Eco-warriors go soft and opt for the telly

Protesters defending Lyminge Forest have all the mod-cons, writes Keith Nuthall
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The Independent Online
ENVIRONMENTAL protesters - hairshirt pioneers of the tree house and the live-in tunnel - are no longer prepared to put up with life's hardships for the sake of their green beliefs.

Eco-warriors have set up camp in Kent, complete with creature comforts. Thanks to a wind turbine they have electric lighting, telephones, a computer, CB radios, air pumps for tunnels and televison.

A "forest garden" bearing woodland fruits has been planted, turf-covered bread ovens have been installed and willows have been planted around toilet pits "to recycle the nutrients".

The protesters have moved into Lyminge Forest, near Folkestone, to block plans by the Rank Corporation to set up a Centre Parcs-style holiday village. This would see 350 villas, 400 lodges and 90 flats being build alongside a leisure complex, with restaurants, car parking and sports facilities, being built on 300 acres called West Wood, a pine woodland, badly damaged in the 1987 hurricane.

The plans have been fiercely resisted by some locals, who fear losing free access to the woods, and who have now been joined in their campaign by veterans of protests at Newbury and Manchester Airport.

This camp, however, shows signs of increasing sophistication. The turbine, which is mounted on a 20-foot pole, has plywood sails which generate power via an old direct current computer engine, charging two dozen car batteries to run the various camp domestic appliances.

Protester Argonaut explained: "People who are against us say that they don't want the environment destroyed, but that it's the modern road - the only way to live.

"We want to show by example that there's another way - being self-sufficient and using natural stuff, so that that argument won't stand up."

Other protesters were rather more prosaic, preparing to face a three week spell underground if the land owner - the Forestry Commission - tries to clear the forest of its nine tree house hamlets: names include Curry House, Bastard, New Bastard and Gone to Pot.

A Glaswegian former engineer, Billy, 39, has just bought himself a portable television to while away the dark and damp hours in one of the many tunnels that have already been hewn beneath the forest.

With bailiffs at work overground, they could be following the fortunes of ordinary folk in Weatherfield, said Billy. "Coronation Street gives you what's going on in life. I like that."

Another protester, Wizard, 28, a computer graduate from Sussex, said television would be useful "to keep in touch with the outside world".

He said the laptop would be used for desktop publishing, leaflets and posters. A website is also planned for alerting allies around the country, if and when evictions start.

The turbine was set up this month by a group of roving protest technicians called Ecotrip who move from camp to camp across Britain dispensing advice and practical assistance. Their batteries could help prolong any occupation of the tunnels by powering blowing fans underground.

A Folkestone supporter of the protest, Barry Botley, said: "If you are underground for any period of time, you need air circulation. Air doesn't just come to you. You have to pump air down there."

A former builder, he has made pumps out of car radiator fans, buckets and lengths of four-inch pipe. They include time switches, preserving battery supplies.

Electricity is also likely to help the protesters fight eviction. It could help them argue that their camps are permanent dwellings and so worthy of protection under housing law.

Whether the eviction will come this year is uncertain. Rank has an option to buy the wood, but will decide to exercise it when it takes into account the success of its new Oasis Holiday Village in Cumbria.

Its proposals have planning permission despite being challenged to the High Court by the local Save Lyminge Forest Action Group.

The company is keen to stress its own green credentials. "At the moment West Wood is a commercial conifer plantation subject to regular felling.

"Oasis proposals include the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs to bring the forest back to a mixed woodland, more in keeping with the natural woodlands of Kent," it said.

Whatever Rank thinks of the protest, its campaigners' pretensions to self-sufficiency still have some way to go. They may have power, but they have no fresh water supply in this forest, perched on the North Downs. Without a well, or a chalk stream to use, the protesters have to rely on a tap and public toilets in a nearby car park to fill up their buckets.