Skip to main content
Read page text

T h am e s in O x fo rd sh ire , life revolves a ro u n d th e w a te rm eadow s . T h e p a s tu re s su r ro u n d in g the R iver T ham es a r e seldom em p ty . Fam ilies picnic here, ch i ld ren ride th e ir bikes, fly th e ir kites o r fish in th e river, a n d elderly couples walk th e ir dogs. In th e willows a n d bu llru sh e s a long th e banks live kingfishers, herons and reed buntings. W h en floodw aters scour th e gravel aw ay , th ey reveal po tsh e rd s and the bones o f an c ie n t cattle.

But th e meadows a re in no sense rem a rk ab le ; no th in g qualifies them for lis tin g as a Site o f Special Scientific I n t e r e s t o r a S c h e d u le d A n c ie n t M o n um e n t . V is ito rs to D o rchester, whose in te re s t concentrates on the v illag e’s tea-room s , A bbey and the b u s ie r b anks o f th e River T h am e s , do n o t even know they a re there. In 1994 th e i r ow ner w en t b a n k ru p t . T h e peop le o f D o rc h e s te r realized th a t a new la n d lo rd could plough th e pastures a n d p la n t barley o r rap e , w i th ou t even in fo rm ing th em o f those in ten tions, a n d they would lose th e link w ith their su r ro u n d in g s th a t makes th e village su ch a d e s ira b le place to live. H o r rified, they c lu bbed together. W ith in n in e days they raised the money re q u ire d to buy th e la nd for them selves.

Y et th is is no t a h appy sto ry bu t a sad one. D o rch ester is a w ealthy v illage a n d th e meadows w ere cheap. M o s t o f th e com m unities in B rita in have no p ro sp ec t o f purchasing the in fo rm a l spaces th a t help to make life b ea rab le . Y e t they have no o th e r legal m eans o f defending them . O n ly SSSIs a n d Scheduled A ncient M onum en ts a r e nom in a lly p ro tec ted in B rita in , an d in p rac tic e even these can be d isposed o f by any la ndow n e r w ith a knowledge o f th e law . N e i th e r agricultu re no r forestry is classified as d e velopm en t , so th e ir im p a c t on the g re a t m a jo r ity o f ou r la ndscape featu res — th e unscheduled ones — need n o t be subjected to any form o f public sc ru tin y .

L ast year, a coalition o f roads p ro te s to rs , housing r igh ts activ ists, radical econom is ts, trav e lle rs, low -im pact se ttle rs and environm en ta lis ts recognized th a t un til th e ir cam paigns got to grips w ith la nd -u se decision-m aking, they would be responding only to th e sym ptom s, not to th e causes o f the problem s they were confronting. S ta r t in g w ith th e occupation o f la nd close to St G eorge’s H ill in Surrey, they launched a cam p a ig n called T h e L and is O u rs , w ith a manifesto for p u t t in g control back in to th e h an d s o f o rd in a ry people.

A lready tw o county councils — O x

Trees are us. Protesters delay road building at Newbury.

p h o t o g r a p h b y An d r e w t e s t a fo rd sh ire an d H e r tfo rd sh ire — have signed up to th e L and is O u r s objectives, the G reen P a r ty has ad op ted the manifesto as policy a n d the P a r l iam en ta ry L a b o u r P a r ty is actively in t e r e s t e d . M o s t im p o r t a n t l y , th e cam paign has kicked off a d eb a te in B r ita in a b o u t a subject which until recently was confined to th e T h i rd World. L and righ ts will alw ays be h a rd e r to discuss in B r ita in th a n in Brazil o r South Africa. L an d a l ie n a tion here has been tak in g place for so long, and the effects now ram ify in such complex ways th ro ugh ou r lives, th a t it is often difficult to see w h a t is oppressing us, and a lm ost im possible to avoid becom ing p a r t ic ip a n ts in our own enclosure.

But the huge am o u n t o f co rre sp ondence the new cam paign has received suggests th a t people in B rita in a re now ready for change as they have never been before. For th e first tim e in our recent h isto ry , we have th e o p p o r tu n ity to make developm en t work for us, r a th e r th a n ag a in s t us. #

George Monbiot is a regular contributor to T h e G u a r d ia n .

T h e L an d is O u r s c a n b e c o n ta c te d a t B ox E, 111 M agdalen R oad, O x fo r d 0 X 4 IR Q . T e l: 01865 722016. A m a jo r o c c u p a t io n o f d e r e l ic t u r b a n la n d is p la n n e d f o r May 5th. P le a se w r i te in f o r d e ta i l s . T h e c am p a ig n r e l ie s o n d o n a t io n s , a n d as i t h a s no p a id s ta f f a n d v e ry sm a ll o v e rh e ad s , e v e n t in y am o u n ts o f m oney go a lo n g way. P le a se m ake o u t ch eques to “ L a n d R e fo rm ” .

1 6 R e s u rg e n c e N o . 176

My Bookmarks


Skip to main content