Direct Action road camp near Newcastle. 1997. Britains first tree sit

For Flapjack and Mother Earth:
Earth Warriors At Jesmond Dean

photo: people, diggers and scaffolding

Our story begins long ago, in a city far away (well, Newcastle upon Tyne). It began in the sixties with a city councillor called T.Dan Smith, one man and his dream: to cover newcastle with motorways and concrete.

The years passed and T. Dan Smith passed with them (After being found guilty of massive fraud) but not before he'd managed to choke the heart of Newcastle with flyovers and carriageways, a civil engineer's wet dream come true. But it wasn't over. As 1993 pottered uneventfully along, an evil from the hideous past came crawling back to haunt unaware Geordie folk....



Our story starts in May 1993...

May 15th:
Local EF!ers and residents stage 'Celebrate the Trees & Save The Dean!' Demo, near Armstrong Bridge (which runs roughly parallel to the planned bypass route). Scores of people decorate the 180 trees threatened by the bypass work (which have already had death warrant numbers painted on them by the council) with ribbons, balloons, photos, banners, tinsel etc. Children tie on drawings and letters.

Late May- early June:
All suspiciously quiet. A watch is kept on the trees.

June 16th:
Bulldozers seen at 9am on the south side of the Dean, trashing trees and ripping up the ground. As alarm call goes up asap to all available bodies- meanwhile, local kids stop work by getting in front of the bulldozers!

June 17th:
Protesters arrive before workmen and get busy shifting earth and trashed trees to build a barricade at the site entrance, also writing "NO BYPASS" on the hillside with rocks. By noon it's noticed that a 200 year-old sycamore in the middle of the site has been spiked with nails, so a "DANGER- SPIKES" banner is erected. Also a 'NO BYPASS TOOT IN SUPPORT' banner goes up on the barricade, mass car-tooting commences (and continues for weeks).

Local kids come and shovel earth with plastic flowerpots to build up the barricade- the Flowerpot Tribe is born! Other locals bring tools, and help re-open a footpath blocked by bulldozed trees. A few council officials wander around on site in the morning, look bemused, and retreat for the rest of the day. The Flowerpot Tribe set up a campfire on the edge of the site and spend the night slithering down a 45 degree slope.

June 18th:
Contractors bring security cabins and tool stores to the top of the bypass route and are delayed by protesters lying under the lorry wheels and descending cabins. Lorry driver tries to scare us by trying to drive back and forth over protesters underneath- press and police arrive almost together and a stand-off develops until we relent and let the lorry driver go.

Local people begin bringing donations of food, tools, tarps, rope, ladders etc. A basher/bender sprouts in trees on the edge of the site. More kids keep building the barricade, local people drop by and wish the Flowerpot Tribe luck.

June 20th:
Fire and moonlight, big solstice party- all night celebration attracts lots of would-be eco-warriors for rumoured council frontal attack the next a.m. A tribal totem gets painted by about 30 different people- the council kindly supply the concrete totem! Two drunks come along and start ripping up a banner on the barricade- an instant 30 strong Crusty army zooms up over the barricade and makes them soil their underwear! They run away,luckily saving us from having to decide what to do with 'em if we caught them.

June 21st:
Solstice dawns nice and sunny, hung over bodies under blankets lie motionless by the campfire, local press shows up to wait for excitement. As the day drags on with no sign of the council most dehydrated eco-warriors slink off to buy chocolate soya desert. A journo interviews everyone conscious including a couple of 'respectable' locals on our side. Finally at 2:30pm the journo leaves, and four sleep-deprived protesters think about putting the kettle on for lots of black coffee... when at 2:40pm Whoops! What a coincidence, City works (council) contractors vehicles arrive, workmen and bailiffs pop up, suddenly they're waving injunctions at everything that moves and three Rentamob types in dayglo trousers are putting up a chestnut paling fence around the site! And there's only four of us STILL AWAKE!!! AAARCH!!!

