The Battle of Watlington

protesters by crop girls by crop field in flower

The trials serve the interests of a small number of multinational companies and not the interest of the consumer, farmer or environment. -- Norman Baker, LibDem environment spokesman

Let's get away from this idea of what the public wants. -- Jack Cunningham, government minister, mouthpiece for the biotech industry

This is contamination of the countryside. It shouldn't be grown. We're doing something which the public wants and is for the benefit of the environment. I don't think anyone should be arrested for this. -- Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace

The government is spending £3.3m of taxpayer's money on farm-scale GM trials. What we want to know - the reason we take peaceful actions that lead to imprisonment - is why? -- Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace

There are moments and issues in history where Parliament is inadequate and it falls to the public themselves to act. With the case of genetic engineering and the granting of patents on life I believe we have reached one of those historic moments. -- Alan Simpson MP

These GE crops are an assault on our food and the environment. In the face of all responsibility being waived by those in a position to wield it, the responsibility falls on us. -- Rowan Tilly, genetiX snowball

The public has the right to a safe environment and a food chain free from genetic contamination. If the authorities, in this case the government, fail to uphold those rights it is legitimate for others to do so. We took urgent action to defend those public rights. -- Sarah Burton, Greenpeace

Several large-scale field trials of genetically modified crops are taking place within the UK. Three are of GM oil seed rape - Model Farm, Watlington (Oxfordshire, 12 miles south east of Oxford), Lushill Farm (near Swindon, Wiltshire) and Boothby Graffoe (Lincolnshire). Growing local opposition has forced the trustees at Lushill Farm to destroy the crop (5 June 1999).

Watlington is a sleepy little market town, smaller than most villages. The site at the ironically named Model Farm is 23 acres on a hillside, a little way out of town. The landowner, Lord Macclesfield, is unpopular with local people, especially neighbouring farms effected by the trial, and ramblers who have had problems gaining access to walk across the land.

Two young girls, with help from Oxy-gene, have been running a town centre stall to enlist opposition to and highlight the dangers of the field trial at Model Farm.

GM-free Picnic - 3 July 1999

To coincide with events being held across the country Oxy-gene (a local coordinating group opposing the trial) organised a site visit, to be followed by a GM-free picnic at the local beauty spot of Watlington Hill.

At the meeting point, outside the medieval old town hall, picnickers at times appeared to be outnumbered by police. Walking along country lanes and public footpaths the picnickers and site inspectors headed towards the test site, accompanied by a police convoy on foot and in vehicles.

When the site was reached, most people were amazed at the size of the site, and the small no grow zone that bordered the site. The oil seed rape was in full bloom. As a precautionary measure, many of the picnickers donned masks. Biohazard signs were planted on the edge of the crop, picnickers then decamped to the picnic site atop of Watlington Hill.

picnic on Watlington Hill From the top of Watlington Hill there are marvellous views all around, including a view of the rape trial at Model Farm. Picnickers were entertained by music and speeches from Jean Saunders (Swindon FoE, campaigner against Lushill Farm), Sushilla Dhall (Oxfordshire Green County Councillor), and an organic farmer and board member of the Soil Association.

Stop the Crop National Rally - 18 July 1999

Alan Simpson MP Smash Genetix George Monbiot

Police road block Coaches from around the country headed for the rally. As the site was approached, Police road blocks were encountered. Ironically, the only people the Police were letting through were the protesters and the media (who were out in force). Already on site were TV crews with their satellite dishes.

sound stage The site could not have been better located, a field on top of a hill, opposite the GM crop. A farm trailer had been converted into an impromptu sound stage. Food, drink, and a herbal medical centre were available on site.

George Monbiot During the afternoon, the protesters were entertained by speeches and music. The speakers included Alan Simpson MP (Labour Member for Nottingham South), food writer Lynda Brown (local resident), and environmental writer and journalist George Monbiot. Alan Simpson told the crowd how it was only mass civil disobedience that changed anything, gave an insight into the power of global corporations and the undue influence they were having on government; Lynda Brown told how this was the only issue food writers had ever felt sufficiently concerned about to campaign on, that it was a gut reaction that something was rotten, GM was not needed and was doing nothing to improve the quality of food; George Monbiot launched a scathing attack on the flawed basis of the experiment that was going on across the road and the global corporations who were engaging in exploitation and neo-colonialism.

