'Green Man' returns with help from a gang of five: The environmental group Common Ground today celebrates 10 years of campaigning

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The Independent Online
YOU may glimpse him amongst the wooden foliage and stone tracery of your parish church. He grins down from the Palace of Westminster, the main gate at Kew Gardens, the choir screens of St Paul's cathedral. He is rebirth, renewal and fertility.

After a centuries-long sleep, the Green Man is rousing himself. William Anderson, author of Green Man - The Archteype of our Oneness with the Earth, speculates that this is a response to planetary crisis.

Mr Anderson's book documents the reign of the Green Man, his banishment by the Church and his return 'as an inspiring and vital image for our times'. But he has not managed it unaided.

Sue Clifford and Angela King are two of the women behind the Green Man. In 1989 they launched a national celebration and the Green Man was its centrepiece - reminding us 'that we can no longer take nature for granted'. Today - May Day, the Green Man's birthday - they celebrate 10 years of campaigning on subjects ranging from landscape to the threatened English apple.

Common Ground is possibly the least classifiable environmental group in Britain. Its raison d'etre eludes many observers, yet for a small organisation (five people) with no members - a deliberate strategy - there have been some remarkable successes.

In 1985, for example, the group launched its parish maps project: get to know your place, they urged, by making a map of it. At the last count, three years ago, there were more than 1,000.

In 1990 they dreamt up Apple Day. There are 6,000 British varieties of British apple but they are disappearing under an avalanche of Golden Delicious. Last year more than 80 groups celebrated Apple Day; some 60 'community orchards' are under way.

Common Ground is the imagination of the green movement, addressing an ancient human relationship with land through art, ceremony and ritual. It is backed by the Department of the Environment and the Countryside Commission; nonetheless, a strong element of paganism underlies its work. The sculptress Elizabeth Frink, a supporter, is said to have derived much comfort from the symbolism of the Green Man before she died: Common Ground has a Frink drawing of him.

According to Ms Clifford, most people can have 'a very strong experience at the top of a mountain or sitting beside a little stream.' She adds: 'We do have a very strong sense of the sacred. But the word 'pagan' gives me problems . . . I think it's truer to say that these are just ideas that cross cultures and are of great longevity.'

(Photograph omitted)