Unfortunately one of the rentamob tries to unload fencing through the protesters' bodies- he hurls posts energetically, tries to break one protester's spine by levering him up with wooden stakes etc. Another protester tries to shield her friend and is hit in the chest with a stake. A plod appears and tells the plucky three to get off the lorry or he'll nick em- they get off and he nicks them anyway. It's A Funny Old World. When another protester tries to advise those arrested of their rights, the cop tries to arrest him too. When the three claim assault by the Rentamorron, the plod says "he didn't see it"- strangely when an uninvolved passerby also complains of being hit by a post, the plod didn't see that either (but demands her name and address anyway).

The Flowerpot Three are released after 6 hours on Breach of the Peace charges, and return to the Big Green Bender for tea, tabs and hero-worship (not) - also hot water bottles for the bruises! Local people drop in all night to express shock and support, and two signs go upon Big Green Bender: THEY SAY STOP BREACHING THE PEACE- WE SAY STOP TAKING THE PISS and THERE AIN'T NO JUSTICE- JUST US!

Local children bring anti-bypass pictures and posters they've made and start sticking them up on trees, fences, work cabins and machinery.

June 22nd:
Chestnut paling fence has mysteriously 'blown down' in the night. New injunctions appear with the names of the Flowerpot Three, EF! activists, local people who have spoken to the press, and the woman passerby from yesterday. Injunction threatens all sorts of nasty things, but we try not to let it ruin our day. The bender becomes the 'official' drop-in camp for the site- some kids drop in with a picture "for the Flowerpot Tribe" so we frame it and nail it up on the bender wall.

June 23rd:
The Rentamob reappear to reerect the site fence - the guy who assaulted us takes to wandering about brandishing a claw hammer menacingly,and is immediately christened Timmy Mallet. That night the fence 'blows down' again. The clever winds we have in Newcastle even roll sections up neatly and take them out of the way...

June 24th:
Contractors appear but are stopped from working for three hours by a local woman standing on top of the earth in their truck, even giving TV interviews from up there! Cars toot in support, dogs and kids play on site, pedestrians thank us for reopening the footpath. Timmy Mallet and friends repair and reerect the fence. Sadly it 'blows down' again that night. In fact, bits of it 'blow' right away.

June 25th:
Nice sunny day, no contractors, Flowerpot Tribe chill out and decorate bender.

June 26th:
Some dongas arrive this evening from Twyford. Geordies start wandering down to the Dene "to have a look at the hippies", and some end up staying.

June 27th:
Anti-bypass stall on Armstrong Bridge market gets loads of support. That evening the local church offers the use of its church hall kitchen, toilets etc. to protesters- interesting scene as a dozen grubby pagans are invited to tea and biscuits with the vicar!

June 28th:
Protesters hold up banners to motorists; others get in the way of machinery. City works workers lurk in and out of trees. Bailiffs arrive and say protesters are trespassing (in a public park!) and are in contempt of court- they drag everyone off roughly, everyone goes back on site, is dragged off again, goes back on again etc. Police hang around but don't get involved. Fun and games for all. That night fence blows down again.

June 29th:
No contractors turn up.

June 30th:
First injunctees go to court and manage to get an adjournment, in front of His Honour Judge Vos.

July 1st:
The council are granted a possession Order for the Dene, and therefore get permission to remove 'Squatters' on the land. Graffiti appears on the road next to the site.

July 2nd-4th:
More activists arrive from Twyford tents and benders flourish in the trees! A couple of nighttime vigilante visits are faced off. Tyres on a CityWorks trailer mysteriously go flat whilst its lock stops working- of course there's always been a terrible vandalism problem on Tyne side. Oh and the fence 'Blows Down' again, this time its found twirled around the base of a Sycamore Tree.

July 5th:
Round Two with contractors. Protesters skip gaily round site, pursued by bailiffs; some lie in front of and on earth-movers and are dragged off. One arrested for "responding physically" (holding his hands in the air to surrender to police); two other protesters charged for attempted lockon around trees. All are added to injunction. Meanwhile two protesters tree-sit the sycamore.

Late afternoon one tree-sitter leaps down, zips past bailiffs and escapes into trees! ('cos time and giros wait for noman). By 9pm at night we think we are safe, and the remaining tree sitter drops down for a well deserved changeover. But no sooner do his feet hit the ground when zoom crash 3 riot vans of riggadiggs arrive, escorting chainsaw-wielding Cityworks scum who proceed to butcher the sycamore despite spikes and screaming protesters (many of whom storm the site and are nicked).

