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Halting the march of corporate profits at Bilston Glen

Salman Shaheen

The front lines in the fight against capitalism can be found not only in the workplace, on the picket lines and in the streets, but up the trees as well! Bilston Glen anti-bypass camp has been occupied and fortified since June 2002, and the continuing work of activists there has done much to halt the march of corporate profits through ancient woodlands. Of particular concern to activists at the site, is that the companies wishing to fund the road are the same big companies that have experimented with cloning and genetic manipulation, and the ones that will attempt to pioneer the growth of genetically modified crops in Scotland. So, they set up camp, and stuck up two fingers!

I spoke to two activists working with the camp, Giles McPherson and Kev Reid.

Salman Shaheen (Socialist Unity): How long have you both been involved with the camp?

Giles: Officially Iíve only been living there a few days, but went there before Christmas, and started work on a tree house just after new year.

Kev: Iím a weekender, got a day job you see.

Socialist Unity: How many people are permanent occupants at the camp?

Giles: At the moment there are around ten permanent members, though there are also about ten more who come and go all the time. Some people do a lot for the camp, almost daily, but donít actually live there.

Kev: The population is swelling as it comes to spring, and will be large in the summer. The hardcore stay over winter. Anyway, Bilston is promising because we have, unlike other places, got in quite ahead of the council. Really dug in and sorted. Lots of research and action goes on to stay one step ahead, (when mushrooms aren't being consumed - try to keep that to weekends when guests more commonly arrive!)

Socialist Unity: Whatís the drug culture like up there? Do the parties ever get in the way of the protests?

Kev: Drugs are tolerated, but all things must be in balance. Use, not abuse! Itís like walking a tight rope. Things can fall apart quickly if people are off their faces all the time. So it is held in checkÖ just!

Socialist Unity: What is it like for activists who want to come up and help out for a while?

Giles: People donít have to pay into a kitty like they do at some places. Itís an autonomous set up. Itís not a bed and breakfast though, that is stressed, work needs to be done on a daily basis for survival and for the protest. People who want to be part of it are welcome to stay and build or mend an existing tree house. A communal tree house is nearly complete and it will have two floors, the lower floor will have bunks and a small kitchen etc, so we can better accommodate guests of which there are many. When, and if, we win, all the tree houses etc will be removed from the woods and no trace left.

Socialist Unity: What are the prospects for success at Bilston?

Kev: Quite high because we've got in there nice and early, before the council have even decided amongst themselves what exactly they are doing. There's a strong work ethic there too. "If you see something that needs doing, don't tell anyone about it, just do it yourself!" There are the mad parties at weekends and a couple of alkies and acid casualties that pass through, but they never stay long. There's a good sense of responsibility agreed upon by the group, even the maddest, hardest core, party crazy hippy still chops wood for the fire, etc. There's fun in woodcraft-living!

Socialist Unity: Have there been any setbacks recently, is there a possibility of eviction?

Kev: Not that I know of. No move of the authorities has been made. Iíve just come back from a "Sunday free cafe". On the last Sunday of the month, there's workshops, food, tea, games for kids etc, and locals arrive to get the questions asked. There was a lovely vibe today, kids laughing, I was showing them the different tree species, beech, birch, sycamore, oak, willow, holly etc, Fraser had some Scots pine that we planted (its native). There were lots of people there from across the spectrum, young and old, face painting, music, dancing, juggling.

Socialist Unity: Cheers guys.

Giles: Righty ho, cheers Salman, gonna run off and make a door so I can get in and out of the damn tree!

* * * * * * * *

Bilston Glen anti-bypass camp is one of the success stories of the anti-capitalist movement, and one that socialists and others on the left should unite in celebrating. It is thanks to the hard work of the committed activists at the camp, and all those who stand in solidarity with them, that so far the efforts of the capitalists in destroying our ancient woodland to facilitate the expansion of genetic engineering have been thwarted. However the camp needs our continuing support, both in materials and manpower.

Camp wish list:

Cups .. NAILS NAILS NAILS .. climbing harnesses, dog food, eviction stash, foods, music (tapes, CDs, people with instruments) - well, anything else you can think of... thanks from us all!

Mailing address:

c/o Autonomous Centre Edinburgh
17 West Montgomery Place

Directions to the camp:

By car -

Take the A701 towards Pennicuik and youíll get to Bilston. Search for a metal gate on your left (opposite the VW garage) just after you get into Bilston. Go through, follow the path till you come to a bridge (greeting point underneath).

By bus -

Take the 37 or 37A from Edinburgh towards Pennicuik. Get off the 1st bus stop at Bilston.

Spare tree houses are available for people coming up to help out.


February 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism