Greens learn to protest and survive

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The Independent Online
At first it sounds like a Scout jamboree: young people camping in the mountains, learning practical skills for the outdoor life.

Lord Baden-Powell would surely have approved of the sessions on how to live off the land, maintain personal hygiene in the wilderness and build a rope walkway. But the classes on techniques for resisting security guards and manipulating the media would have had the founder of the Scout movement choking on his woggle.

The young enthusiasts getting back to the land this weekend in six canvas domes at Nant Gwynant, Snowdonia, are drawn from Britain's growing tribe of "direct action" environmental protesters: opponents of new roads, animal exports and laws against unlicensed raves.

Veterans of the Newbury and Twyford Down camps were among those at "The Gathering", organised by Earth First, the UK's largest network of fundamentalist green campaigners.

Activists had workshops on living in woodland, with specialist advice on personal hygiene, setting up ovens and fridges in holes in the ground, and using wind turbines to generate electricity. Debates also focused on moving environmental protests away from road-building to action against industrial polluters and oil companies. Journalists, ravers and drug- users were not welcome.

Although reporters were barred, considerable time was devoted to the necessity for thinking up new stunts to attract media coverage. "We realise that we have had attention because what we do is sexy. We've always dictated to the media machine. It's important to our campaigns," said one activist.

A stern line was adopted towards "energy vampires" - alcoholics, the mentally disturbed and hangers-on who contribute nothing useful to protests. One man was thrown out on Thursday for alleged sexual harassment. Heather, an Earth First activist, said: "We're not social workers. We are not in place to solve their problems. A person like that can take up so much time."

There was more sympathy for animals. The campers, who will stay at Nant Gwynant until Wednesday, were told to tie up any dog found wandering on the site, next to a bowl of water and in the shade, for fear of pets running off and worrying the sheep.