Thursday 15th April 2010:
Campaigners from Earth First! including two members of SLACC have today stopped peat extraction work at Peel Holdings site on Chat Moss in Greater Manchester by chaining themselves to machinery.
One SLACC member said
“We’ve been here about ten minutes and right now one of the workers has got into the digger and is trying to move it which is putting my safety in jeopardy” he said “They have been quite threatening and I understand that the police are on their way but we’ll stay here as long as we can to stop the destruction of the peat bog…”
Another colleague has chained himself to a lorry on the site, while other protestors are also trying to stop peat removal. The direct action by Earth First! comes as a direct response to the lack of environmental guts by Salford City Council which has stood by and allowed the destruction of one of the top rated sites of biodiversity in the North West.
For many years locals have been trying to draw attention to peat bog destruction on Peel Holdings owned land on Chat Moss. Now Earth First! have taken direct action to physically try and stop the extraction by occupying the site today.
Peat bogs have recently become the focus of international attention because they act as huge ‘carbon sponges’: as peat is formed it locks away carbon that has been absorbed by plants as they grow, thereby helping to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere and slow global warming. The draining and extraction of this unique habitat causes the release of thousands of years worth of stored carbon. Globally, peat bogs cover just 3% of the world’s surface but store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests combined.
The greatest threat to peat bogs is from peat extraction for use in horticulture. An area the size of 250 Trafalgar Squares is dug up every year for the UK horticultural industry, with 70% of this demand coming from amateur gardeners. This is despite the fact that there are a wide variety of good quality peat-free commercial composts, meaning that there is no need for the UK to consume any peat at all. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, for instance, has been peat free since 1992.
One local campaigner said
“We are stopping the destruction of Chat Moss bog to protect this site for the benefit of present and future generations. Peat bogs harbour a wide variety of birds, plants and animals that can be found nowhere else. Instead of protecting this valuable habitat Peel Holdings are vandalising it in order to ake a profit when there are countless alternatives to peat for use in compost, as well as more sustainable jobs in those industries.”
One Earth First! protestor added
“The Council tell us they are serious about climate change and the environment yet allow valuable sites like Chat Moss to be bulldozed. They say they will protect the Green Belt but it’s all just hot air. We have come here today in solidarity with the local Save Our Greenbelt campaign, and to protect this valuable habitat and to say enough is enough – leave our bog alone!”
UPDATE: An account of the day by one SLAC member:
“We locked on around 10:30am. Some of the workers initially reacted aggressively, trying to move the digger while people were on it, using abusive language and assaulting one of our group – though we were emphasising that we were peaceful and that they were breaking the law by acting dangerously towards us.
After about twenty minutes of several members of our group talking calmly to them, they stood down and waited for the police to arrive. The police turned up shortly after, trying to talk us down, but we stayed locked on until the Tactical Aid Unit arrived with bolt cutters to extract us.
Interestingly, it seemed they wanted everyone else out of the way, so they could ‘deal’ with us and get the job done as quickly as possible. We’ve found out that lots of local people tried to join us, but were being stopped by the police well out of visible distance.
The police Tactical Aid Unit also showed little regard for our safety – their intention was to simply remove me from the digger by any means necessary – which was effectively to try to throw me off it. An ambulance also turned up pre-emptively, which suggests they were anticipating that our extraction would necessitate the use of force, and unnecessary harm to our persons.
We managed to stay there for several hours to halt the destruction of the bog and to get the message out.
After the police released us, we met up with some of the local campaigners from Save Our North West Greenbelt, who’d had a meeting in the evening, which was really empowering. They were very very supportive and thankful.
At first I was arrested for aggravated trespass, but then de-arrested and re-arrested after being cut free under new charges. We’ve been charged, oddly, under Section 4A of the Public Order Act, which covers using words/behaviour to cause harassment/distress, even though our protest was completely non-violent and good humoured.
Our court date is May 10th, 9:30am at Salford Magistrate’s Court – a solidarity demonstration is being planned for this date, and any support would be gratefully welcomed!”