Tag Archives: climate change

What part of NO don’t they understand?

There’s so many things to be outraged by at the moment, I’ve almost got outrage-fatigue (is that what the Tories are banking on?). This little story is a long, long way from being the worst of what’s going on in these speeded-up, hopefully end-days of corporate capitalism…

[I’m not sure what the worst is, the people drowning in overloaded boats in the Med, desperate men clinging to the underside of trucks to try and escape the migrant ghettoes of Calais, the subjugation of Gaza, horrific war and violence in Africa and the Middle East, greed-fuelled violation of planetary boundaries by frackers and chemical companies, native peoples being forced from their tribal lands, bankers still flying high while austerity bites and communities are broken up by the bedroom tax and gentrification, the brutal bullying of Greece by well-off European politicians and bureaucrats, or or or —]

So many stories, but this tiny little story is playing out in my own backyard, and feels like a microcosm of the whole.

Hebden Bridge.

This small town relies on its reputation of being one of the most un-cloned towns in Britain, a reputation that keeps its local economy strong and its streets vibrant. It has won plaudits “4th funkiest town in the world”; awards “most independent little shops”; and quirky labels “lesbian capital of Britain”. The town is full of smallscale entrepreneurs, people managing to scrape a living from what they love, people who don’t use many resources, who respect their environment and each other. People like the butcher, the baker, the grocer and the newsagent, as well as the artists and cafe proprietors and guesthouse owners and market traders.

We all spend money with each other, and the tourists come and spend money with us too, because our town is a bit special; it’s different from all those towns filled with chainstores and supermarkets. We have a Co-op. And a One-Stop shop. And an off licence that sells groceries. And that’s enough ‘convenience’ stores.

It works.

Despite local objections, Sainsbury’s put in a planning application. They were turned down by the town council and then by the borough council. They lodged an appeal. They were turned down by the planning inspectorate at government level. Now they want a judicial review…

I don’t like linking to facebook, but have a look at the #SOSHebdenBridge film on this page for a bit of guerilla community graffitti.

Of course, whether our lucky little town gets a supermarket forced onto it isn’t a deal in the big scheme of things. In other little towns across the world people are being forced out of their homes by poverty, or climate change, or people who will enslave or kill them.

But if ordinary people don’t begin to stand up to bullies, this planet may not be around much longer. If we let ourselves be walked over, so that the corporate bosses and elites can increase their profits by a magnitude that is really just noughts on a bank balance… Well, what then?

We have to stand up to the bullies.

UPDATE: We did stand up to Sainsbury’s and WE WON!!! This time, justice was on our side…

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Police were not doing their duty at Barton Moss

At Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court on the morning of 9th May, PC Genge was on the stand. We watched video footage of him and other officers pushing people along Barton Moss Road. At one point Genge’s fist was in the small of a protector’s back. The day before, an officer two ranks above Genge said a fist in the back would constitute unreasonable force under the circumstances. Genge disagreed.

The circumstances were that protectors from Barton Moss camp, other anti-fracking activists and local people were doing the usual slow walk ahead of a convoy of trucks on their way to the IGas exploratory drilling site at the end of Barton Moss Road. On this occasion, unusually, the Tactical Aid Unit (TAU) and their ‘robust’ policing methods were unleashed on us almost immediately.

Within just a couple of minutes two arrests had been made – Rosie and Bear, both of whom had said they didn’t intend to do anything that would warrant arrest. Rosie was arrested by Genge; Bear by PC Sullivan. Fifteen minutes later I was arrested (perhaps because I didn’t follow an order to “walk through” the person in front of me). A few minutes later, Kate was on the floor in the mud being handcuffed by two officers (one of whom was Genge – he seemed to be everywhere that day).

That was 27th January. Fast forward to 8th May and the four of us arrested that morning were in court on charges of obstructing a highway and obstructing an officer in the course of their duty.

My arresting officer, Williamson, didn’t turn up – he was on holiday. So, my charges were dropped. Three months of traipsing to court, talking to lawyers, applying for legal aid, appealing against the decision not to give me legal aid, getting legal aid, making witness statements, searching through video footage, identifying and tracking down potential witnesses, swotting up on legal terminology, wasting time and energy… and then he goes on holiday and the prosecution drops the case.

For Rosie, Bear and Kate the charges of obstruct highway were dropped but obstruct PC was retained; and in each case the named PC was Genge. Not only did he seem to be everywhere, but he kept getting himself obstructed.

During cross examination Genge wouldn’t make eye contact with Rosie, who was defending herself and so had chance to question his actions. When she asked him to demonstrate how to walk forwards while pushing backwards, even the judge cracked a smile. When we watched footage of him violently grabbing and pushing Kate to the ground, a murmur rippled through the court. Rosie’s penultimate question was about Genge’s facebook post referring to “shoving protesters down Barton Moss Road” (he denied having made any such post), and her closing question was “Do you know that you’re widely considered to be a thug?” (I think that one was rhetorical, though entirely true – over the last six months, Genge had become notorious amongst Barton Moss protectors for his aggression.)

Bear’s barrister (Richard Brigden) and Kate’s solicitor (Emily Lloyd) clarified a few points and it became clear that despite paying lip-service to the facilitation of peaceful protest, Genge thought his primary purpose on 27th January was to get the trucks to the IGas site as quickly as possible. The judge reprimanded him for trying to evade questions. Despite this, he seemed confident. Over- confident.

