The row looks set to draw in both the Forestry Commission and the Rank Organisation.
West Wood, part of Lyminge Forest in Kent, is due to be sold by the Forestry Commission to Oasis Villages (part of the Rank Organisation), which plans to turn it into a Center Parcs-style holiday village. This is the first time direct-action protesters have taken on a large, private property developer in such a public way, and signals a possible shift in emphasis within the protest movement.
?It's a really important amenity area for the local people, as well as being an issue of environmental degradation? ? BLUE
The protestors say the development would destroy the 436 acre deciduous and coniferous managed woodland. It would create 350 waterside villas, 400 forest lodges, 90 studio apartments, staff accommodation, a large village centre with shops, a restaurant, countryclub, and parking facilities for 3,400 cars and lorries. The development would eventually cater for 4,000 holidaymakers, 700 staff and would create 20 acres of rubber-lined lakes and waterways, needing over 17.5 million gallons of water.
The ?Oasis Village? development was granted a final go ahead in March this year, after The Save Lyminge Forest Action Group lost an appeal against the plan.
Almost immediately, protesters from the Manchester runway protest and other sites began setting up camps. They argue that east Kent is already short of water, that this is a car-based development and would require the widening of ancient Roman highways.
One of the leading protestors, 23-year-old ?Blue?, a countryside management graduate, was one of the first to arrive and begin constructing tunnels to resist eviction. ?I went to Newbury, saw how effective that could be with local support and how it was creating more awareness with the public about what was going on. It captured my imagination and it seemed the right thing for me to get involved in,? he said.
After protesting at the A30 site in Devon, he travelled to Lyminge.
?There?s very strong local support, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get involved.?
He maintained that the arguments against the Oasis Village were ?very strong? and that it would ?ruin? the whole 436 acres site. ?It?s a really important amenity area for the local people, as well as being an issue of environmental degradation. It?s also Forestry Commission land, which is national land, which is our land,? he said. ?I think a lot of people have been quite shocked that something like the Oasis holiday village can actually go through.?
?Our proposals enhance both the local economy and the environment. Protecting and enhancing the environment is at the heart of the Oasis philosophy? ? JULIE GOULD
Locals have generally been supportive of the protesters, who now number about 50-60 and have constructed around a dozen camps on the woodland. Each camp supports numerous tunnels and treehouses, together with concrete ?lock-ons? and other devices to forestall the bailiffs (eviction orders have already been served by the Forestry Commission which still owns the land). Welders, electricians and even housewives have been helping out, delivering supplies or helping build and fortify tunnels and siege-type towers.
?Patsy?, a housewife who is part of the Save Lyminge Forest Action Group, delivers food to Blue and the others on a rota system. She said she had fought the development at every stage, even getting a 23,000-word petition together - but it wasn?t enough.
?There is strong local feeling. This forest is very important to a lot of people and they?ll do whatever is necessary to stop it. Over 100,000 people use this forest and they don?t want to see it go. I admire all the ?eco-warriors? here. I think they?re very selfless people.?
Julie Gould, spokesperson for Oasis Villages, said: ?Our proposals enhance both the local economy and the environment. Protecting and enhancing the environment is at the heart of the Oasis philosophy.
?In drawing up the plans for West Wood, we ensured that all of the areas of ecological interest would be safeguarded. At the moment West Wood is a commercial conifer plantation subject to regular felling. By contrast our proposals actually include the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs to bring the forest back to a mixed woodland.?
However, she said that the development depended on the performance of Oasis? first holiday village in Cumbria.
Other stories in 'The Battle for Lyminge':
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