During the afternoon, protesters were handed out a leaflet, detailing the programme, and a map of the site. On the back was legal advice in case of any problems with the Police.

The leaflet emphasised that all past and current protests had been peaceful:

One of the many things that has unified the huge opposition to GE in this country has been the peaceful nature of all Genetic Events that have taken place, whether marches, rallies, direct action against crop trials, processions, crop squats etc ... Please do everything you can to ensure that it continues in that same peaceful vein and enjoy it!

protesters moving into the field After the speeches, everyone was to leave the rally site, line up in two columns, then in a clockwise and anticlockwise direction, walk around the test site using lanes and public footpaths. The protesters had only got a short distance along the road in either direction, when individually and spontaneously, they all headed straight to the test site and started wandering across the field. Of the 500 protesters attending the rally, virtually all those present, clad in white biohazard suits and wearing face masks (a necessary precaution against pollen and the sprays that had been used on the field), all walking across the field to the sound of Pink Floyd. Standing on the sound stage it was an amazing sight to watch.

Police helicopter The small handful of Police standing in the road (far fewer than at the picnic two weeks previous) were outflanked. There was little they could do, other than radio for help, and watch, trying very hard, and not very successfully, not to laugh. The Police too, than went into the test field, though not to accost the protesters but to seek shelter under the trees from the hot sun.

It didn't take long for Police reinforcements to arrive. A Police helicopter arrived on the scene and then hovered around for about an hour filming the action below.

A long time later, maybe an hour, Police reinforcements started to arrive en masse, but still heavily outnumbered by protesters. A small posse of Police then headed into the crops, trampling down more crops than the protesters. Most of the protesters had by this time left the test site to visit the Alternative Model Farm.

trashed crop A hard core of protesters were left in the field. With a large number of Police assembled, the press reported 80, the mood started to turn ugly. Up until then there had been a good rapport between the Police and the protesters. The new arrivals were psyching themselves up for action, the body language was different, and they were clearly out looking for trouble.

It looked like the Police may be considering going into the field and rounding up the hard core, but they were pre-empted by the protesters waltzing back out of the field. The Police ran up the road to block them off, and physically blocked off the road by sheer weight of numbers. By this time the cavalry had arrived, a couple of Police motor cyclists, and Police on horseback.

Police violence The Police opened up the road block, and, to the cheer of all the onlookers, the protesters peacefully walked down the road, arm in arm heading towards the rally site. As the field gate was approached, a handful of Police officers launched a brutal attack on two or three of the protesters. There was no provocation, the protesters were peacefully walking down the road, there had been no calling of insults or taunting of the Police, it was Police brutality pure and simple. Those involved simply layed into protesters, they were nothing better than thugs in uniform. One girl was grabbed by the hair, and had her hair pulled out by the roots, another protester was wrestled to the ground, down the side of a Police motorcycle, Police fists flying, another protester was wrestled to the ground, sat on by a fat overweight officer, then dragged along the road a short distance, face down. Several officers were involved in violent assaults on individual demonstrators. Whether this was action under orders, if so whose orders, is not clear. It looked as though the officers had it in for those targeted, and the attacks were personal, rather than randomly picked on protesters. Other protesters were then pushed, jostled and herded towards the Police horses. It was sheer luck that no one fell under the horses hoofs and was seriously injured. The officers on horseback appeared to be losing control with the horses prancing all over the place. A tense several minutes ensured whilst the protesters retreated back into the field. The gate was shut to prevent Police getting into the field and the Police in turned blocked the gate to stop protesters leaving. If it hadn't been for the protesters keeping their cool and maintaining control over the situation, something the Police seemed incapable of due to the action of a few rogue officers, a nasty situation could have turned very nasty and spiralled out of control. A few of those present with more sense than the Police went round asking everyone to stay calm and not be provoked by the Police.