The next witness was PC Sullivan, Bear’s arresting officer. We watched film of Bear attempting to de-arrest Rosie before being grabbed around the collar, hauled off and handcuffed. Sullivan – in stark contrast to Genge – made eye contact, smiled, thought about his answers and made a point of saying that Bear was not aggressive or hostile towards him. Sullivan was not kept on the stand for long.

Film: morning of 27th Jan including all four arrests

Next came barrister Richard’s half-time ‘surprise’. This sounded complex and convoluted, but in essence was exactly what we’d been saying all along. It went something like this:

  • We now know that Barton Moss Road is not designated a highway but a public footpath and private road. On 27th Jan this was suspected but hadn’t yet been tested in court, so the police were still acting as though it was a highway.
  • As it wasn’t a highway, we can’t have been obstructing it.
  • Both Genge and Sullivan said they were arresting people for obstructing the highway, and that their use of force (pushing) was lawful because they had a duty to prevent obstruction of the highway.
  • If there was no highway there could be no obstruction, so there could be no duty to prevent obstruction, so there could be no lawful use of force.
  • If the police were unlawful in their pushing us down the road, then they were outside the remit of their duty, so we could not be obstructing them in the course of their duty.
  • If we weren’t obstructing them in the course of their duty then there were no grounds for arrest.
  • And if Rosie was being first pushed and then grabbed and arrested unlawfully (ie assaulted), then Bear was entitled to intervene (this latter part about the right to intervene depended on relatively recent case law – ‘Cumberbatch’ – which Richard presented to the judge).
  • If all of the above, then there’s no case to answer for any of the defendants.

Both prosecutor and judge needed a little time to check the lawbooks and case law at this point, so we had an hour of hanging around on tenterhooks before being called back to court. The prosecutor then requested an adjournment, on the grounds that no submission regarding this argument had been put to him in advance. An inaudible, invisible wave of despair washed around the room. No, no, let’s get on with it and get this over! We don’t want to be back here again next week…

Richard argued that little of what he’d said was genuinely new; that just as he’d worked it out for himself, so too could the prosecutor have done.

The room held its breath. Barton Moss Protectors are usually a rowdy crew but the eight or so crammed into the tiny public gallery were pin-droppingly quiet.

The judge said no. No adjournment.

The room breathed out.

The prosecutor turned on his smoothest, most melodious tone of voice. In that case, he would do his best with what he had.

He tried to make out that the use of force was reasonable, because regardless of the highway issue, we were in the way. He referred to the back-up of traffic on the A57, the dangers involved in allowing these heavy vehicles to back up, and the rights of the truck drivers to drive and deliver.

The judge said no.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.

He said no, the force used was not necessary, not justified, not reasonable. The protesters were moving, albeit slowly. The protest was peaceful. No breach of the peace was imminent. There is a right to peacefully protest. There is no minimum speed limit for walking. Fracking is a contentious issue, protested against wherever it happens. The convoy was only delayed, not stopped for good. The obstruction on the A57 could have been dealt with by usual police procedures for such matters (and perhaps it was). Barton Moss Road was not a highway (though the officers may have thought in all good faith thought that it was). The TAU officers were not acting lawfully, they had no duty or right to push us, they were in fact assaulting us. We were not obstructing the highway, nor the officers in the course of any lawful duty. Case dismissed.

We were right all along.

We were ALL free.

What this means for future trials we’re not yet sure. The barrister was quick to point out that this isn’t a legal precedent that means all other cases will be dropped. Additionally, once it was confirmed in law that Barton Moss Road is not a highway, the police began arresting for Aggravated Trespass. Still, things are looking good for protectors so far.

The Salford Star has more reports of trials, cases dismissed and protectors found to be innocent. Plus, the possibility of an enquiry.

court

Barton Moss Protectors outside Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court after the verdict

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I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc

Being at the Barton Moss Protection Camp is like being at sea. There are tides, surges, waves and ripples. Calm periods and storms. There’s always the risk of losing a friend overboard. On Monday I was one of those lost to sea, lost to the GMP.

GMP = Greater Manchester Police. It was actually a Tactical Aid Unit (TAU) officer who arrested me – I now know that the TAU have blue tucked-in trousers rather than the straight black slacks of the local police uniform, and they’re much meaner.

——*——

Solidarity Sunday is all calm waters. Several hundred people mass in a muddy carpark, some tumbling out of coaches after long journeys, from Sussex and Somerset and Scotland, to cheers from the earlier arrivals. Another, smaller, group meets at a local pub. We all walk towards the rally at the end of Barton Moss lane, in high spirits despite rain. The lack of police is notable. There’s no one here to facilitate our protest. At first we take over two lanes of the four-lane dual carriageway, the A57. Then we spill into three lanes. Then we realise there’s nothing to stop us blocking the road entirely – no cops, no road cones – and we stroll into the fourth lane. Some of the cars we’re holding up are filled with beaming people giving us thumbs up and honking their solidarity. Others, grim faced, rev and try to push through our ranks. I’ve never been on a march or procession where pedestrians take over a major road without any police presence. One woman is hit, but not seriously hurt, by a van.

At the rally there are welcomes to the protectors from far-off towns and camps. Messages from supporters in Greece, in Afghanistan. Then songs. Then we head along the lane to camp. Someone’s brought along a gigantic pan of spicy soup. An abundance of other food has been donated. This and the cardboard signs – “I am a local”, “I’m a local and I don’t want fracking” – give the lie to media attempts to divide local residents from those who’ve travelled to protect the Moss.

