RTF gathering in Scotland: summary of events

From 22-24th August 2014 Reclaim the Fields Scotland hosted a UK gathering at Monimail in Fife.

Monimail is a small community living in a beautiful walled garden and orchard set around a medieval tower. Those living at Monimail grow all their own fresh produce, as was evident by the huge vegetables, manage a small wood for fuel and wildlife and look after the walls and the tower. Monimail is an environmental charity which offers opportunities for people to learn about organic gardening and low-impact, sustainable, communal living. They also host WWOOFers. Monimail was a great venue for the gathering, having inside and outside spaces so that we could hold several workshops simultaneously, a covered outside kitchen space and we set up a mini cinema. We ate well all weekend from the Monimail garden and other produce people had brought along.

The gathering was self-organised. This meant that everything happened through our collective involvement. So there was a board to write up when and where someone would like to host a workshop, one for cooking/washing up and a donations box so that we could meet costs communally. Each morning we got together to discuss plans for the day and people could chip in with what they would like to do. We think that this worked well, everyone chipped in with cooking and washing up etc. making it run like a well-oiled machine. Still, this is an area to work on and make gatherings more self-organised.

We got plenty of sunshine over the weekend so we crammed in some lounging around and volley ball, then finished off the days with outside films and a fire.

Workshops galore

We had so many workshops! Here’s a quick run-down of what went on.

Energy, independence and land reform – discussing the realities of our energy use, impact on climate change and the potential for a low-carbon future. Lead by folks from Biofuel Watch.
The Land Question – an introduction to land ownership and the problems it causes.
Garden tour – a tour of the Monimail garden and discussion about growing.
Intro to La via Campesina and Land Workers Alliance – which lead to a discussion
Bee keeping – how to harvest wild comb
Free software – in introduction and discussion on free software
Mushroom growing basics – Monimail resident showed us how to grow oyster mushrooms.
Scything – created several expert scythers.
Herbal medicine – an introduction on how to prepare herbal remedies and a walk round the garden to discuss different plants.
Sustaining resistance – a quick intro to looking after ourselves in activism.
Seed sovereignty – a detailed introduction by a Crofting Federation member.
Connecting children with nature – an intro to the theory and practice of play and child-led learning
T-shirt printing – giving us all a great RTF t-shirt
Communal living – a photo tour and conversation on communal living in the UK by Diggers and Dreamers.
Rhythms of resistance – the protest drumming group got everyone to the beat
Connecting with the elements – tools for returning to what we stand for and remembering our individual and collective vision of what is possible

We also had a facilitated discussion session to bring out the issues people attending the gathering felt were important for the movement which includes RTF. The first session was a discussion split into groups covering the topics of ‘where are we now?’ ‘what do we want to do?’ and ‘what is the RTF context?’ We split into three groups in the second session to discuss the main points from the first, falling broadly into three categories:

Networking (RTF and wider) – what’s there and how to improve our networks

Community – organising, ownership and action

Direct action – land squat possibilities

Networking

Here are the outcomes of the networking discussion:

  • The RTF Scotland email list needs more clarity on how people can post to this list and we also need to bring new people to the list.
  • RTF UK website needs more regular posts. We plan to get contributions from groups in the RTF network, make the website more visible and post something on the gathering.
  • To contribute and promote the EU bulletin, write something up for this on the gathering.
  • Create a map of places and projects currently happening in Scotland for the website.
  • We need more clarity on what we want RTF Scotland to be. This will come by getting feedback from those on the list and groups/places in Scotland who are connected in some way to RTF
  • Link RTF up with other networks in Scotland, we drew up a list of networks.
  • In general we need to energise the network, bring new people and be more involved in the wider EU network.

Sustainable Community Organising

The group talked about:

Crofting

This is a system of tenure/small-scale food production unique to Scotland. A crofter is usually a tenant but some have purchased their crofts. Rent is paid only for the land, improvements are provided by the cofter. Crofting is characterised by its common working communities, or ‘townships’.  Individual crofts are established on the better land, and poorer hill ground is shared. In this way, the model promotes individual and collective responsibilities. The Scottish Crofting Federation is the largest association of small scale food producers in the UK.

Food sovereignty/community food production

We discussed the Fife Diet movement and the challenges they are currently experiencing establishing a community food coop: www.fifediet.co.uk/fife-food-coop

We discussed the benefits of linking up/supporting smaller producers to increase viability/sustainability, e.g. Skye and Lochalsh Food Link Van.

Grass roots community organising

We discussed some of the challenges faced by groups/practitioners/activists in building sustainable communities and agreed that sustainable solutions must come from communities themselves and be based on existing needs/strengths/challenges.

The community garden project in Glespin (RTF project in South Lanarkshire) has been a positive example of engaging the local community.

Young people were identified as potentially playing an important role in helping to generate energy and resources for community projects.

Example given of ACORN, which supports low-income community struggles/movements in the UK: http://www.acornbristol.org.uk/

This discussion poses the question of what role RTF Scotland could play in supporting communities to organise sustainably? Where and how should our energies be directed, and to what end?

We also talked about non-ownership, new energy to support existing groups/struggles and practical food growing.

