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Campaigners vow to fight a 'second Battle of Hastings' to stop new road
Protesters say they are willing to “risk their lives” in what they are calling the ‘Second Battle of Hastings’.
Around 20 activists have set up tree huts and dug tunnels along the route of the planned Bexhill to Hastings link road in an attempt to thwart workmen looking to clear the land.
Day and night, men and women of all ages take turns to stand guard as bailiffs look to take them away.
The first protesters arrived in mid-December, with a small group even keeping watch on Christmas Day in anticipation of the work re-starting.
They have been on site ever since, expanding their camps and securing their positions day by day.
Approaching one of their outposts near to Upper Wilting Farm, my feet slowly sink deeper into the East Sussex mud.
I failed to get the memo about wearing boots but given the Biblical amounts of rain over the last few months, I only have myself to blame.
We are greeted by mum Indiana, who shows us around their most recent outpost.
With a just a small tarpaulin tent for shelter and half a dozen sleep-deprived protesters, they are guarding half a dozen 300 to 400-year-old oak trees.
Some 30 feet in the air, is a 20-something man swinging between the trees like a monkey, while the rest are desperately trying to get a fire started.
Indiana, who works as a nanny in Hastings, said: “It’s lovely here, there’s a great atmosphere and good moral.
“It’s amazing the different types of people we’ve had.
“We’ve seen students, professionals, a bus driver, the owner of a taxi firm and at the weekend we had a dozen local grandmas swinging in the tree hammocks.
“Local support has been genuinely heart-warming.”
The 40-year-old has been on site since December 21, having only been home a couple of times to fetch supplies.
“Christmas was really good fun. There were a few of us here in the day and then the rest of them came later on with leftovers from lunch.
“At New Year’s someone brought some mulled wine.
“So that was fun – there was a lot of singing.”
Some of the camp members are seasoned activists while others describe themselves as “locals” simply concerned about the future of their countryside.
Opposing them are the workmen attempting to clear the route and the bailiffs looking to clear the protesters.
Somewhere in the middle is the police, who are trying to juggle the right to protest along with the building of the controversial road.
Indiana added: “Apparently some of the bailiffs are ex-Royal Marine.
“They don’t use force but they are trained to use this ‘goose neck’ technique.
“They press some pressure point on the wrist which makes you go limp.”
But not everybody is scaling trees.
Seventy-year-old Fernando Bauza has been in camp a week.
But like most others of his age, the retired supermarket worker from Hastings has his routines.
He said: “I think I might go home to sleep tonight because it’s difficult to get any rest when you’re with a snorer.
“I’m a great lover of nature and I just can’t stand by and let them do this.
“Some of these oaks are 400 years old. They support so much life. It would be disastrous to see it go.”
But Fernando isn’t the oldest visitor to the camp.
John, who Indiana tells me is in his 80s, is something of a camp legend.
Fernando added: “The other day he was walking across the field with his walking stick.
“A digger came over the top of the hill and he threw down his stick and ran towards it.
“He jumped on and calm as you like asked them to stop.”
Having been rescued, the former Middle East aid worker, said: “You think I’m scared of those diggers?
“I used to throw myself in front of Israeli tanks.”
We are taken over to the main camp some 15 minutes walk from the outpost.
Along with half a dozen tents, a toilet, kitchen and community area, there are tunnels dug deep into the hillside.
Digger, Simon ‘Sitting Bull’ Medhurst, said: “Some mornings it’s ok, but then you hit a patch of sandstone.
“I reckon it’s about 15 feet deep at the moment but I’ve got secrets which I’m going to keep up my sleeve.
“I’m willing to risk my life for the cause – we can’t let them do this.”
But the protesters appear to be realistic about what they can achieve.
Indiana explains that they cannot stop the diggers and chainsaws alone.
Their aim is to delay work while others are in offices trying to get the decision overturned.
She said: “In the area we have great crested newts, rare bats and more badger sets than I have seen anywhere else.
“On top of that this is one of the most archaeological rich areas in the country.
“It’s all about money and development in the area.
“It’s just not right.”
History of link road plans
The Bexhill to Hastings link road has been twenty years in the making.
But after countless public meetings, protests and consultations, the £94m route was approved in March last year.
It will join the A259 and B2092 by crossing the section of countryside known as Combe Haven Valley.
Central and local government claim that the road will ease congestion and improve air quality on the A259 at Glyne Gap, while creating jobs and ensuring the building of homes.
However, protesters argue the 3.4 mile route will destroy vast swathes of countryside rich with wildlife.
Workers have said they hope to have the site cleared by the end of March for the laying of Tarmac to begin before the summer.
Simon 'Sitting Bull' William Medhurst
“I’m A big fan of the Great Escape,” tunneler Simon ‘Sitting Bull’ Medhurst says as he shows us inside his 15ft deep tunnel.
“I’ve chosen this spot because it will give me 30 seconds at least to get in and bolt the door if they come.
“Once inside, I reckon I’ve got enough supplies to last a month.
“I’ve got bottles of water, tinned food, torch batteries, books, a wee bottle and some plastic bags for you know what...”
The 54-year-old’s background doesn’t quite fit the mould for a seasoned activist.
Originally from Kent, he worked for many years as an RAF photographer on various assignments.
However, his life-long love of nature has seen him on the frontline of some of the country’s most high profile environmental protests.
“I was with Swampy in Manchester in 97 and was at Newbury and Fairmile.
“I tried going down other people’s tunnels but it’s terrifying.
“You’re looking at every crack and every drop of water thinking ‘this is going to go’.
“When it’s your own tunnel it’s different. I wouldn’t say it is quite a spiritual thing, but there is definitely a relationship there. I trust this.”
Sitting Bull, as he is known in camp, has constructed his own outpost near to the protester’s main base.
And for what is essentially a large tarpaulin and a bunch of twigs, he has a cosy little existence.
Crates form the base layer of his temporary home with a wafer thin mattress and sheets for warmth.
To one side is a kitchen type area with packs of crisps, bottled drinks and boil in the bag lentils for strength.
Across the other side of his two-metre-wide home is a kettle and black polka dot mug, along with a candle and his hot water bottle for those cold January nights.
A self confessed novice tunnel digger, he says he owes all his knowledge to the website discodavestunnelguide.com.
“This one is known as a ‘tight and nasty’, which means it is unsupported.
“I try to dig an oval shaped hole which will hopefully support itself.
“This was perfected by the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War, and I’m willing to risk my life.
“I feel that by using an unsupported method I’m taking more of a risk, but on the other hand it should be more difficult for them to reach my chamber.”
If it comes to it, the dad, whose son Sebastian has helped him dig the tunnel, could be stuck in the metre high chamber for up to a month with just Sir Fred Hoyle’s 1950s science fiction thriller The Black Cloud for company.
He said: “I just love nature and especially the trees. I always feel happier when I’m around them.
“We are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop this destruction.
“This is the second Battle of Hastings and we’re not going to give in.”
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