Most of the day trippers melt away home as afternoon turns to early dusk, but some of us stay on. There’s a party atmosphere around the campfire; drums compete with songs and for a few moments I’m dancing in the road. Later I join a meditation for global peace, in a red and yellow geodesic dome warmed by a smoky woodstove. As we shake ourselves and stretch after a half hour’s silence, a shout goes up and it’s the evening iGas shift change and protectors move into the road to slow the convoy of workers as they leave the fracking site. Now there are police.

There’s singing and chanting – “I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc” – and dancing in the narrow lane, in the flickering light of campfire flames. It’s pretty tribal. There’s us, the colourful rowdy tribe, and the iGas workers, stony and grey in their cars, cut off from us, thinking what? Resigned to the slow crawl down the lane? Angry? Regretting taking this job? Hating us? I’d like to ask them but the police are separating us from them. The police are asking us to move, and we’re moving, but haphazardly, not with the purposeful slow march of mornings. There’s more of us than there are of them, unusually. A woman, small, with long brown hair, is dancing near me. She dances towards the cars, and then away, back towards me. But she’s not moving fast enough and she’s grabbed by a policeman and then she’s being dragged and then – uproar. I can’t see what’s happening but there’s shouting and anguished sounds and then she’s in the back of a police van and the tribe is outraged. They hurt her, people are saying. The police smashed her face and she’s bleeding, they say.

There’s a calmness even in the eye of the storm, even as the joy and exuberance of the evening turns bitter. A woman suggests we move out of the road and let the workers past, and we do. Then we escort the police van up the lane and some people are yelling at the police and others are walking a silent vigil. I return to the geo dome and make a nest of sleeping bags in a nook beside a shrine to the camp’s recently destroyed trees and treehouse (destroyed at police behest, for reasons not quite clear). I keep all of my clothes on, including my hat. I’m sharing the space with four others – one sleeping on an old sofa, one on a camp-bed, one upright on a dining chair and one in a coffin (a real coffin).

In the morning there’s time for tea and biscuits munched as I walk up the lane to the junction with the A57. It’s a drier day and there are perhaps twenty of us waiting for the lorry convoy. All in good humour. The police arrive, and then the trucks. There’s a short stand-off; a local man attempts to establish with some kind of superior officer (red lapels) what exactly is construed as a “reasonable pace”. It seems we’re to be allowed to walk “at a reasonable pace” but no definition of reasonable is forthcoming. The local man demonstrates the pace at which he intends to walk and it looks to me as though Red-Lapels concurs that such a pace would be both reasonable and legal.

We’ve barely set off before there’s two arrests. It happens quickly, there’s a yell, a surge, a sudden wave of fear and anger and pushing and stumbling and then we’re calm and walking again – slowly, but at a reasonable pace – just two members of the tribe down. Our original police escort is joined by additional cops, and now – but not then – I understand that these are TAU. Tucked-in trousers, flat hats and tough-guy attitude. They push us, harry us, try to hurry us. We’re moving faster than last time I did this walk. I’m calmer than last time though, no longer surprised by the pushing and goading and unwelcome touching from the police. I’m answering them “I am still moving forwards… yes, I am still walking… please don’t push me… take your hands off my back… I can’t walk any faster there’s someone in front of me… you said – one of you said – we can walk at a reasonable pace and that’s what I’m doing…”. I’m asked by an officer to “walk through” the person in front of me. I laugh at the absurdity of this order. Then that thing happens when you know they’ve set their sights… and I’m grabbed from behind and neatly pulled backwards through the police line and I forget to yell or let anyone know that I’ve gone.

I’m accused, arrested, for walking too slowly. They call it “obstruction”. I don’t struggle and yet I’m handcuffed, then searched, locked in a tiny cell in a police van, driven to a police station, searched again. My photograph, fingerprints, palm prints, DNA are taken. I consent – if I don’t consent, they’ll take prints and mouth swab by force, I’m told. Too late I wonder whether I should’ve refused. If I’m found innocent, will these be destroyed? I ask the operative. He says I can apply to have the DNA destroyed, although hardly anyone does because most people don’t ask and aren’t informed that they have this right. He’s not sure about the prints. I’m still innocent (“until proven guilty”, right?) and yet everything from this stage on is a petty battle, from being allowed to keep my boots and coat to getting lunch and, more seriously, gaining access to the solicitor I’ve requested. I’m only allowed to keep the boots because they’ve run out of plimsolls in my size. Turns out they want the boots because the cleaners are getting sick of the mud we countryside protectors bring in. The cells are cold. It’s worth hanging on to as much clothing as you can, or asking for replacements if they take yours away. My cardigan is confiscated, in case I try to hang myself by its woolly cord. Likewise, bootlaces. They try to take my nose ring but at that I balk, and win.

My cell’s surprisingly large, and clean. It’s bigger, in fact, than many of the places I’ve lived in. That makes me smile. I’ve managed to keep my notebook, pen and book. With these, a copy of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice) collected at the custody desk, and a thin mattress to use as a yoga mat, I know I can entertain myself for at least 24 hours. There’s a loo but no toilet roll. Water for washing but not for drinking. PACE tells me I can request a drink every two hours. Once I’ve got a cup I’ve also got a vessel for washing. This is fine.

Some people kick their cell doors and shout and scream, others sing. I feel as though I’m in a film. I read PACE. Later there’s an attempt to fob me off with a duty solicitor. I’ve got my bust card and I know not to acquiesce. Through a port-hole in my ceiling I watch the sky darken. Time passes quickly. I keep asking to talk to the solicitor I’ve requested. Eventually a cheerful woman in normal clothes, no uniform, lets me out of the cell and tells me I’m going home. I think, for a moment, that she means I’m being released without charge, but when I get to the front desk the custody sergeant who checked me in rustles my charge sheet and the cheerful woman reads it out.

