Twenty years ago protesters struggled to save Twyford Down from destruction by the M3 motorway, and although the road was built the campaign continues to have an impact. Twyford Down marked the beginning of a movement which was active at hundreds of anti-road campaigns and morphed into the ‘anti-globalization’ protests. The power of place is fundamental to understanding what made Twyford Down so significant; it was a liminal space which evoked a profound sense of connection to the land.
In 1989 Twyford Down was the most protected landscape in southern England, yet in just 2 years it was to change from a beautiful piece of historic land into a busy dual carriageway. The new road destroyed two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, two Scheduled Ancient Monuments & an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) intervened with non-violent direct action, but were forced to back off by the threat of massive legal costs. But while FoE camped on the threatened water meadows, a group of local young people were living on St. Catherines Hill in the ‘bender’ dwellings which became standard quarters at every protest site. They were the Donga tribe.
The fact that the Donga Tribe were named after the Iron Age track ways on the Down illustrates their “very strong self identification with the land” (Plows, 1998). The Tribe practised a “very earthy” Paganism that saw “[e]veryday nature … as magical” (Plows, 2005).
Those that were there have powerful memories of the Down. Lauren, whom I interviewed for my PhD research, used to visit and felt the power of the place.
“Twyford was such a wonderful piece of land”, she said. “As you stepped onto it you just thought, ‘What’s happening to me?’”
The spiritual power of Twyford Down is at least partly due to the ‘wilderness effect’. I have discussed this in depth elsewhere (The power of place: Protest site pagans), but briefly, spending extended periods in the ‘wilderness’ has a profound impact on the psyche.
The activist group Earth First! are inspired by Deep Ecology, “the spiritual and visceral recognition of the intrinsic, sacred value of every living thing” (Earth First! Worldwide, 2007). Deep Ecology – a movement as much as an identifiable philosophy – emphasizes that human beings are only part of the ecology of the planet and that only by realising our ecological interconnectedness can we become fully human (Naess, 1989). But understanding Deep Ecology as a philosophy will get you nowhere: your understanding must be embodied. It was an embodied knowing that the land is sacred that inspired Twyford campaigners like me twenty years ago. That deep ecological knowing is essential to us all if we are to survive as a species.
- The power of place: Protest site pagans
- A history of the Twyford Down protests
- Twentieth Anniversary at Twyford Down
- Sacred Ecology