Climate camp venue revealed

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The Independent Online

Around 1,000 activists descended today on a stretch of open land in London after the location of the week-long Climate Camp was finally revealed.

More than 1,000 activists were settling into their first night at a week-long climate camp tonight after choosing the site of the first popular rebellion in English history for their protest.

Supporters travelled from across the UK to London before being told to make their way to Blackheath, where the camp was set up on a hill overlooking Docklands and Canary Wharf.

The site for the camp, a wide expanse of open grassland in south-east London, was kept secret until the last moment and was texted to activists.

Organisers said this year's venue symbolised the financial and corporate centres of power, and was within the floodplains of the River Thames, which they warned was at risk of bursting its banks as climate change escalated.

One of the organisers said: "Having previously camped at sites of climate crime such as Drax, Heathrow, Kingsnorth and the Climate Exchange on Bishopsgate, today the Camp for Climate Action is setting up camp at the doorstep of the economic and political systems that are fuelling catastrophic climate change."

Policing of the camp will come under fierce scrutiny following criticism of the tactics at the G20 protests in London in April.

Wat Tyler's so-called Peasants' Revolt against unpopular taxes took place on the heath more than 700 years ago, when tens of thousands took part in a popular uprising in support of higher wages and better working conditions.

The revolt is remembered by Wat Tyler Road on the heath and was followed in 1450 by Jack Cade's Kentish rebellion against the weak leadership of King Henry VI, unfair taxes, corruption and the damaging effect of the loss of France.

Blackheath has since been the meeting point for a series of battles, revolts and demonstrations, and more recently was the venue for an anti-poll tax concert in 1988, headlined by the music group Squeeze.

There were mixed reactions among people living nearby tonight when they learned that up to 3,000 environmental protesters will be their neighbours for the next week.

The grassy site is overlooked by more than 50 homes which usually enjoy a view of open heath land.

It is just a short walk from Black Heath village known for its posh restaurants and family-friendly cafes.

Passers-by looked on as campers set up tents and makeshift shelters a stone's throw from houses that command multimillion pound price tags.

One 40-year-old mother-of-one, whose home overlooks the site, said: "I just hope it's going to be peaceful. We all saw what happened at G20.

"I wonder how long they are going to be here? They could not have picked anywhere more middle class than Blackheath."

One estate agent, who asked not to be named, said staff suspected something was afoot this morning, adding: "We knew something was up when people started to arrive in people carriers.

"They were throwing out their stuff this morning, but they were in the pub by noon. A couple of hours later, lots more people started to arrive with the police in tow."

Drinkers at The Hare and Billet, which is a short distance from the camp, were unfazed by the sudden appearance of green protesters.

John Hillam, 38, said the unexpected arrivals may well prove to be good for trade in the village, particularly the pubs.

He said: "I cannot see them being any bother. It is quite posh around here, so others might feel differently. Either way, they are probably going to have to stock up with more cider here."

One group of around 100 campers arrived at the site after a Tube and train journey from Moorgate, where they had listened to speeches and music outside mining giant Rio Tinto's offices.

Vans unloaded equipment for eco-toilets, marquees and kitchens while different "neighbourhoods" for campers from different parts of the country were laid out.

Hannah Greenslade, who works for Leeds University Students' Union, said of the camp: "I think this is one of the most important types of events you can take part in if you care about getting something done on climate change.

"It's an opportunity to set up an alternative model of living for a week and be entirely self-sufficient."

There was a relatively small police presence around the perimeter of the camp, which was ringed with steel fencing, and a spokesman for the camp said he hoped there would not be a repeat of last year's problems in Kingsnorth, where important equipment such as water pipes were confiscated.

Robbie Gillett, a 23-year-old from Manchester, said: "Climate change was the defining issue of our generation. We're the last generation that can do anything about it.

"It's really important to take responsibility for the future ourselves, rather than leave it to government and big business, whose interests are not at one with everybody else."

Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott urged protesters at the climate camp to avoid any conflict with the police.

After launching an environmental campaign in the build-up to the Copenhagen climate change summit later this year, he said: "I've spent my life in strikes and protests, I'm not against protests.

"But there is concern you can have a conflict with the police, and then the publicity is not about climate change, it is about the conflict between them and the police."