New Internationalist

Why I joined the second Battle of Hastings


Activists have been occupying trees to try and stop the road development.

Combe Haven Valley, which the proposed link road would go through, is ‘set within a high-quality landscape of historic and wildlife interest and contains peaceful and remote countryside’ (Report for a council meeting in 2004). It passes very close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and is one of Britain’s most important wildlife sites.

My particular interest in this road, however, goes further than that. We need new roads in Britain like a hole in the head. Our traffic is already at levels that go far beyond what is sustainable, from every perspective: economic, social, health, environmental, or in terms of natural resources and climate change. Moreover, it is evident from every new road that has ever been built that traffic levels on the old roads do not decrease and ultimately exceed pre-new road levels anyway.

The scheme has been the subject of a prolonged fight which in October 2012 went all the way to the High Court. The project is one of over 40 ‘zombie roads’ previously declared dead but resurrected as part of the government’s largest road-building programme in 25 years.

It was with all this in mind that before dawn one very wet morning I got the train to Hastings and met up with fellow sympathizer ‘Andrew’. Together, we headed for an area which we had been told was likely to be the centre of attention that day. We found a tree that looked suitably ‘in the way’ and climbed it.

Soon after, a dozen tree surgeons arrived with around 20 security guards and bailiffs in tow, and a Police Land Rover. We continued setting up camp in the tree and the chainsaws started working.

While most of the security guards huddled under a bridge nearby to keep out of the rain, one that must have drawn the short straw huddled under our tree for five hours, asking periodically if we wanted to come down. Meanwhile, the chainsaws worked hard, felling trees all around us. But at the end of the day ‘our’ tree, and the four or five around us, were still there.

For a month activists have been defending the Combe Haven Valley, in what has been called the ‘second Battle of Hastings,’ putting themselves in the way, often subjecting themselves to prolonged periods of discomfort and the risk of arrest.

In the early hours on 14 January police, security and chainsaw operators moved in to evict the ‘Three Oaks’ protest camp on the proposed route. Trees were felled – including a 400-year-old oak. There are still two other protest camps standing – ‘Decoy Pond Wood Camp’ and ‘Base Camp’ – but police say they will be evicted this week.

What we need now is more people to occupy the remaining trees to stop the contractors completing their work by March. If we can do this, the breeding season will halt work on the road until next year, giving more time to challenge the road by other means to save the beautiful Combe Haven Valley.

Find out more from the Combe Haven Defenders website.

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