July 6th:
Grimness and despondency. JCB starts digging a deep hole on site, in the middle of the now fenced off footpath.

July 7th:
Deep hole on site deepens, protesters wander up and down sagging fence, hoping JCB will hit one of the mine shafts honeycombing under Jesmond Dene and fall in. Cityworks Security (now full time on site) and JCB driver deliver part of the felled sycamore to the Big Green bender.

July 8th:
Some people demonstrate at the Civic Centre during council meeting, shouting "tree-killers", banging drums, juggling, Kryptoniting onto the entrance etc. Security is very heavy and no press are allowed near,finally we're let in a side entrance by a confused official. Whilst negotiating where to leave our drums and tat the official says "erm can they go upstairs to the meeting now?" into her radio- back comes (in panicky tones). "You haven't let them in have you!". How we all laughed. Meeting when finally accessed is very dull, nobody will talk with us. So we talk AT them.

July 12th:
Tree Sitting Campaign Day One! Platforms etc start to go up in trees on and near the site. Various contractors- GAP Group, Anderson Plant, Kellys plant Hire, Ready Mix concrete, Tarmac, Tilcon Trumix- watched onto site, then the ruckas begins. Inexperience of some protesters and all of the cops leads to a lot of arrests, mostly for obstruction. Work is delayed.

July 13th:
All those arrested yesterday added to injunction. A hunt for hammock materials starts, we get netting and ropes from locals. The Hammocks go up...

July 21st:
We get a 'tipoff that the council are coming to fell the trees- eleven people whiz up hammocks occupying more than 20 trees, and full time tree sitting begins with 24 hour ground support.

July 22nd:
Last night the fairies must have frolicked- this morning locks on security cabins and tools have stopped working, and graffiti has appeared con them; e.g. 'Juhad' (Jihad?), 'Counsel Scum' and 'Remember the Earth goddess' - obviously the fairy folk who live at the bottom of our Dene can't spell. City work security are not happy- rumours are rife that three will be sacked 'cos of nighttime happenings. One in fullface bike helmet and leathers threatens protesters, saying he and his mates are coming back that night to sort us out- we tell locals who come late that night to keep an eye out for us. In the end Motorcycle Max and pals don't appear.

July 23rd:
The three security guards are disciplined not sacked- truce begins between protesters and security. Tree sitters improve their hammocks, rig up polythene roofs and shitbuckets, demand tea and penny whistles, and drop thermoses out of trees. Ground support people make endless round of stews and sandwiches as tree sitters threaten mutiny if the have to eat any more peanuts.

July 24th-28th:
Cityworks mostly stay away from trees with hammocks in, though scaffolders working on Armstrong Bridge amuse themselves by trying to hit ground support and tree sitters with scaffolding clips and bricks. We get more vigilante visits (a few Nazis, armed men with baseball bats down their trousers). A guy sets fire to a banner under trees with sitters in them, but is chased off- the fire brigade strangely arrive at the aruga as we do. They were told by a mystery caller that "the protesters are lighting fires down on the Dene" They're very nice to us when we explain.

"The Chainsaws the Chainsaws, they cut down all our Trees,
The Pixies, the Pixies, trashed their JCB's"
-from the Flowerpot Song

Another night we get a threat of a BNP/Fascist attack- we sit up all night in two big groups, Tyne & Wear Anti-Fascists come and keep us company (well sorted people). No fascists show up at the site, but when two protesters go for a walk they spot some lurking upon one end of the bridge. Reinforcements are got and the nazi scum run away. WHICH IS WHAT THEY DO BEST!

A local woman starts making us flapjack every day. We elect her tribal goddess. The injunctions add up, and protesters try to start tackling the tedious behind the scenes paperwork battles. A copy of Lord Armstrong's will showing the bequest of the Dene to the people of Newcastle (Twyford Down deja'vu don't you think- Ed.)- on condition that Lodge-buildings in the park are maintained. Several have been illegally demolished by the council, along with a theatre and a convent, to make way for the bypass. His second condition was that no construction of any kind takes place on the land. Local people write to the Charities Commission and are promptly told their protests will be ignored.

