New Diggers take on an earl

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The Independent Online
THE COUNTRY estate of the 9th Earl of Macclesfield became the latest target yesterday of The Land is Ours, the land rights pressure group, as about 30 activists, led by the writer George Monbiot, invaded the 2,000-acre Shirburn Hill estate in south Oxfordshire, proclaiming their intention to occupy parts of it for the weekend.

Lord Macclesfield, they said, was known for his resistance to trespassers, but they accused him of trespassing himself on land to which they had ancestral rights. After setting up camp, a deputation tramped across two miles of open downland and crossed the moat and drawbridge of Earl Macclesfield's home to seek an interview.

He declined, informing the activists that they would be removed in due course.

Yesterday's action was the latest in a series of protests by the campaign, which was launched last month when 400 people trespassed on St George's Hill, the Surrey enclave of the very rich and the original site of the 17th-century Diggers movement for land rights, led by Gerrard Winstanley.

They moved in with a military-style convoy of about 30 vehicles and took over part of a golf course. The occupation, which lasted a week on the site, attracted widespread media attention.

The aims of the group are to highlight their land-use charter, which aims to give ordinary people a say in how fundamental resources are used.

They also want a universal right of access to uncultivated areas of Britain for people to walk and camp freely, planning laws that reflect local needs for innovative uses of old industrial sites in the cities and new common spaces.

Mr Monbiot said yesterday: "It is not we who are trespassing but the Earl of Macclesfield. He has trespassed against our God-given right to enjoy the gifts that nature has bestowed."

The Earl of Macclesfield was not available for comment.