Aren’t I supposed to have talked to my solicitor before I get charged?”

Consternation.

Yes, I am. A number is called, a phone thrust across the desk. I speak to the solicitor in public, in the reception area of the police station. I know this isn’t right, this should be a private conversation. We try, the solicitor and I, to get me released on unconditional bail but the sergeant’s not having it. I’m given a map of the areas around Barton Moss where I’m not supposed to go. I refuse to accept the map, the conditions, the bail. I’m innocent, why should my freedom of movement be curtailed? I ask for my Custody Record. The sergeant says I have to apply for that. PACE says otherwise. I get my Record and it’s peppered with errors. I leave my bail map on the station floor.

I have no idea where I am, how I’m going to get back to camp, where my belongings are, whether I’ll be arrested again when I get there. I’m shown to the exit by the cheerful plain-clothes woman. I press a button, step outside into a cold dark rainy Manchester night, and I’m greeted with hugs, cheers, tea, soup, donuts. The Barton Moss Protectors are here on arrestee support duty. The warmth I’m enveloped in brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know most of these people but they’re family now and I don’t need to worry about where I’m going, how I’ll get there or what will happen to me when I do. Everything is taken care of and I’m safe.

The next day, back in the real world, messages of support from family and friends flood in. Both of my sisters – beautiful, kind, non-political women – say they back me absolutely: “Fracking is evil,” says one, and the other writes “My eyes are now wide open. Stand united and keep on fighting this worthy cause, and Thankyou from all of us who can’t be there to support you.”

News reaches my mum at work: “Everyone in the office very impressed with your arrest”, she reports.

Ordinary people don’t want pollution, poisoned water that we have no disposal plan for, chemical-laced earth, toxic gases seeping into homes, earthquakes and climate change. The UK public is not impressed by rhetoric from politicians who have only their own interests at heart, and no compunction about lying to the electorate they’re meant to serve. No one – except the corporate boss set to make a killing by killing our land – thinks that bribing councils is a just or wise move.

Are we really winning this fight against fracking, and swinging public opinion our way, because we “wear exciting clothes”, as Owen Paterson claimed today in the Telegraph? Or might it be because we’re right… and it’s really fracking obvious that we’re right?

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Sunday Stroll in Salford (Barton Moss)

I thought we’d be lucky to get 50 people out to demonstrate about an environmental issue on a cold January day in Salford. About a thousand turn up. “They’re… normal people” I overhear someone mutter. Old, young, Salford families, Greens, union members, members of co-operatives, local residents, anti-fracking groups from other areas, environmentalists, grannies, kids, cyclists, musicians, health workers. A reasonable cross section of the 99%.

Plenty of creativity and humour has gone into the placards and banners we wave, as we walk a mile or so from the rendezvous point to Barton Moss. One lane of the A57 had been closed for us and we stream along it in festive mood, a procession more than a march, buoyed up by a strong sense of solidarity and community. Roughly 80% of passing cars beep in support of our Frack Off and Not for Shale messages – despite having been held up in a traffic jam on our account. One placard – “I’d rather be a hobbit than an orc” – rings very true for me. This and “Welcome to the desolate North… Now Frack Off!” are perfect rejoinders to nonsense peddled by pro-fracking politicians.

At a rally just up the lane from the Protectors’ Camp, we hear from members and supporters of the camp, including:

  • Local union reps, who say that profiteering by a minority at the expense of the majority is what we’re fighting here at Barton Moss – it’s bigger than environmental issues and its bigger than Salford, and we all need to work together;
  • A Campaign Against Climate Change speaker, pointing to the need to create climate-friendly jobs which will set up communities for a viable, sustainable future;
  • Vanessa Vine of Balcombe – a Sussex village which faced down the frackers in 2013 – who reminds us of the global nature of this struggle, and the brutality being faced by protesters and protectors in Canada and Romania;
  • Ewa Jasiewicz, of No Dash for Gas and Fuel Poverty Action, pointing out that investment in renewables now is the only way out of the fuel poverty trap of the moment, where the Big 6 energy companies are in a position to charge extortionate rates, filling their own pockets while risking the lives of the poor and turning a blind eye to climate change.

The crowds amble into Barton Moss Road as the rally comes to a close. Hundreds of us, strolling slowly on a Sunday afternoon along the lane where, on weekday mornings, police harrass and arrest protectors for walking at a similar pace ahead of the fracking trucks. There’s almost no visible policing today. Today, the police don’t feel the need to outnumber us 10:1 and shove us along the road “for our own safety”. Is it because they don’t want to show the ugly side of policing – the side which is about protecting corporate profits rather than people – to so many of their neighbours and peers, who are genuinely here to protect? If only a tenth this many people could turn up every day…

Past the camp we go, to the gates of the fracking site. There’s music, and dancing, and meetings between like-minded people. Someone’s cooked up a hearty soup and there’s a campfire to warm cold knees beside. This is what solidarity looks like. And we need more of this kind of thing!

A perfect summing-up from Carmen, of Occupy Manchester:

“Today one thousand people agreed that there is no social license for fracking – not locally or nationally or globally. We stand united for a frack-free planet [and for] investment in renewable energy, for all future generations and the planet Earth.”

Barton Moss Protection Camp, Barton Moss Road, Just off A57 next to Airport, Eccles M30 7RL

Barton Moss Protection Camp: Facebook 

Twitter: @BartonMoss

Frack Free Greater Manchester: website

Northern Gas Gala

Frack Off: website (great for background info)

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Barton Moss

BARTON MOSS ANTI-FRACKING PROTECTORS’ CAMP & THE ORANGE BUS BLOCKADE
Salford in the early hours of a December day, trapped in a sliver of damp earth between motorway and access lane. Barton Moss Protectors’ Camp. Pre-dawn, chilly, dawdling, waiting for the fracking trucks to arrive, waiting to slow-walk up the lane – the only peaceful protest the law is prepared to allow us these days.

Waiting, reading signs on the noticeboard outside the camp’s info point. Few awake as yet.

A woman runs towards us. “The big orange bus is up there! They need support up there!” She points towards the fracking site entrance.

We jog up the road.

There is, indeed, a big orange bus. It’s huge, very orange, and parked across the site’s entrance. It’s covered in ‘Frack Off’ and ‘Not for Shale’ signs. Just where the wind turbine blade was dropped off a couple of days earlier. So many large and generous gifts for the frackers, IGas.

Someone has set up camp on the roof of the bus. Someone else is locked on underneath. At least three people are inside, also locked on. A sign on the door says “Do not open this door, I am locked on, you will break my leg”.

A surge of excitement and solidarity floods through us. We wave and grin, gesture, thumbs up.Over the next few hours more and more cops turn up, until they outnumber us about 3:1. Local journalists arrive. The Salford Star guy is one of us, warming himself by our brazier. I make it my job to forage for twigs, to keep the fire going. Our legal observer and welfare crew keep an eye on those locked on, passing them warm things and food, while the baseball-capped ‘Protestor Removal Unit’ cops suss out the situation.

With two friends I temporarily resist the police instruction to leave the vicinity of the bus. We question their need to create a “sterile area”, their constant claims of “we just want to keep everyone safe”. Yeah RIGHT. That’s why you shoved a disabled guy into a ditch, breaking his leg in the process, just a few days ago, right here. We hold up proceedings for a wee while, then move away, not feeling that now is the time to push it and get arrested.

Eventually the power tools come out. Locks are broken, windows are smashed, ladders are hoisted and the bus-bound protectors are removed. Three are arrested. The two who were outside the bus look cold, shaky and exhausted. We whoop, holler, cheer our heroes. A breakdown truck manouveures into position, ready to tow the big orange bus away. A big orange sacrifice, gifted by Brighton.

A shout goes up “Down the lane! The trucks are coming in!” We dash back to the camp, get into a huddle and begin the slow walk in front of the fracking trucks. Police form their own huddle behind us and goad us, push us, poke us in the kidneys, get their hands on us and try to steer us, harry us, patronise us and shout in our earholes. They threaten to arrest anyone who complains too vociferously. A few years ago I’d have been shocked but it’s the kind of behaviour I expect from cops now. The baby-blue liaison cops are still going around with fixed grins, plaintively trying to explain that they’re the good guys; they’re not getting much traction. We shout out the numbers of the pushiest and our legal observers earnestly write down our complaints, walking backwards, keeping an eye on us as we stumble up the lane. They make me feel safer than I would if they weren’t there.

There aren’t enough of us. Too soon we’re at the gate, and funnelled off to stand impotent on the verge. Truck after truck after truck goes by.  A crane, cabins, a catering unit. Someone says the rig is in now. Trucks from North Yorkshire, trucks from Lincolnshire. We glare at the drivers, screaming with our eyes – “get out of your cab and come join us, you’re people like us!”. They drive into the fracking site. I feel as though I’m watching evil at work. Saruman wrecking Isengard. Two women are weeping. An 82 year old comforts them. Tears prick my eyes too. How can people be doing this? Why aren’t more people with us, trying to stop it? This isn’t just Isengard. It isn’t a story.

This is our future. Join us.

northerngasgala.org.uk/
frack-off.org.uk/

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A jigsaw with too many pieces

I haven’t written this month. Not because there’s nothing to say; more because there’s too much to say and too much to do.

Should I write about my trip to Cambodia? The torturous internal workings of Occupy in London? The disaster that is UK energy policy? New nuclear? Land issues? Asda boycott? The GM lobby? The wise ramblings of a young guy called Jonathan who lived in the OLSX camp at St Paul’s? Earthian‘s solo peace mission and his indomitable spirit? Cyprus and Greece? The brilliant stuff that’s going on in my sometimes-hometown of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire?

I’m trying to rebalance a life that was consumed by Occupy. Going off to live at St Paul’s and throwing my all into the Occupied Times for a year fragmented the life I had before October 2011. Now I’m looking at those ragged but valuable fragments alongside the new bits and bobs I’ve picked up and I’m trying to work out how to fit it all together. There are more jigsaw pieces than there used to be and I can’t work out what picture I’m trying to make.

I want to write but perhaps that’s a cop out and I should be doing more? What to do? I’m drawn to working locally and getting my hands dirty. I’d like to play with soil and plant seeds – theoretically. Perhaps I would’ve done some gardening in actuality if there hadn’t been two feet of snow on my tiny garden this last fortnight. I also want to be up a tree preventing pointless road schemes with the Combe Haven Defenders, I want to be at Camp Frack 2 in Lancashire and the Extreme Energy Gathering in Manchester. I’d like to see how the Diggers are getting on at Runnymede and visit the Forest of Dean and Reclaim the Fields. I want to get involved in StopG8 and the Carnival against Capitalism but what about what’s happening on my doorstep?

