The Autonomous Territory of Twyford Down Dongas

 

In the late summer of 1992, as the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder, the little camp on the Dongas trackways at Twyford Down was becoming well established.  Yet the camp was isolated – being physically remote and increasingly cut off from support from the mainstream environmental groups, who had stepped away from the direct action of the spring and moved on to other causes they felt they were more likely to win.

A glitch in letting the main contract to build the road led to construction work being delayed, so work on gouging out the hillside of Twyford Down had not yet began.

Chris Gillham, a local campaigner who had supported the early direct action said:

“By late summer, the joyful life on the Dongas, spiced with frequent excursions against the activities of the preliminary Mowlem contract, was something akin to a phoney war. There was a sense of risk taken without any real sense of the consequence, a sense of shared excitement, hope and bravado that seemed to dare a response, but seemed not to contemplate what would come.”

Media attention was also slow and hard to grasp, so, one warm, lazy September afternoon, in an otherwise inconsequential campfire discussion, someone jokingly proposed a declaration of independence. The text of the declaration was drawn up as a skit on the American model, but with a ludicrous appeal to royal patronage, on the grounds that the Prince of Wales was rumoured to have appealed to John Major to save Twyford Down.

The Autonomous Territory of Twyford Down Dongas

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that natural beauty is the heritage of all people, but the property of none; it is for no person to mar or destroy and its stewardship rests with those who would protect it, succour it and pass it on entire and unsullied. In this Age, the pursuit of limitless material wealth has impoverished the spirit of this Nation, such that many have forgotten where true wealth lies. All the institutions of the State before the Crown, have been so far corrupted that they are no longer capable of protecting even the most precious places of this land. Indeed, what they have become is the very instrument of destruction of what is in their sacred trust. By this betrayal of their stewardship, they surrender the right, before any moral or spiritual tribunal, to govern the fate of such places as this.

These great turfed chalk trackways of Twyford Down, known as the Dongas, are unique in the landscape of Europe and yet they represent, quintessentially, the place of man and woman in Nature. This place once was marked too heavily by humankind, but Nature, through long ages, has wrought a great wonder of healing and redemption here. And now Her Majesty’s Government proposes a crucifixion here, deeming it expedient that this place should die for the wealth of the Nation. Knowing ourselves to be unworthy of the task, but seeing none other prepared to accept the burden, we present here in the Dongas this day, the 15th of September 1992, do, therefore, take up the stewardship of this most precious place. We believe that it is our sacred duty to hold and defend this place until such time as one worthy of its stewardship relieved us of the burden. To this end, we hereby declare the area of Twyford Down, known as the Dongas, an autonomous territory, within the realm of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

 This autonomous territory shall be under the governance of a couple of its residents, to be known as the Council of Stewardship. Insofar as the natural well-being of the area is not imperilled by weight of numbers, free right of access will be granted to all those the Council deems to be of good intent. The Council of Stewardship does not recognise the authority of Her Majesty’s Government in Westminster within this territory. We speak no treason. It is our profound belief that, if Her Majesty were fully apprised of the nature and extent of the betrayal by Her Ministers of the sacred trust to protect the lands in Her realm from needless harm, she would not forswear the trust as they have done. We beseech Her Majesty to take upon her person the burden of stewardship Her Government has abandoned, or to place it upon His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. We hold it in readiness.

Local press were invited to the camp to hear the Declaration being read by Sam, one of those camped on the Dongas:

Sam read aloud the document on behalf of the Donga folk, in specially commissioned media-circus assembly on Camp. But because the statement didn’t threaten to use Semtex in its’ fight for sanity and because none of the protestors present suddenly smoked wacky-baccy…the event gained very minor coverage

From “Quollobollox Visits the Dongas”, Graeme Lewis

Despite the lack of support from the environmental establishment, despite the lack of press interest and despite the very few people actually involved in the campaign at this stage, direct action was continuing. Becca recalls:

Work had started literally at the foot of the Dongas – 3 to 4 minutes run away – at the old Victorian sewage works, known as “Bar End”. It seemed obvious to stop them; work has also just begun on establishing the Bushfield site, which became Tarmac’s nerve centre. This was on the hill opposite the Down, across the River Itchen.

One day, a group of us decided to go and stop them working at Bar End. We ran down with face paint and masks (James Weeks, Clerk of Works, had started to film and photograph everyone) drums, tambourines and cameras. It was so totally easy – no security guards in those days and a police policy of non-intervention. We might have to put up with the occasionally lairy worker, but compared to subsequent road protests, this was simple. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop my first experience of direct action being terrifying: dump trucks with wheels as high as me, bulldozers with huge tracks, Nicolai being lifted high in the air in a digger bucket, swigging dashingly from his hip flask. I hid behind a tambourine and shook it nervously.

Once we discovered we could stop them relatively easily, we tried to go down as often as we could.

 

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