Police violence The Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police should launch an immediate investigation into the failure of his officers to exercise crowd control (in fact no crowd control was necessary), and to root out those officers who were involved in violence and kick them out of the force, as there can be no place for thugs in uniform if the public is to have any confidence in the force. If these officers can engage in violent assaults in broad daylight, before many witnesses, it begs the question as to what they get up to when out of sight. The Police Complaints Authority should launch an immediate investigation.

What had been a peaceful, enjoyable and successful day, was marred by uncalled for Police violence and brutality. Those who witnessed the event, were shocked by what they saw. Those who had been on past peaceful protests said past experience had taught them what to expect and this was nothing new. Some thought the Police had come across from nearby Hillgrove Cat Farm (where a sick individual, Farmer Christopher Brown, breeds cats to be tortured) and the attacks were personal. It cannot even be claimed that the Police panicked as they were not under any threat. Someone, whether the individuals involved, or orders from above, took a decision to attack peaceful protesters.

Merrick, writing of the Battle for the Trees on the route of the Newbury bypass:

The police are human, they include many fallible, petty (and a few just plain stupid) individuals. They are not always right, and should not be blindly trusted. As a body, they are a hierarchy and so open to abuses of power from those in charge who don't actually see what goes on. At the October 1994 demo against the CJB, I saw policemen round up and beat whoever they could get their hands on. I saw a man holding a toddler in his arms being beaten for just being there. And road protests have hundreds more terrifying stories of similar things.

Genetic Engineering Network, who networked the rally, has asked that anyone who was an eye witness to the Police violence or to anyone being arrested, especially where excessive and unreasonable force was used, to contact their London office immediately. Any photos or video recordings of the event would be very welcome.

	Genetic Engineering Network	
	tel	0181 374 9516		e-mail

Genetic Engineering Network need funding to help them continue the good work.

The protesters could be accused of engaging in criminal damage. But who are the criminals, the protesters who have tried to stop a major biohazard, or Lord Macclesfield and a biotech company in collusion with the British government who are deliberately contaminating the countryside with a biohazard?

As the coaches left, the protesters smiled and waved to the security men lounging on a landrover, the security men smiled and waved back. Throughout the day, security men and protesters stayed on friendly terms. The security men showed a great deal more professionalism than the so-called professionals (excluding the officers who were there at the beginning who caused no problems).

The occupation of the test site by several hundred protesters was one of the largest acts of civil disobedience seen in the country.

The only response of the corrupt government to the overwhelming rejection of GM by the public has been to establish a GM Communications Unit in the Cabinet Office, a propaganda unit for the biotech industry financed by the taxpayer, and propose that the number of large-scale trials be increased from seven to 75, with individual test sites of 125 acres, with a possible total acreage of 9,000 acres (though once discovered the government strenuously denied that they had any such plans). AgrEvo are trying to obtain a commercial licence to sell the products of these 'trials'.

The Field Trial

The alleged purpose of the trial is to compare two otherwise identical crops, one of which is resistant to AgrEvo herbicide Liberty and to study the effect on the surrounding environment.

The trial is seriously flawed. The two strips, GM and non-GM, run along the bottom and top off the hill, exposing the two crops to different soil and drainage conditions. The strips should have run down the hill. Trees in the middle of the field are home to hundreds of species of insects, and cast shade over part of the site. There has been no study of the soil ecology prior to planting, or any other of the many variables to establish a baseline, there will be no long term monitoring after harvest.

There are oil seed rape crops within the pollen radius of the site, which will lead to cross-contamination and genetic pollution. The cynical observer would be well justified in believing that the only purpose of the trial is to cause deliberate genetic pollution.

Bee-keepers have always known that bees will travel miles to oil seed rape, with a consequential ruinous effect on the quality of the honey. Recent research sponsored by BBC Newsnight and Friends of the Earth has confirmed what bee-keepers have always known. Samples were taken during June and July from beehives at various distances from the Watlington field trial. All hives were found to be contaminated with GM pollen.

Of the GM crop trials across the country, at least a third receive no independent monitoring. The government has said that it intends to go ahead with commercial planting, before the crop trials have been fully evaluated.

