Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 72-73.

Lyminge Forest

The spread of syphilitic suburbia

Lyminge Forest is a large area of mixed woodland located in East Kent on the North Downs. It is home to a vast array of wildlife, including several rare and internationally threatened species. Final approval was recently given for plans by the Rank Organisation to build a holiday town, sorry, "Oasis Village" for 4000 tourists in the West Wood area of the forest. It will consist of 850 chalets, apartments and log cabins, a "tropical waterworld", artificial rubber-lined lake, golf course, shops, and, of course, parking for 3600 cars. Kent already experiences a chronic water shortage and further strain will be placed on resources, to the tune of 1 million litres per day; one percent of total consumption in the entire borough of Shepway. Local rivers are currently running at less than one third of normal flow rates. In a forest which currently sees open public access, footpaths and bridleways will be closed and a barbed wire perimeter fence erected to prevent entry.

Fortunately for those lucky locals, Rank has kindly purchased another area of woodland close by from Lloyd's of London debtor, ex-Lyminge councillor, and friend of local MP Michael Howard, Christopher Ridley Day. This is to serve as the public's "new" wood once they are excluded from the old one. A similar "village" has already been constructed at Whinfell Forest in Penrith, Cumbria, one of the last English refuges for the red squirrel and pine marten.Three more similar camps are planned by Rank should Whinfell and Lyminge prove to be successful.

Ludicrously, Rank actually claims construction will have a positive effect for local wildlife. Loss of the Nightjar (whose favoured nesting area is to be turned into a golf course) is considered inevitable by conservation groups. Although Rank has consistently tried to keep debate low-key and portray this massive plan as a local issue which most of the public favour, activists who have set up camps, tree houses and tunnels at the site are experiencing excellent levels of support from those who live nearby. A possession order has been served, but it is currently unclear whether the Forestry Commission (who are obliged to sell to Rank) is planning to evict or not. This could of course depend to a large extent on the number of campaigners on the site and the quality of defences.

The forces behind such developments are the same as for most other destructive phenomena of course; greed and short-sightedness. Even the most hardened urbanites and city-slickers like to think they can appreciate the beauty of nature, but they have a need to turn this "appreciation" into yet another form of consumption (it's the only way they know). Developers sanitise wild areas for such purposes. Woods need tarmac paths, lighting and signposted "nature trails", steep slopes require the construction of steps and the erection of railings, pretty flowering shrubs bearing no relation to the characteristic local flora must be planted and so on; the site then appears tidier, safer, more like the neatly trimmed town parks and suburban gardens that these people are familiar with. What better form of marketing then, than the concept of the "Eco Holiday Village"? This provides all of the above while leaving visitors with the illusion they want to believe; they have been close to nature. This is rather curious, considering they will have spent their time sitting in sterile pine lodges or enclosed swimming pools. It is also interesting to consider how many will actually wonder what the hell pine lodges and swimming pools are doing in the middle of a forest in the first place.

I started on this article before the publication of the 1st Oasis brochure, and I commented then that cynical marketing would show smiling children in crash hats riding mountain bikes through the forest while their parents enjoyed a relaxing drink by the artificial lake.

Unfortunately my cynicism appears to be well founded; guess what I found in the brochure? We observe images of misty glades, sunsets through the trees and deer or badgers cavorting happily in the undergrowth.

But the propaganda begins long before this; it begins from the day plans are submitted. Presentations to everyone from planning officers to the general public emphasise dubious promises of jobs plus even more dubious assurances that the development is "sustainable" and "in harmony with nature", as can be seen with Rank's claims regarding the maintenance of ecological diversity at Lyminge Forest.

Even though conservation groups and those who ought to know might disagree with such claims, councillors are more than happy to just nod their heads in a concerned sort of fashion, then pretty much ignore what these people have to say and proceed regardless. In short, they need to be seen to be concerned about the environmental effects, nothing more. The authorities are all too willing to take a "hear no evil, see no evil" attitude to a developer's proposals, and can usually get away with it thanks to collusion with the local press who very often have an interest in forcing the scheme through.

These are the same sort of people who in the past tore the soul from small and large towns alike, turning diverse town centres into identikit "shopping experiences", while transforming the edges into identikit suburbs with no sense of community or fraternity. The destruction is continuing as they move their sights towards the few areas of unspoilt countryside left; it's time to transform them into just another "leisure experience", time to move on with the process of homogenization. But just as a "Wild West" theme park will teach you very little about life in the real Wild West, an "Eco" theme park will teach you precious little about living in harmony with nature.

Tourism is being largely ignored by the mainstream environmental movement, perhaps because tackling their middle-class memberships over one of their favourite pastimes might be a rather thorny issue. But challenged it must be. The countryside is being relentlessly transformed into a suburb consisting of theme parks, holiday camps, executive housing estates and factory farms.

We need to expose the lies and illusions of the tourist industry and their government and media puppets. The message needs to be hit home hard that people do not have some god-given right to be a tourist, they can only stay in an unfamiliar place if it is genuinely undamaging, both culturally and environmentally.

Biggest Action Camp in UK

For over 6 months camps have been stopping the development. Get down there now, for details contact Flat Oak Society (see Contacts)

These are actual comments left last year by backpackers on US Forest Service comment cards:

"Escalators would help on steep uphill sections."

"Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill."

"Too many bugs, leeches, spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the area of these pests."

"Please pave the trails so they can be plowed of snow in the winter."

"A McDonald's would be nice at the trailhead."

"Chairlifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them."

"The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals."

"Reflectors need to be placed on trees every 50 feet so people can hike at night with flashlights."

"Need more signs to keep area pristine."

"The places where trails do not exist are not well marked."

"Too many rocks in the mountains."

Do or Die DTP/web team: