At the climate camp last week there were discussions of what to write on a banner to drop off the side of County Hall. ‘Get off my land’ was a popular choice: after all, whose land and whose council is it anyway?
The Climate Camp passed peacefully and met its main aims (see this sweet short video): to practice and demonstrate living lightly together on the land as well as carrying out peaceful direct actions against nearby climate ‘offenders’. But, as one interesting column asked, is that all that Climate Camp is for? Is there a call to work more deeply with locals on their issues? And a Lewes academic reminded us of the role of local in preserving things we value when democratic routes fail.
A consensus at the closing of the camp agreed that a group of people – activists, homeless people and local residents – stay on the site as long as possible to buy time for Lewes residents and councils to allow us to have a say in the future use of the three acres of prime ground in central Lewes. We put in some Freedom of Information requests, with the help of a government employee codenamed Puffles, for information about what has been discussed, planned and surveyed for its future. Rumours abound from within County Hall that demolition of the buildings had been imminent. We need to know. Whose land is it to dispose of for building, car parks and the like? STAND – St Anne’s Diggers – is forming around this issue and will be putting a call out for participation. The grounds are open for any resident visitors or campers as well as every Sunday a picnic from noon and community meeting at 3pm.
Last week, as I was scouting St Anne's boundaries with County Hall, I came across a little sign hidden in the undergrowth next to one of County Hall’s car parks: ‘Designated Biodiversity Area’. This was a thin strip of cow parsley and long grass, a portion of which acted as a dumping ground for the clippings from the lawns. The huge County Hall site itself is probably 98% buildings, car park and lawn. It says a lot about the mentality of our council that it even trashes, unopposed by any employees, the tiny area allocated to ‘biodiversity’.
Because biodiversity means ‘wild’. It means the place that many other beings live, because they can’t live on concrete and lawns. That’s what’s so lovely about the St Anne’s site: it has been kept secret and virtually unused for seven years, allowed to grow and stretch into itself. Having spent 10 nights on this land, belly to belly, I have started to fall in love with it, as have other Lewesians coming onto it for the first time. Strong words, but a completely natural response to a gorgeous terrain. It’s this visceral response that helps us to care about natural places, especially wild places which are inhabited by the other beings such as trees, bats, birds, hedgehogs and bugs and which makes us grieve when those places are ripped up and turned into money.
I’ve seen a strong desire to interact with this place, to tame it, plant it, inhabit it with treehouses – turn it into something for our use – and County Hall says it has a fiduciary responsibility to make the most money possible from land. But my personal sense is, for now, let’s leave it, let’s visit it lightly, let’s go gently and leave only footprints. Because, whose land is it, anyway?