Spring 2000, it was learnt that at several of the trials where the crops were not performing as expected the results were faked.

Alternative Model Farm

Leading out of the bottom end of the test field and across the road is the Alternative Model Farm.

The previous weekend to the Stop the Crop Rally, a group of people took over a derelict farm house, it literally is falling down, and in a labour of love have established a small organic oasis.

The experiment is likely to be short lived as action is already taking place in the County Court, and they expect eviction to follow soon.

The UK imports 80% of its organic produce and the demand is growing. The government allocates less than 1% of its agricultural budget to organic farmers. A piddling £6 million was allocated for farm conversion, the budget was exhausted within weeks. Meanwhile for the biotech industry and agribusiness the gravy train continues.

Other GM-free Actions

Actions against test sites up and down the country have been taking place. In one night alone, 9 sites were destroyed. The only site of GM trees, near Bracknell, Berkshire, was destroyed a few days before the rally to coincide with a conference on GM trees at Oxford. Action is spreading across Europe, India and the US, inspired by the examples set in the UK.

Protesters at Totnes, Devon, destroyed a GM site that was posing a threat to a neighbouring organic farm, and threatening to destroy the farmer's livelihood. The charges against the Totnes Two were dropped days before the trial began 'for complex reasons the Crown intend to offer no evidence in the above case'. The defence used 'lawful excuse' - that the two were acting to protect a neighbouring organic farmer from genetic pollution, and that bee keepers were likely to suffer heavy financial loss or ruin because of contaminated honey. The prosecution had no arguments to counter this and may have feared a dangerous precedent being set. When a small group of women, Seeds of Hope - East Timor Ploughshares, re-engineered a BAe Hawk ground attack aircraft destined for Indonesia, their defence was that they were acting to prevent a greater crime of genocide in Indonesian occupied East Timor. They were found not guilty.

genetiX snowball have been uprooting token numbers of GM crops in the full glare of publicity. At Cereals 99, in the full glare of publicity, Cereals 99 snowball, uprooted most of the GM sugar beet that was part of the Monsanto stand and placed them in bags for biohazard disposal, they then remained behind to leaflet the attendees and explain the reasons behind their actions. Tony Coombes, head of PR for Monsanto in the UK, physically assaulted one of the protesters.

Monsanto has launched multi-million pound civil lawsuit against the original gXs five, and obtained injunctions. A classic case of Slapp, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Tie protesters in lawsuits, even though you may have no hope of winning. BP tried this with Greenpeace, when they attempted to seize all their assets, then humiliatingly backed down within days when they were hit by environmentalists worldwide. At the High Court in London, where Monsanto expected a push-over, they were in for a shock.

The defence was:

The judge refused to make the temporary injunction permanent as he believed there was a valid public interest defence and ordered there be a full trial later in the year. He refused to grant Monsanto leave to appeal his decision.

Prior to the hearing, Monsanto had attempted to obtain the names and addresses of anyone who had obtained a copy of the excellent gXs Handbook for Action, so that they too could be served with injunctions. This Monsanto dropped.

Outside the court were many mutant vegetables, at least one mutant carrot was seen in court with no objection from the judge. Seize the Day chose the occasion to release their new single 'Food 'n' Health 'n' Hope' (the true story of Monsanto, uncoloured by prejudice or hysteria - song needs Real Audio player).

Monsanto now have the public relations fiasco of a high profile trial at which all their dirty activities will be aired in public and will be every bit as damaging as the McLibel Trial was for McDonald's.

On 28 July 1999, Monsanto and protesters were back in court. Monsanto wanted action against one of the original gXs who they claimed was in contempt of court, and action against other protesters who Monsanto claimed were acting in the name of gXs.

Monsanto claim they want open public debate but their actions belie their words. Worried about the impact of a full trial where all their dirty environmental practices will be on show for all to see, Monsanto are now trying to muzzle the defendants by appealing the original judge's decision to grant a full hearing.

