about books journalism links contact2 home2
The Battle for Lyminge Forest

Going underground with the eco-warriors.

Day 2: Nick Ryan spent two days living with the protestors at Lyminge Forest in Kent for MSN News. In this account of his second day Nick ventures underground:

9:30AM Surface later today, groggy. Sit in soaking wet deck chair by accident. Promise to help Blue concrete his tunnel. Utterly fail in my duties as I casually wander off for breakfast at Gone to Pot. Hope no-one notices.

11AM Actually get permission and pluck up courage to venture down one of the tunnels (albeit a small one). Camp Kiros is the venue, a two man operation just a few hundred yards from Rat Trap. Adrian, a mature student from Nottingham, and Joe, a former lighting engineer suffering from full-blown AIDS, are down for a few weeks. Joe says the community here is very strong, and that he?s been using ?magic? (with the help of various pagans and witches on site) to help keep his illness at bay - although he?s had one relapse already, and had to be rushed down to the local hospital.

But despite the difficulties, they keep the place homely. They?ve inherited the camp from its original builders. This seems typical of the protest scene at large - there?s a hardcore of professional protesters, and then a much larger, organic group who come and go as the sites evolve.

11:15AM The tunnel is situated at the back of the small camp, about 15 feet from the firepit/communal roofed area. A trapdoor covers it against the elements. I follow Adrian?s lanky frame as he clambers down into the central shaft (a precarious operation, as there is no ladder or rope). The shaft has been created by sinking a hole about 15 feet straight down, and digging two round ?wormhole? tunnels off at angles (the round shape is stronger than a square one, but very few parts are actually shored up).

One?s actually a false chamber dug about half way down, and the real tunnel is about two foot off the shaft bottom. It?s a very narrow fit into the dank, wet sandy tunnel and incredibly claustrophobic. It?s impossible to turn around as you pull yourself towards the main chamber at the tunnel?s end, about 20ft from the entrance.

Adrian spends most of his days down here, picking methodically at the earth and shovelling it out behind him, for Joe to lift up in a sack. When the eviction comes, whoever is nearest a tunnel will bolt down into the central chamber. Some will try and spend up to two weeks (Blue says he?s aiming for three) down there, relying on fairy lights to light up the tunnels, and car fans to keep the air supply going down a network of plastic pipes. All ablutions must take place using either in water bottles or plastic bags. The cramped conditions only seem to spark tunnel fever - the site is dotted with mounds of sandy earth, like giant molehills.

What?s a tunnel like? Well, incredibly cramped and claustrophobic, although that doesn?t really do the fear justice. Let?s just say it takes a certain type of person to go down there, and that?s why I and others hold them in a certain amount of respect. You have to pull yourself forward, tentatively, shuffling ever wary of a cave-in, along the sandy earth. Your breath rattles in your throat - the air quality is poor. Sometimes you want to cry out with fear - but you can?t, because you can?t let someone else, who makes this look like a Sunday picnic, see you?re afraid.

Once at the central chamber, things improve a little. It?s not exactly snug, but with enough room (when it?s fully dug) and decent lighting, I could probably stay in there a while. Some of the tunnellers will spend up to two weeks or more in this tiny chamber. Envy is not one of the words I would use to describe my feelings. Make it out again, moving as fast as I can on my belly, back to the central shaft and sunlight. Got the ?sun tan? at last.

2PM The occasional sound of revelry drifts across from one of the nearby camps, Crossroads (also called Site B?stard). It is a small camp situated at a cross roads of gravel tracks, and is home to a motley crew of youngsters and wanderers. The first thing you often notice when entering such camps is a sea of tattoos, nose and lip rings. Once you sit down, however, the group is usually friendly - as are most people on the 430 acre site. That?s something which comes as a continuous (pleasant) surprise - everyone seems to get on, helps each other out, even says ?hi? to one another as they pass.

Each camp, of which there are a fluid number (anywhere between eight and 10) has its own individual character. They have names such as ?Gone to Pot?, ?Undercover Elephant?, ?Asterix?, ?The Fortress? and ?The Ark?. They pop up and are dismantled within a couple of days sometimes. Most usually have a tunnel and several treehouses. Some have up to three tunnels and are usually well hidden, often at the end of an animal track. One minute you?re hacking through the undergrowth, the next you come out into a small clearing, with complement of kids, adults and dogs. Multi-coloured benders are dotted around behind the central/communal firepit and eating area.

Sometimes there is a field kitchen set up, made out of corrugated iron or hanging from the side of a tree. Here washing up, crockery and all manner of foodstuffs are kept from the insects and animals of the forest. The best run ones are usually very clean and well-kept. Blackened kettles are permanently on the boil.

6PM The rain comes down, seeping into the sponge-like, sandy ground and worming its way into the tunnels below. No doubt the poorer made ones will flood. Blue lies in his tower just 30ft away, oblivious, I suspect. I dream of the carpets and snug feeling of the tower chambers that the tunnellers at Rat Trap have built. He says he?s already planning for his next site, at Hastings, as are a number of others.

8PM Wander down to the newest camp, Asterix, where I?m given a huge veggie meal. Sit and chat into the early hours. All seems happy. ?Even with the nutters on some of the camps,? says Sef (26), a slightly diminutive Web designer who has brought his girlfriend and young son to the site, ?you can still get a friendly meal.? He?s planning to buy a van, equip it with mobile, solar-powered communications, and just travel from site to site.

His attitude seems to sum up the whole protest scene. ?We?re working for him (pointing to his son). We want him to grow up in a green world, a better world and we?ve got everything we need here - friends, community, family,? he says.

?I?m happy,? he adds. ?I hate going back to Babylon [the outside world] now.?

MIDNIGHT: Agree wholeheartedly. Get completely lost in forest, possibly due to alcohol intake, get ?home? hour and a half later. Finally sleep well.

Photo © Dominick Tyler

Other stories in 'The Battle for Lyminge':

The battle for Lyminge forest

The latest major environmental battle is unfolding in a forest in Kent. It?s being heralded as a possible re-run of the Newbury protest and is taking shape on a private property development.

Life with professional protestors

Day 1: Nick Ryan spent two days living with the environmental protestors in Kent discovering the hard reality of living rough. Here?s his account.

Going underground with the eco-warriors

Day 2: Nick Ryan spent two days living with the protestors at Lyminge Forest in Kent for MSN News. In this account of his second day Nick ventures underground.

You can buy this article, and seek new commissions, either by contacting me direct or my syndication agency, www.featurewell.com

IFJ Special Commendation Winner


To keep in touch with new projects, columns and other regular developments, join my newsletter.