Developers are seeking planning permission for a supermarket and hotel on a piece of wasteland on the edge of town, in an area called Mytholm. No store or hotel has stepped forward and said they want to use the site but the developers, who bought the land some time ago, want to gain these permissions in order to increase its value. There’s a lot of local opposition to the planning application (and some support). Rather than just saying no, some of those in opposition have come up with an alternative. They’ve formed a group called Incredible Edible Mytholm (part of the Incredible Edible Network that started just up the road in Todmorden and now has branches internationally) and they’ve dreamed up Growing Futures, a permaculture project involving food growing and selling, education, ecotourism and sustainability research. It’s already been dubbed a “mini Eden Project” but there will be a lot of hoops to jump through before the idea can translate into a funded, grounded, viable endeavour.

Never mind the town on my doorstep, the building I work in is undergoing major change at the moment. Hebden Bridge Hostel (where I work) used to be a concert hall adjoining the Birchcliffe Baptist Chapel. The Chapel became the secular Birchcliffe Centre in the 70’s and passed into the care of Pennine Heritage Trust. Part of it has been converted into a rabbit warren of tiny offices, studios, a Zen meditation space, a web designers’ lair and so on. There’s also a ‘zombie tunnel’ which runs from the old baptismal font to the basement, near the caretaker’s cupboard. After being dunked in the font, the newly baptised could preserve their modesty by sneaking down the tunnel to the basement changing rooms, rather than having to do a wet T-shirt walk through the congregation. There are no zombies in the tunnel, but it forms part of my in-case-of-zombie-apocalypse escape plan; I’m hoping it doesn’t get bricked up during the major refurbishments now underway in the listed parts of the building, which are being transformed into some kind of educational resource, historical archive and event venue. The most exciting thing about the revamp, from my perspective, is the overhaul of the archaic heating system which, in a leviathan contortion of belching pipes, links the hostel with the Birchcliffe Centre, leaking heat and spewing carbon in a very embarrassing fashion at every turn.

Experts have been consulted and funding bodies approached. I’m not privy to the meetings of the Pennine Heritage trustees but I’ve heard whispers about biomass boilers and solar panels. I’m not yet sure if they’re talking solar thermal or PV. I’m not impressed that if they go for the biomass boiler I’ll have to give up my shed, woodstore, rhubarb patch and lemon balm thicket. Most of all, I’m horrified by the thought that, in trying to go for an eco option, the trustees might be about to sign a contract with a company that ships in biomass from sterile commercial plantations that are displacing food production and/or biodiverse woodland. If anyone has solid information that could help me steer this energy transition in the right direction, please let me know (quickly).

Today I was going to join Treesponsibility on the hills above Todmorden but I didn’t because I was writing this. I probably should’ve gone. Treesponsibility doesn’t just plant trees; it’s an education and resilience project with involvement in The Source which, like Ban the Burn, aims to reduce flooding in the Calder Valley through restoration of the uplands. There’s so much good stuff going on around here. It’s inspiring and a bit overwhelming. Blackbark, for example, is a sustainable woodland management co-operative that produces wood for fuel on a very local scale. Pennine Community Power has a community wind turbine on the moors. People are also looking at micro-hydro. The industrial revolution was born around here and waterwheels were used to power mills and factories; it seems stupid not to use the local geography – steep valleys, where it rains a lot – as our ancestors did. Gibson Mill, which was converted into a visitor centre, cafe and venue in 2005,  is run entirely on renewable energy and is not connected to the mains grid.  Bridge Mill, the oldest building in town, houses about eight small businesses and is already partly converted to renewables (restored water mill, water-source heat pump and solar thermal), with an Archimedes-screw water turbine being added this year.

I like this Red Pepper piece: Power-to-Transform

I’m going to stop now.

I might’ve nearly completed a corner of the jigsaw of my life.

____

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Protests for a New Year

It’s feeling more and more like the 90’s all over again (but with fewer smiley-face t-shirts, more Northern Soul, less Acid House). Back then it was poll tax riots, Castlemorton, the Newbury Bypass protest camp, Reclaim the Streets, GM crop trashings and the Global Justice movement (dubbed ‘anti-globalisation’ by the media).

In 2013, it’s like this:

Protesting against the Bexhill-Hastings link road, Combe Haven Defenders are holed up in tunnels and enjoying the views of the valley in sturdy treehouses. There’s a ground-level camp too, a camp-kitchen and compost loo. They’re looking for support, of the live-in and drop-by variety – check the link for background, directions and wishlist.

GM foods are also looking like making a comeback; corporate lobbyists are desperate for the cash and it’s got nothing to do with feeding the needy. Check The Ecologist and GMWatch for details of why GMO’s still aren’t a good idea (and these bits I co-wrote for the OT last year).

Idle No More and the Zapatistas are rising in the Americas.

Info wars are ongoing over tar sands, fracking and nuclear power.

We need sustainable, renewable energy; technology appropriate to weather patterns, geography and demography; lots of community micro-generation; massive investment in wind, solar and hydro; and a total rethink on everyone’s part about consumption.

Infinite growth on a finite planet (still) can’t work.

And then there’s One Billion Rising.

Vandana Shiva said: “Ending violence against women includes moving beyond the violent economy shaped by capitalist patriarchy”. Think she’s right.

The ‘99% and 1%’ rhetoric of the Occupy mic check, the subversive ‘Round Dance Revolution’ of First Nations groups in Canada and the US, the silent march of the Zapatistas – with their “did you hear it?” message and communique, the storming of Delhi’s official buildings by women sick of oppression, and the treehouses of those opposing road building and oil pipelines… It’s all part of the same struggle against a teetering system that we can no longer afford to prop up or ignore.

Indigenous people, women, traditional farmers, environmentalists, and those who love and live on the land – we are the majority. Add in all those struggling to make ends meet because our governments serve corporations and the power-hungry rather than the people… and this is the makings of a global mass movement for real change.

