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Date: Sun, 08 Feb 2004 17:52:29 -0000
Subject: [act-locally] Think Globally 62 (February 2004)


Bilston Glen is a small but beautiful area of woodland, next to the A701, just south of Edinburgh. Here people stroll, walk their dogs, and kids go to play. The area has been wooded for centuries, and has SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) status due to its wildlife, species of woodland and marsh herbs, and its rare geology. It is also vitally important for animals such as deer that use it as a corridor to other habitats.

However, in February 2000, The Scottish Executive approved a 'realignment' of the A701, taking a straight road and putting a big kink in it, sending it through Bilston Glen. The Executive also ruled that no public enquiry was necessary despite 407 letters objecting to the scheme, and just two favouring it. Opponents felt they had been totally shut out of the process. There were protests, candle-lit vigils in the woods, and then, in June 2002, people began constructing treehouses and benders and living there.

A year-long independent review has just been published, urging that the road scheme be rejected as it would be environmentally damaging, would induce new road traffic, was deeply unpopular, and runs counter to the council's own policies on environment, sustainability, and social inclusion. Instead, they recommended consideration of a whole series of measures from express buses and trams, to off-road cycle tracks and safer crossing points.

Yet the council seems set to ignore the report and is now planning to fund the road from their own budget rather than have it privately financed. Thus if it goes ahead, locals will pay through their taxes - for the very road scheme they are campaigning so hard against.

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Their presence hasn't scared off the wildlife: the deer, for example, still move through the wood at night.

There are reasons for living on camps beyond the immediate threat.

"I gave up nothing!" one of the group says with feeling. She looks out happily at the trees around us, "I gave up nothing to be here!"

There is a chorus: "You talk about giving up a nice, cosy flat, but I never had a nice cosy flat!"

"I'd much rather live in a treehouse!"

"I object to paying for the right to sleep!"

"Here," said one, "you can build a lifestyle, a home, an organising space away from the capitalist system. We are building a community. A sustainable community where we have free-festivals, and storytelling and play music."

I ask how sustainable and low-impact their lives really are.

"We have a compost toilet, most of the food we eat is unwanted, we've no central heating, we recycle all the waste we can and we've made proper paths to minimise any damage. When we leave, the undergrowth will grow back again, and when we take down the buildings you will be left with a forest."

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