Back to bronze age for Swampy's friends

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A sense of foreboding looms over Lyminge Forest. The bailiffs could be in on Monday and the unspoiled Kent haven of natural beauty and site of ancient settlements may be buried for ever.

The "tree people", living much as one would imagine their ancestors did four thousand years earlier, are putting the finishing touches to their fortresses. Naturally, there is always more they could do - more tunnels, more tree-houses, more fences - but for now they must secure what they have and hold their nerve.

A clutch of agitated archaeologists stand on the sidelines, returning time and time again to evidence marshalled over the past few years which to their minds spells out why Rank Organisation's proposals for an Oasis holiday village in West Wood should have been stubbed out at the start.

Janine Roberts, who cycled in the forest as a child, quoted Brian Philp, a member of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit, who wrote to complain that the archaeological assessment carried out in 1994 was "ill-conceived" and yielded results which were "not valid". He concluded: "Your claim that none of the new sites is of particular significance is quite frankly misleading. All are important and the Bronze Age settlement site is exceptionally rare in Kent and will, of course, be destroyed by your scheme."

Meanwhile, as the protesters tunnel, they discover what they believe to be Neolithic flint tools. Such finds spark hope - as does the news that Rank's share price is plummeting.

Final arrangements include an outing into Canterbury to stock up on food supplies and discussing ways of attaching themselves to "lock-ons" with minimum risk of injury. Aloft the Kookaburra Tree, sisters Scaz and Munch say: "Most of the work is done. We're ready." Their friend, called Granny on account of her expertise in tying knots, is bracing herself for the battle. "My biggest fear is claustrophobia and I'm locking myself in a tunnel she said.

At the end of the evictions the protesters intend, as Crystal Chandelier put it, "to leave only footprints and take away memories". Sadly, Rank's plans are rather different.

West Wood, which is carpeted with bluebells in spring and is host to a number of indicator species, belongs to the Forestry Commission and any member of the public can roam freely in the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If Rank has its way, the natural habitat will soon be supplanted by a 3,400 capacity car-park, 750 holiday homes, a nine-hole golf course, an artificial lake and other "attractions".

One of the protesters' camps is actually built in an area earmarked by Rank as a "wooded area". A strange place for the protesters to wage their campaign? No. It is very shrewd. For Rank cannot afford to ravage that particular section of the forest, which means that the job of evicting the protesters will be all the more difficult.

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