Of the four large-scale GM maize trials, the one at Walnut Tree Farm, Lyng (Norwich, Norfolk) was trashed by Greenpeace on the day following The Organic Picnic (held in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich). In the early hours of the morning, as the sun was breaking through, 30 plus Greenpeace activists, with the aid of a mower, managed to cut down a sizeable proportion of the crop before their activities were stopped by the arrival of the Police (26 July 1999). Homicidal maniacs drove mechanical diggers at the protesters and parked vehicles. Several vehicles were smashed, it was a miracle that no one was maimed or killed. The Police reported no violence on the part of the protesters. Of the protesters arrested and charged, all were released on bail, apart from Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace, who was remanded in gaol until his first court appearance on 5 August 1999. The next day, Peter Melchett was released on bail by the High Court in Norwich. The decision by the local magistrates to incarcerate Melchett can at best be described as churlish, at worst vindictive. Charges have yet to be laid at the farmers for several thousands pounds worth of criminal damage and attempted grievous bodily harm.

Monday 20 September 1999, the Greenpeace defendants appeared before a Magistrates Court and pleased Not Guilty. All elected for trial by jury before the Crown Court.

Wednesday 19 April 2000, the prosecution case against the Greenpeace activists collapsed at Norwich Crown Court. On the charge of theft the defendants were found not guilty, on the charge of criminal damage the jury could not reach a decision and were dismissed by the judge. The judge has granted the prosecution until 3 May 2000 to request a retrial.

The defendants used 'lawful excuse' that is it is lawful to engage in damage to property if by doing so you are acting in good faith to prevent damage to other property. Norwich Crown Court has given the green light to GM crop trashers.

T25 maize, the same as being trialed in England by AgrEvo, has been banned in Switzerland. An official report concluded that 'harmlessness to humans and the environment has not been adequately proven and the risk cannot be sufficiently reduced by technical means'. The Swiss have two concerns: T25 maize will confer herbicide resistance through cross-contamination and create superweeds; T25 maize contains a antibiotic resistance gene which will lead to a worsening of the already growing problem of antibiotic resistant superbugs.

29 July 1999, three days after the Greenpeace action, GM sugar beet at Fakenham, Norfolk was destroyed.

The eco-actions in Norfolk occurred 450 years after Robert Kett, a local Norfolk landowner, became concerned in the Summer of 1549 at the deprivation he saw as the consequence of local enclosures of common land. He was to lead a peasant army of 20,000, tearing down fences, filling in ditches and returning land to common ownership. They held sway for 2 months, until he was defeated at Norwich by hired mercenaries.

31 July 1999, a week after the Greenpeace action, an attack was launched on a farm north of Lincoln (Home Farm, Spital-in-the-Street, near Caenby Corner). Unfortunately although the activists targeted the right farm (hosting one of the large-scale GM maize trials) they attacked the wrong field and destroyed a field of winter fodder maize. There is some controversy as to whether the right field was attacked, farmer Ronald Duguid says not, DNA tests indicate the field was GM. A couple of days later 46 activist appeared in the Magistrates Court in Lincoln. Stringent bail conditions were set - activists not allowed to set foot in the County of Lincolnshire (a 100 metre exclusion zone around the attacked farm would have been sufficient), Melanie Jarman and two others were remanded in custody until the next hearing. All bar one, were later released. A plea hearing took place 13 September 1999. January 2000, 21 of the defendants were fined, those with no previous convictions for direction action given a 12 month conditional discharge, and 9 of the defendants bound over for 12 months.

Home Farm will be the site of a 25 acre oil seed rape GM trial. One of the four new trials the government announced on 16 August 1999.

Biotech AGMs have been targeted. Prior to the AstraZeneca AGM, their HQ was occupied and the outside daubed with rotten tomatoes (AstraZeneca were the first to introduced GM tomatoes to Europe). At the AGM, shareholders were refused admission unless they showed an ID (which is probably an infringement of company law). Nevertheless, sufficient numbers gained admission to ask embarrassing questions. Two protester made it to the platform, one re-engineered the chairman's microphone, another handcuffed herself to a chair before both were ejected. Outside the AGM, campaigners in decontamination suits handed out leaflets to shareholders.