We need more people to get involved. There’s lots to do – check out the links in this and see if you can add your voice or assistance.

2013: The Year of the People

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Legal Challenge to UK’s ‘Nature Watchdog’

This is a Ban The Burn update.

Campaigners are asking the European Commission to investigate a potential misuse of European funding by Natural England (NE), the UK’s nature watchdog.

A representative of the Ban The Burn campaign, based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, will travel to Brussels on 10 January to meet officials from the Commission’s Environmental Compliance Unit.

Legal reviews are being requested due to:

  • Natural England’s decision to drop its prosecution of Walshaw Moor Estate (WME). In March this year, Natural England took WME to court because of 43 environmental infringements on its 4000 hectare grouse moor estate above Hebden Bridge. The case was dropped abruptly for reasons that have not been made public.
  • The subsequent £2.5 million “Higher Level Stewardship” agreement between NE and WME. This amounts to £1,000 of public money every working day for the next 10 years, while allowing the continued burning of blanket bog – a European priority habitat. Activities which were previously considered prosecutable are now being subsidised by the tax-payer and European funding.

The legal basis for the campaigners’ challenge is that European funding for nature protection should not be used to subsidise activities likely to degrade an extremely sensitive and valuable habitat.

The EU Birds Directive and EU Habitats Directive are both designed to protect environments such as that at Walshaw Moor. Hebden Bridge was very badly hit by flooding in the summer of 2012 and the agreement between NE and WME fails to recognise the downstream effects of current management practices. In order to minimise flood risk in the town, the upland catchment needs to be managed so that large areas of degraded blanket bog are restored to a healthy state, with a good cover of sphagnum moss to act as a buffer slowing the run-off during heavy rainfall.

Local campaigner Dongria Kondh explained that “On Walshaw Moor, we have seen erosion from unconsented tracks, very extensive drainage and aggressive burning on blanket bog. The increased scale of this activity over the past few years may well have been a contributory factor to the severity of flooding in our town. Instead of being banned, these activities are now being subsidised.”

Dr. Aidan Foley BA, Msc., Phd, FGS, an environmental scientist who has helped the group to compile data for the complaint, added “Sphagnum is particularly vulnerable to fire, so continued burning is widely recognised as detrimental. Such damage to the structure of the soil will prevent this degraded moorland being restored to a healthy state.”

Although Ban The Burn is a locally based campaign, it is not just a local issue. Degraded peatlands turn from being carbon sinks to becoming carbon sources; according to the Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands, damaged UK peatlands currently release almost 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 a year – more than all the households in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds combined.

 

Please share this story widely.

For more information, contact bantheburn2012@gmail.com, or ring Dongria Kondh on 07847 815 926 (if there is no reply, leave a text message and you will  be called back).

A Press Release and photographs will be issued on 10 January following the meeting between Ban The Burn campaigner Dongria Kondh and Jean-François Brakeland, head of Environment Compliance for the European Commission.

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Ban the Burn! update

I wrote about the Ban the Burn campaign here (The Occupied Times) and here (New Internationalist).
This is the latest on the story:

More information has come to light regarding Natural England (NE), Walshaw Moor grouse-shooting Estate in Yorkshire, and the court case brought and then dropped by NE for environmental breaches perpetrated by the Estate.

Carefully researched details of the environmental impact of bog burning can be found in the excellent Brownfields Briefing. The extent to which our drinking water is polluted and discoloured by burning – and how much that costs to clean up – is being investigated (new costly plant has been required for this purpose and guess who pays? Yes – the public, via water bills). More on the fractious communication between Natural England and grouse-shooting supporters the Moorlands Association (MA) has also been unearthed, during which Andrew Woods of NE received the following from Martin Gillibrand, Secretary of the MA:

Your lawyers have clearly stated that NE believes that all burning on peat needs to be reviewed… [this is] a threat to the management of all such moors. You may not intend to apply it to any other moor at the moment, but there is nothing to stop that being done, and in the light of the views expressed by some of your colleagues and staff about burning, that is not a risk that I can ignore – that is why the Walshaw case is so important to all MA members – the behaviour of Natural England… represents a risk to us all… you must understand that when action is taken in respect of one moor… every other owner is affected, and a lot of patient relationship building is undone.”

In emails which are now public record due to a Freedom of Information request, Woods repeatedly ‘reassures’ Gillibrand that the issue NE is addressing applies only to the Walshaw Moor Estate (WME). Unfortunately that opens the door to WME claiming they’re being treated unfairly (despite the 43 environmental breaches identified on the Estate by NE). It seems that Woods was attempting to calm Gillibrand and the MA membership. Who knows how much Woods believed what he was saying… or what he meant by it. Surely not that NE were happy for blanket bog to continue being burnt elsewhere? As one Ban The Burn campaigner explains “That would mean breaking EU law – as the burning of blanket bog cannot be squared with the European Habitats Directive, Birds Directive and Water Framework directive.” And yet the MA takes even the suggestion of a review of peatland burning to be “a risk to us all”.

Which ‘all’ is Gillibrand referring to here? Not the residents of towns such as Hebden Bridge, who rely on healthy upland catchments to reduce the risk of flooding. Not the average Yorkshire dweller who is paying extra to have their water cleaned after the bog burning. And not the ‘all’ of us affected by climate change, which is being exacerbated by the release of carbon from moorland which could and should be used as a carbon sink. No, it must be the ‘all’ of us who have an interest in grouse-shooting and the estates that host grouse-shooting. A pretty elite ‘all’ which includes Britain’s Wildlife Minister, Richard Benyon.

