Seeing the wood for the trees.
If you happened to glance at a recent BBC Surrey news website report entitled: ”Runnymede squatters: National Trust wins eviction order”, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Digger’s 2012 Runnymede Eco-village was situated on land owned by the National Trust. We are taking this opportunity to clarify that Runnymede Eco-Village is not situated on land owned by the National Trust. It is situated in the disused woodland of the ex-Brunel university Runnymede Campus owned by the private property developer: Orchid Runnymede. The National Trust manages the Runnymede Estate which is next to the Runnymede Campus.
We: a group of 15 people, have been living on the Runnymede Campus since June 15th. The 65 acre campus lies in the Green Belt (although it is designated as a major development site) but since 2007 has lain largely unused. Orchid Runnymede has been granted planning permission to build ‘luxury homes’, elderly care units and student accommodation on the site. This plan has attracted concern and criticism from local residents (see this local news article from last year). The area of woodland where we are living has no management plan and is heavily populated by Sycamore and Ash trees. In places it has been fly-tipped with fridges and other items. Since our arrival we have established the Runnymede Eco-Village community here. We’ve built a long house and other low impact structures made from the renewable timber provided by the Sycamore trees. We’ve also dug a well (where we draw water from), setup solar panels for producing electricity and started to plant crops, and fruit trees.
We have been evicted from the Runnymede Campus (by bailiffs paid for by Orchid Runnymede) three times . The last eviction took place on July 12th (watch a video of the eviction here). Each time we have been evicted we have been forcibly displaced along with our belongings onto National Trust land at Cooper’s Hill Woods (next to the Runnymede Campus). After each eviction, we have returned back onto the Runnymede Campus. The first time we were evicted on June 27th, we briefly camped on the border with the Runnymede Campus in Cooper’s Hill Woods, before moving our tents and equipment back onto the campus and carrying on with our eco-village on the disused land there. Partly due to complacency, we neglected to move 3 tents (two of which were unoccupied) which were just inside the border of the National Trust land).
It was the issue of the 3 tents on NT land which the NT used as the basis for their legal action where they sought and successfully obtained a ‘Vacant Possession Order’ (VPO) for the whole of the Runnymede Estate (over 200 acres) against Diggers2012 and Persons Unknown. On receiving the court papers informing us of the legal action , we moved the tents and wrote to the National Trust to let them know that they had been moved. The National Trust decided to carry on with the legal action and obtained a VPO. This means the NT can evict anyone including Runnymede eco-villagers from camping on their land.
As well as the VPO, the NT also attempted to obtain an injunction against Diggers2012 and Persons Unknown from ‘trespassing’ on the Runnymede Estate. The Runnymede Estate is home to the Magna Carta monument: the site where King John is said to have sealed the Magna Carta in 1215 and is heralded as the birthplace of modern democracy. This injunction if granted would have given the NT powers for forcibly remove any unwanted persons from assembling at Runnymede, taking part in a procession or just going for a walk. At a court case on the 13th September in Slough County Court, following objections from three Runnymede Eco-Villagers, a district judge decided not to grant the injunction against ‘Persons Unknown’ (meaning it couldn’t be used against everyone) but adjourned the case and narrowed it to the three Runnymede Eco-Villagers (for more on this click here).
As Runnymede Eco-Villagers, It is not and never has been our intention to setup an eco-village on the open National Trust land at Runnymede. We recognise that the Runnymede Estate is well loved by visitors from near and far. It is also looked after and managed successfully by both volunteers and paid NT workers. It does not fall into our criteria of ‘disused land’. On June 09th, we set out with the intention of finding disused land on which to start an eco-village and this is what we have done on the Runnymede Campus.
The development of the Runnymede Campus appears to have stalled (something reported by local residents). Whilst the site remains in a state of disuse, we intend to carry on living here as a community in a way that can be sustained indefinitely within the ecological capacity of this beautiful woodland environment