grit my teeth.
I had an excellent summer. I didn’t go near any protest camps except Fairmile, I told myself that I never lived at Fairmile: I didn’t build a tree house. Just visiting, But if you added up all the time I spent there, it turns out that I lived there longer than I lived anywhere else.
[I am still incredibly proud that I got the phrase “evil, planet-trashing forces of Babylon” into The Guardian newspaper]