More and more landowners are saying no to GM test trials being held on their land. Even farmers who have agreed to allow trials on their land, have, on having second thoughts, said no.

There has been a mass boycott of all GM foods. All major supermarkets have been forced to withdrew GM foods from their shelves, all major food processors have been forced to eliminate GM ingredients.

A National GMO Rally took place on the first day day of the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth (26 September 1999). 400 hundred or more people, many dressed as animals, marched from Merrick Park to the conference centre. Outside the centre the protesters listened to a rousing speech from the veteran Labour MP Tony Benn. Handing in a petition containing over 17,000 signatures calling for a ban on GMOs in animal feed, the protesters moved on to the sea front, where they heard more speakers, including the geneticist Mae-Wan Ho who exposed the lie of there being no known dangers from GMOs.

Future GM-free Actions

Three of the large-scale field trials down, four to go.

The government response has been to announce (16 August 1999) four more large-scale trials of GM oil seed rape - Home Farm, Spital-in-the-Street, Glentham (north of Lincoln), Lincolnshire (SK 97 90); The Old Rectory, Croxby, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire (TF 19 96); Home Farm, Screveton, Bingham, Nottinghamshire (SK 74 47); Wood Farm, Dodds Lane, Piccots End, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire (TL 06 11). 75 additional large-scale trials are expected to be announced soon.

A legal challenge by Friends of the Earth has forced a postponement of the four oil seed rape trials and may result in at least a one year delay. AgrEvo have failed to obtain proper regulatory authority for the new trials. They have tried to piggy-back onto the back of existing licences. If AgrEvo cannot be trusted to comply with the regulatory regime, how can they be trusted not to rig the trials as well?

Following discussions with local people and FoE, farmer David Rose has pulled his Nottinghamshire farm out of the winter oil seed rape trials (September 1999). Of the four recently announced AgrEvo trials, one down, three to go.

Friday 10 September 1999, following a couple of weeks delay due to ongoing legal action AgrEvo went ahead with three of its large-scale oil seed rape trials - two in Lincolnshire, one in Hertfordshire (the farmer in Nottinghamshire had pulled out of the trial following local opposition). The government reiterated its intent to go ahead with a further 75 large-scale GM field trials. A week later Michael Meacher admitted that AgrEvo had acted illegally, though tried to claim they had 'acted in good faith'.

Dark hints of a special police squad to be trained to handle protesters. Police are to target and disrupt environmental groups. MI5 F Branch is to target and infiltrate environmental and other subversive groups who pose a threat to society.

Renegade scientists in the pocket of Big Business are pressurising the government for all future trials to be carried out at secret locations.

With their threats to pull out of the UK if their crops continue to be trashed, biotech companies appear to be deliberately encouraging the destruction of their GM field trials. But where would they go? Like fugitives on the run they will find they have no place to hide. India doesn't want them, nor does Europe, Rio Grande do Sul, the southern most state in Brazil and a major soya growing area, has declared itself a GM-free zone, other Brazilian states are expected to follow suit, even in the US, where they will eat any garbage, people are starting to wake up to the reality of GM crops and farmers are finding their mutant produce no longer has a guaranteed market.

Spring 2000, 30 more large-scale field trials were announced.

The message that has been sent loud and clear to the biotech industry, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and the WTO is that we do not want GM food and will not stomach it.

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Paul Waugh, Police alert as GM trial sites named, The Independent, 17 August 1999

Marie Woolf, Cautious Swiss ban GM crop on trial in Britain, The Independent on Sunday, 25 July 1999

Marie Woolf & Geoffrey Lean, GM police to guard crop trials, The Independent on Sunday, 15 August 1999

Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy, Seven Stories Press, 1997

Further information on the situtaion at Watlington may be obtained from:
Oxy-gene, Box W, 111 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RQ
tel/fax +44-1865-724-024
Genetic Engineering Network, PO Box 9656, London, N4 4JY
tel +44-181-374-9516

Gaia index ~ Genetic Engineering ~ Direct Action
(c) Keith Parkins 1999-2000 -- April 2000 rev 15