Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Woodsmoke and Wild Garlic

This is my diary describing my arrival at the protests against Manchester Airport's Second Runway.

Sunday 23rd March 1997

Pack my tent into my rucksack, put on my combat jacket and head off to Manchester. Yesterday two van loads of riot police arrived whilst myself and half a dozen others were leafleting a BP station in Cosby so I'm in the mood for a bot of radical direct action. The police were actually very nice. The weekend traffic to Southport had backed up towards Liverpool and someone had seen us handing out our leaflets. The message had been passed on to the police as 'Greenpeace are blocking the road'.

Greenpeace's campaign is about stopping oil drilling in the wilderness of the Atlantic Frontier, a campaign set to run over the summer to build up to the Kyoto Conference on climate change at the end of the year. Greenpeace want an end to the supply of new oil in order to prevent global warming, at Manchester Airport we will be opposing the fastest growing users of fossil fuels - aeroplanes.

However Manchester Airport's PR department has been putting out the story that 50,000 jobs will be created by the project, and as I arrive at Piccadilly Station and make my way to the bus station I see why a line like that will sell here. Despite my own ragged appearance, I am approached by beggars as I walk, and some of the city's homeless can be seen sitting in the sun in Piccadilly Gardens, surrounded by the concrete buildings, noise and pollution of the city. By comparison with the life of this urban underclass, the prospect of living in a makeshift camp in the middle of the wilderness is highly desirable. Poverty isn't just a lack of money or housing, it is being cut off from the natural world that should be our common heritage.

I end up on the slow bus to the airport, which winds its way through grey suburbs to the main entrance to the current site, where I leap out. I am in a different world to the concrete and brick jungles I have passed through. This is a land of  verdant hedgerows, stone walls and black and white houses set in lush gardens. Away from the main road I walk along country lanes. Immediately I see the first red and white 'No Runway Two' signs. These people evidently are doing well for themselves and don't need the dubious employment prospects beign offered by the airport.

I meet my first eco-warriors on the lane just before I get  to the site. These are Adrian, a tall young man with a pronounced West Country accent, and a young woman who is very well spoken and truns out to be local. They lead me to the main entrance to the site, a gap in the hedge by the main road. A few years away is the main entrance for the contractor's vehicles. I can see the start of the fence that was started earlier in the week, and which caused the first confrontations with the security guards employed by the construction company.

Adrian leads me up the grass slope towards the woodland that crowns the heights. All the trees are bare of leaves, and the tree houses, 'twigloos', can be seen looking like overgrown birds nests of plastic and wood.From the two occupied trees up ahead a banner reading "No Runway Two' hangs defiantly. This is Flywood. A shallow ditch and barbed wire fence surrounds the camp as a defence against dawn raids. A more effective defence is the clinging mud that surrounds the entire camp. Two planks cross this and lead to a couple of rough benders and a central fire pit. A couple of crusty characters are sitting in a bender drinking cider. Other benders on the edge of the camp appear to service the tree houses and tunnels. One of the tunnellers emerges as I enter, caked in red clay, with his head torch like a third eye.

I am greeted cordially and I explain I'm here to stay and ask where people are needed. I an told that a camp called Wild Garlic has just been set up and needs people. I ask for directions and are given some meaningless stuff about avoiding Cliff Richard, going through Zion Tree and past Bollin Bay, and I'm pointed vaguely in the direction of the current runway.

I slither off over the muddy grass and eventually come across a sign saying "Sir Cliff Richard OBE Vegan Revolution" and what appears to be a well fortified camp. Following the directions I was given I follow the edge of the woods and eventually come to a cheerful sign saying "Welcome to Zion Tree" which is at the top of a slippery, muddy slope through the trees. Struggling under the weight of my rucksack I slowly work my way down the hill and come out into the Bollin valley itself. A broad water meadow completely hidden from the surrounding fields, where the river meanders through the wooded slopes. A small copse by the water's edge contains an empty bender. Multi coloured ribbons are tied to the leafless branches.

To reach Wild Garlic I have to cross the Bollin. It turns out there are two ways of doing this:by a bridge made of planks and scafolding poles, or a rope walkway. Choosing the easier route this time I cross and scramble up the slope towards the camp. Separated from the grass by a channel of water, the camp is a wooded hillside covered by, of course, wild garlic. The trees appear to be a mixtures od ash and birch, and several tree houses are in in the process of being constructed.

The camp itself is reached by a rickety wooden bridge over the stagnant and filthy water. On the other side is a large, communal bender and two smaller ones, for cooking and tool storage. Various eco-warrior types can be seen moving around and doing things ....

Alas it ends there. After that I was too busy tunnelling to write ...