Having scrutinised the new ‘Higher Level Stewardship’ agreement between Natural England and Walshaw Moor Estate, campaigners say it appears to allow ‘business as usual’. This is the agreement that NE described as an understanding great enough for legal action to be dropped. An agreement that meant NE awarded the Walshaw Moor Estate £2.5 million of public money to look after our moorland… but which includes woolly language that allows for only minor reductions in burning at Walshaw, ignoring the fact that burning increased threefold in the past ten years. In short, not only does the Estate – and its millionaire owner Bannister – get off scot free, they are also allowed to carry on doing many of the things that so alarmed Natural England at the outset. Plus, WME gets paid a heap of taxpayers’ money and then we pay again to have the water they pollute cleaned… and then the valley floods. Add in the longer term effect on climate change and the whole thing really does appear to be a scandal of epic proportions.

A distinct hesitancy on the part of experts to come forwards in this case shows only how important the issue is. Reasons for hesitancy range from fear that their own funding will be cut, to concern that their reputations could be smeared, to consideration of the legal situation and whether what they say could impact any future legal proceedings. Concerned residents in Hebden Bridge and other areas affected by moorland degradation are not hampered by such concerns and are determined to keep calling for ‘Ban The Burn!’. Further calls to action will be heard from the campaigners in the near future.

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Who’s messing with Hebden Bridge’s vital flood barrier? | New Internationalist

“Town that won’t stop flooding: Hebden Bridge cleans up for the third time in three weeks.”

That was a Daily Mail headline in July. It was a slight exaggeration. Most people who live in Hebden are pretty sure they were only flooded twice, but it was enough. Cars were submerged, the library was evacuated, the main road closed, businesses were wrecked, homes swamped, livelihoods devastated.

A story is emerging involving a millionaire landowner, a government minister, environmental breaches at a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), a mysteriously dropped court case, the profitability of shooting grouse, and the spending of taxpayers’ cash. The setting: the wuthering heights above Hebden Bridge, famed moors of the Brontës. The unlikely heroes of the piece are blanket bog and sphagnum moss.

On Sunday August 12th, flood-hit residents of Hebden Bridge and campaigners from across the country set out from the town centre on a protest walk to the Walshaw Moor grouse-shooting estate. Following the walk, the Ban the Burn! national campaign launch, timed to coincide with ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ (the opening of the grouse-shooting season), took place at Hebden Bridge Trades Club. Ban the Burn! campaigners are demanding a ban on the draining of peat-rich blanket bogs and the burning of moorland heather, activities carried out by landowners to maximise grouse-shooting potential.

The effects of draining and burning of blanket bogs, which are supposed to be protected under EU and UK conservation regulations, include: increased flood risk downstream; very significant carbon emissions; adverse impacts on water quality; and the destruction of rare and globally significant habitat. According to the Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands, damaged UK peatlands currently release almost 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 a year – more than all the households in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Leeds combined.

Walshaw Moor came to public attention when Natural England attempted to prosecute the landowner for 43 environmental breaches. The case was abruptly dropped and Natural England subsequently entered into an Environmental Stewardship agreement with the Estate, whereby £2.5 million of taxpayers’ money will be paid to it over the next ten years while “controlled” burning will still be allowed. Campaigners describe this as a scandal in a YouTube video.

According to a local resident, “Here in Hebden Bridge we know the real hardship of flooding – shops and businesses in our town are still shut, and many of us have suffered irreplaceable loss. We need to manage the upland catchment to promote healthy blanket bog, with sphagnum moss to act as a sponge during heavy rainfall. It seems grotesque that the taxpayer is paying for the exact opposite – £2.5 million is about five times as much as we have in the Calder Valley flood recovery fund!”

At the end of a “brilliant”, “eye-opening” and “exhausting” day, a walker explained via the live EnergyRoyd blog why he joined the Ban the Burn! campaign: “I think it’s a travesty that Walshaw Moor Estate has been given public money. They’ve got friends in Whitehall, and the Minister for Wildlife’s a grouse shooter – basically, a bunch of aristocrats are making life worse for hard-working folk in the valley by increasing the risk of flooding.” Parts of this claim are unsubstantiated, however suggestions regarding the influence of political and land-owning elites on environmental and countryside policies have been made by Dr Mark Avery (former Conservation Director of the RSPB), George Monbiot (in The Guardian) and Michael McCarthy (The Independent).

Dr Avery says in his blog ‘Standing up for Nature’: The access of the Moorland Association to the [Wildlife] Minister is at a level that many statutory agencies who work for Defra might well envy, and is well beyond that of the average environmental NGO.” Edward Bromet, Chairman of the Moorland Association, which supports grouse shooting, sent Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon a private email in December 2011. The content of this email has since been made public under a Freedom of Information request. Bromet, referring to the court case brought by Natural England against Walshaw Moor Estate, wrote “What Natural England are doing is complete madness… Suggestions of readdressing the basis of existing agri-environment schemes… would make the management of moorland, most of which is privately funded, completely impossible.” How much influence such communications had on Natural England’s decision to drop the case is unknown.

When it comes to environmental degradation by a politically untouchable elite of large landowners, the Hebden Bridge story may be just the tip of an iceberg. Walshaw Moor is certainly not an isolated case – the Peatlands Inquiry found that only 11 percent of blanket bogs in English SSSIs are in favourable condition. Primary reasons cited for unfavourable (no change or declining) condition are overgrazing, inappropriate moor burning and drainage – the latter two being associated with grouse moors.

 

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