Land

Diggers 2012: A Walk to Windsor

On June 9 a group calling themselves ‘Diggers2012′ set off to walk from a community allotment in London to the Crown Estate in Windsor, with the intention of starting an eco-village on disused land. They were following in the footsteps of the True Levellers who attempted a similar project in 1649 with a view to reforming the existing social order; the Levellers were also called Diggers due to their propensity for planting vegetables on common land.

By the time the group reached their destination they had an escort of police and an injunction had been slapped on the entire area. There were claims that the field the Diggers intended to occupy was, in fact, in use as a hay field and it was this, rather than the intransigence of the authorities, that persuaded the group to move on. A walk along the banks of the Thames ensued, the peaceful Diggers tailed by police and Crown Estate officials. Supporters on their way to join the group were stopped and questioned by police in an unsuccessful attempt to dissuade them from participating in the riverside stroll.

On entering Surrey the group stopped to rest in Runnymede Park, birthplace of modern democracy. Gathering around the Magna Carta memorial, inscribed with ‘Freedom under the Law’, the Diggers addressed the newly arrived Surrey police, explaining their mission to grow food, make shelters and live sustainably. In the absence of a suitable place to immediately fulfil these aims, the group decided to camp beside the Thames on council-owned parkland for one night.

On June 11, as the group scouted for a suitable location for their eco-village, one of their number was arrested. Simon Moore was deemed to be in breach of the Interim Anti-Social Behaviour Order he was given for his part in peacefully protesting about Olympic development at Leyton Marsh in Hackney. The restrictions placed on Simon’s activities are wide-ranging, including a prohibition on venturing near Olympic sites, routes and events and from “entering or interfering with any property without the owner’s permission”. Released on June 12 but then arrested again the next day, Simon is due to find out on June 14 whether the interim ASBO is to be granted as a full ASBO lasting two years.

The Diggers2012 are now camped in woodland owned by Royal Holloway University on Cooper’s Hill near Runnymede. No court papers have been served and the group intend to remain in situ until a least June 16, when they are inviting all to join them at 1pm by the Magna Carta memorial for a discussion about freedom and democracy.

By Emma Fordham

 

Eco-Village Resists Eviction

According to bailiffs, private property developers at Runnymede campus are attempting to take out a new injunction against the ‘Diggers 2012’, a collective of would-be eco villagers who have been camping on the site for more than a month. The injunction sought would criminalise trespass, combining an eviction order with powers of arrest.

The Diggers website states that their intention was, and is, “to make the waste land grow”. Their current encampment is tucked into an area of abandoned woodland out of sight of the derelict university buildings of the campus.

“If this new kind of injunction is enacted it would allow the landowner to use taxpayer funded police officers as a private army to prevent and punish any further trespass,” explained one of the Diggers. “But, we’re hoping that the process of obtaining and enacting any such injunction will be slow because the authorities are overstretched dealing with the Olympics”.

Inhabitants of the Diggers’ camp have been evicted three times recently, each time resisting peacefully. Some eco-villagers climbed into the rafters of their wooden ‘longhouse’ to evade bailiffs, while others played for time by laboriously doing “emergency eviction washing up”. Bailiffs, supported by police, carried those they could catch away from the longhouse and dumped them further down the hill on National Trust land. The Diggers returned each time before the hearth went cold, promptly rekindling their campfire and resuming work. A compost toilet, a permaculture garden and an extension to the longhouse are under construction.

Despite the threat of eviction, the Diggers have continued hosting picnics and discussions at the Magna Carta memorial in Runnymede Park every Saturday afternoon. Local residents, Occupy supporters and environmentalists including journalist George Monbiot have visited the camp and attended workshops in traditional crafts such as charcoal making, pottery, green wood carving, wild food foraging and timber frame building.

One of the Diggers, Simon Moore, said: “There’s an abundance of disused privately owned land that’s perfectly suitable for eco villages.” In what could be construed as a call to the land, Simon suggests that “As the false economy implodes it’s possible we’ll be seeing lots more Diggers-style villages springing up across the country, challenging the hegemony of the big landowners and the law.”

By Emma Fordham

(published in The Occupied Times)

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