There is plenty to follow-up with regards to the historic protest in Stroud involving the occupation of a large Bramley apple tree (Malus domestica) and trying simultaneously to save a significant badger sett on the same grounds. The occupation of the tree involved principally two or three people with several supporters and perhaps up to one hundred visitors during the six days when it was happening. A visitors’ book included messages of support, drawings and two lovely poems. It was therefore significant and to some degree placed Stroud’s credentials as part of the ‘environmental movement’ more squarely upfront once again. This, we should be proud of. There were reports in the Daily Mail, on BBC Points West, ITV West, Stroud TV, and Stroud FM, and in the Stroud News and Journal, Stroud Life and Citizen local newspapers. By the time that you are reading this, the immediate impact of the event may just be fading a little. However, the week also included some heated debate in the Transition Stroud online ‘Discuss Forum’, as well as a wide range of discussions on Facebook and Twitter. Nearly 400 comments were left on the Mail online site, and amongst these were, to some people’s surprise, many well-thought out messages of support and solidarity for the protest to save the tree.
The ‘direct action’ of the protest took place for several reasons and analysis can show how such explicit dissent and resistance in the face of developers, contract workers, some neighbours and the police became necessary. This was about protecting a special tree. The trees were planted as part of an orchard area between seventy-five and one hundred and fifty years ago. This was about protecting an irreplaceable badger sett. A sett with 22 entrances that has been developed over decades. This was about saying “no” to relentless and inappropriate housing development on green spaces within urban settings. This was an old market garden for the town, and-following rejection of a proposed requirement by Stroud District Council-the development will involve no social or affordable housing.
This was a protest involving the coming together of individuals. The desire to succeed grew but this particular battle became increasingly arduous over the six days, especially as the police presence increased and the contractors began to strategically organize themselves to pounce on a small number of peaceful protesters. Gerard Walsh, the developer, agreed on television to speak with the protesters. However, he arrived at short notice when only two were present, refused to genuinely engage, and instructed his contractors to undertake unacceptable actions.
We were involved on the day when contractors organised themselves to physically overcome the protestors, the police arrested three people and at the same time the tree was cut down to a stump (two of the protestors were ‘de-arrested’ immediately after the felling, one was held overnight in Gloucester and has been charged). The lead-up to this moment involved the use of power strimmers, gradually surrounding the protestors and surreptitiously running towards them. These moments of heightened tension are difficult to bear and they demonstrate the tenacity and determination of the developers to press ahead with in this case a development based on a planning application that was rejected in the past and which neighbours campaigned to stop for nearly three years, with more than 100 letters of objection received by the Council.
The weighing and estimations are still taking place but already cider is being made from the apples left strewn all over the ground once the main branches were sawn off in the middle of the night with a bow-saw! Furthermore, Down To Earth have collected several kilograms to make into dried apple rings. We are planning on setting up a cheerful competition to name the apple rings, especially after the messages of support from as far away as India and Australia.
James Beecher, a neighbour and local campaigner, wrote: “There was a very sad end to this story, but I hope it is a good reminder of what we can do, and what may be needed in some of the battles over local development and our environment in the near future.”
Nick James, 14th October, 2013
See the latest Transition Town Newsletter