Three-quarters of an acre of land estimated by surveyors to be worth 15,000, (or £100,000 if the park lodges hadn't been demolished) is 'sold' by the park trustees (the council) to the bypass builders (the council) for £1,000. It emerges that some of the councillor trustees for the land are also on the Highways & Environment committee, and voted for the sale...

Locals besiege planning and engineering departments for copies of the background papers for the by-pass scheme- vital plans mysteriously "could not be found", the council claim they "don't need planning permission" as their "only widening an existing road", and they also refuse to provide the figures and information they supplied to the DoT to get cash.

The fact that local people turned the by-pass down at three separate enquiries surfaces- the vicar and congregation of the church on the existing road have even suggested the church be demolished to allow limited road widening (for bus lanes) and traffic calming measures. The council has ignored everyone.

July 29th:
Workmen block off footpaths at the top of the by-pass route, and begin digging a deep hole beneath one side of a tree-sitters copper beach tree. When the protester comes down to the lower branches of his tree to point out how dangerous this is, workmen saw off the branches he is standing on leaving him dangling by his hands. (In the process they dislodge the tree-sitters potty-bucket, and get a much deserved shower.) Police & security stand by, and the council press release this as 'Tree sitter Throws Urine over workman'.

July 31st:
First injuncted group of protesters goes to court and sign an undertaking, on a bad solicitors advice. This is a BIG mistake but threatened with very large costs and further legal action and all being a bit new to all this and getting totally hassled by solicitors to sign the thing, they sign it. A month later they are back in court and this time refuse to sign.

August 2nd:
Cityworks trash some trees under Armstrong Bridge, a protester taking photos is hurt by debris. Scaffolders are still throwing missiles and abuse at us all. One protester is arrested for 'Breaching the Queens Peace' after arguing with a copper. Everyone's getting very knackered and pissed off- tree sitting is saving the trees that are hammocked, but it's tiring, cold, stressful and often boring. Ground support people face prison for breaking injunctions as they take food to trees. It's GRIM for sitters when trees are felled near them

August 3rd:
Local people sab a Cement mixer under the copper beech by throwing rock salt into it- a workman goes berserk and tries attacking the beech with a JCB, trying to knock the tree-sitter out. He survived but the copper beech loses another couple of branches.

August 5th:
Twyford 6 released yesterday YIP YIP YIP! One protester arrested here for breach of the peace after calling a copper a bully after he shoves her. Another is arrested for threatening behaviour - he's set up by security 'cos they think he was the 'leader' of the protesters."

August 6th:
Nine more people injuncted from the Dene.

photo of digger

August 9th:
A protester who was on a previous action was hosed down whilst locked onto a cement mixer, sits in a JCB shovel to prevent work: The driver lifts him up 20 feet into the air and then drives off with him at speed across the site out onto the road and up onto Armstrong Bridge, where the driver tries to kill him by tipping him out. TV crews film the initial kidnapping and it appears on local TV news. The protester escapes shaken but not dead: Later the council say they have "reprimanded" the driver.

August 10th:
Protesters interview Peter MacNamara, Council Engineer responsible for the by-pass, on video in his office! He makes loadsa blunders, contradicts himself several times, and admits that the aim of the by-pass is to concentrate traffic in the Jesmond Dene area.

On the top end of the route a JCB driver again attacks the copper beech and is filmed by TV crews doing so. The tree sitter clings onto his hammock and his sanity- having already survived Newcastle weather, trench foot and several lots of berserk workmen.

August 11th:
Planned day of action- but torrential rain delays it till tomorrow. In the evening a benefit gig at a local crusty pub to support tree sitters raises loads of cash.

August 12:
Day of action, protesters lock on to machines, stopping work for a couple of hours.

August 13th:
Willy, a protesters dog, falls ill, showing symptoms of poisoning. Chemicals being used to kill trees on site are suspected of leaching into the Ouse Burn which runs through the Dene.

August 16:
Dawns bright and sunny, hello Flowerpots, hello Dongas, hello locals, hello press, hello security - YEP IT'S AN ACTION DAY! Weather smiles on us as we frolic on the site, dance on security cabins,lock onto big yellow machines, get in the way, play penny whistles etc. At one point two heroes climb a crane and lock on, but are threatened with an angle grinder and retreat (without being arrested). Three others climbing a JCB are attacked by the driver with a steel bar (filmed by a TV crew and shown on 'Newsnight'), Work is stopped all morning by protesters Locking onto two JCB's, police try to pull one Krypto off without unlocking it, crushing a protesters ears.

They finally get the hydraulic bolt cutters but even then end up sawing near the protesters neck with a penknife. Some plods are OK, but some are very heavy- notably when dragging off a pregnant woman. We have a lunch break then WHAMMO!! Fresh supplies of eco-warriors turn up and the 2nd round of lockons stops work all afternoon! One locked on protester sends out for beer from under a JCB axle, sips a cold one whilst being cut off. At the end of the day the two JCB's develop mysterious illnesses, shudder and make strange grinding noises, can't lift their buckets etc. Oh dear how sad. They shudder onto the site and don't twitch again for a few days.

August 25th:
Willy dog dies.

August 31st:
Big day of action- approx 60 people march onto site, dance on cranes, sing and lock on! Locals gather around the site edge with banners of support whilst squads of police assemble. 16 people are arrested under a section of the Trade Union Act 1984 (originally part of a conspiracy act from the 1800's)- basically for 'preventing someone from using their tools of work'. They're held overnight and are advised to plead guilty by a solicitor- BAD ADVICE!

October 18th:
Last mass day of action in 1993 on site. About 20 protesters turn up- a preliminary scout round reveals 2 TSG vans and a police arrest truck the size of a Pickfords Removal Lorry. A few protesters zoom across the site and hand mock injuction (pisstakes of council ones) to leading opposition figures, whilst hand picked squads storm the civic centre in town and do the same.

The opposition are not amused. Three people invade main site: one trips and falls badly, (security video it and send this to Jeremy Beadle) ,one climbs up a JCB and is nicked, the last merely steps on site and is nicked! A fourth protester arriving late to the party heads down under Armstrong Bridge and climbs up a small crane: he stays there preventing work (allegedly) for four hours, receiving numerous offers from other protesters to bear his children!! (He and the protester off the JCB are charged under the Trades Union law, but when Liberty get involved in defending them the police change the charges to breach.)

December 15th:
Local paper runs a front page story with the headline 'Council In By-pass cover up claim'.

End 1993 - Early 94:
The shit up to date: shortly before winter solstice cityworks came in and massacred many mature trees they'd said they weren't working near till spring 1994. Many of these had been tree-sat in the summer: great ash trees, sycamores, willows, beeches and others were felled, leaving a ravaged landscape. Many local people are still fighting the by-pass, (as they have been for 20 years) despite the continuing serious damage to the area. Those who've been involved are also gearing up to fight other schemes in the area.

Lots of people got together at the Dene, from Newcastle to Twyford to London, as far as Finland and New Zealand. We've learned a lot of useful lessons in fighting the likes of the DoT and the security firms and the local council bureaucrats. And what we've learnt will spread out to other road and environmental protests: from direct action, to legal stuff to hammock building, to face-painting, it just gets bigger and bigger. We can show them they're not going get away with destroying the earth. If we can't stop the bastards totally we can COST them, show them there's no easy profit in earth rape. They've already been cost £1000's- lets cost them some more.

At the top of the site, surrounded by destruction, undermined on all sides, its branches lower down all sawn away, the copper beech still stands. Nearby on a wall has appeared some more graffiti. It says: Not Forgotten.

Jesmond Dene Diary written by Little Weed with help from Bill and Ben. If anything or anyones been left out then you should've wrote y'self!

Dedicated with a FLOBADOB to all earth warriors everywhere, Flapjack Sue, and Willy-dog.
Published in August '94. PAPER copies available (while stocks last), from South Downs EF! at 60p plus SAE


Update early 1999:
Now the dust has settled, there's a motorway flyover the dene. The fumes are rising from the stationary traffic trying to save 30 seconds from the coast. The cars then plunge into a cut and fill tunnel before connecting with Newcastles inner-city motorway network. The benefits, well if you walk to the Indian resturant or the Deli it's a bit quieter, thougth there's a lack of mature trees. On the old water station where we parked our bus a stranger has left a parting message "ELF - Not Forgotten!"

Dead Trees EF!
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