Info stall

We had a zine stall set up for the weekend with RTF bulletins, the Scottish RTF zine and heaps of other zines and information people attending the gathering brought along. The info stall was a great point for people to distribute their writings and let people know about the RTF network in Europe. We have some zines left to take to the next gathering. The tea urn was also there so it naturally became a hang-out.

Reflections

Feedback from the gathering in general has been that it was great overall. The atmosphere was very social and relaxed. There was a good mix of thinking and doing workshops and nice social element in the evening. It was great to get together to share in issues that are close to our hearts and learn a few more skills and bits and pieces of information.

The venue was great. This made things pretty easy in that we had good spaces for several workshops at the same time and a good cooking space, plus fresh veg from the garden. The weather was decent which helped, meaning that we could do outside activities with no bother, including volleyball! We got a load of outcomes from the main discussion session, which is useful to take RTF Scotland forward.

We didn’t have loads of people, but a pretty good number (about 40) to make it work well. There were old and new faces, we linked up RTF folks from around the UK (plus Belgium) and made some good connections with like minded people across Scotland. It would be good to draw in more people next time, including those which aren’t from the usual crowd. To do this we need to build up the RTF network and presence, so that people are aware of RTF and what the network does. The website worked well, but we need to work on social media.
Organising was by a small number of people, but we managed to keep work pretty minimal, particularly due to the venue. People took part during the weekend, although it could be more ‘self-organising.’ Need to work on involving people in the process and making them feel like it is a gathering run by everyone.

Thoughts for future gatherings are that it would be good to have a more focussed gathering concentrating on one issue and with an explicit aim. Suggestions also include: building infrastructure that would be useful in a land squat; focussing the gathering around doing work for the venue.

So thanks to everyone who came along to the gathering. We all met some new people which is the best thing about these events. Let’ss get on with strengthening the network!

With love from RTF Scotland.

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National Parks the reserve of the rich

The rich can afford to live in the beautiful countryside. And it edges people without the funds out, creating upper class bubbles of Range Rovers and horses paddocks.

horseandcastleA report by Lloyds bank found that house prices in the National Parks of the UK are £125,000 higher than the average, which equates to a premium of 58% to live in the most beautiful spots. The average National Parks house price of £342,534 is a whopping 10.8 times higher than average annual earnings. This has rocketed up from 7.7 times in 2002. This is speculation driven by the attractiveness of setting, and you can guarantee that many of the houses will be unoccupied for much of the year as second homes and holiday homes.

This report comes at a time when there is apparently a serious housing shortage, one that is even more extreme in the countryside. 160,000 households are on the waiting list for council housing across Scotland and this figure is projected to rise as demolition and right-to-buy continue to reduce social housing whilst there is a deficit in building new homes. The provision of social housing is seriously under the national figure in rural Scotland and research has found that houses in the countryside are more likely to be damp and in a state of disrepair. Private estates, which account for 83.1% of rural land in Scotland command most of the land and therefore places where people might live. Such estates currently let in excess of 15,000 houses, which equates to roughly one house every 175 hectares. That’s not exactly flooding the market. So whilst the landed class have the luxury of several houses and a large manner house surrounded by an estate, those on low incomes have to make do with damp, shoddy rentals or move to the urban areas.

Such edging people out of the countryside, and cramming everyone into impoverished urban areas is no new thing. The rich have been capturing the beautiful countryside for themselves for centuries. Deer forests are a particularity Scottish affair which have had major repercussions for the people and natural environment of rural Scotland. Ahead of his time, The Earl of Fife banned hunting by locals in the Forest of Mar in the 18th Century so that he could have exclusive rights to game. Shortly after the people were cleared from the Glens completely, to make this a wild and unpopulated shooting paradise. This preserve of the rich was a glimpse into the future for much of Highland Scotland. Queen Victoria bought Balmoral Castle and estate in 1852 to create a deer forest sparking a fashionable Victorian trend. As a result, the immense wealth of the Victorian elite carried on the emptying of the Highlands which occurred during the Clearances. Shockingly this is still the primary land use in rural Scotland today – 2.1 million hectares, equating to more than 50% of privately rural owned land, is used for country sports.

Ironically whilst preserving the most stunning areas of the natural environment for themselves, the rich have simultaneously been destroying it. The prevalence of deer forests has resulted in a massive overpopulation of deer, rising from 150,000 in 1965 to 350,000 today in Highlands. Such over-abundance of herbivores, with no natural predators, has resulted in the continued erosion of our ancient woodland and created a monoculture of heather moorland over much of the Highlands. This is a famous scene – the wide open heather covered Glen, bereft of lowly people – but one that is entirely synthetic, maintained by destructive management regimes such as heather burning. A recent addition to the scene has been the proliferation of industrial scale wind farms on some of Scotland’s remotest landscapes. The building of such developments, thinly disguised as saving the ‘environment’ by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not only continues the theme of emptying the natural environment for the benefit of the few, but also finances the whole affair. It is estimated that wind farms provide the landowning class with an annual windfall of £2 billion.

It comes back around for the wealthy. By scrabbling to buy the hottest destinations they continually bump up the prices which makes them all richer when the value of their property assets climb ever higher. People on low incomes are forced away from the beautiful places, which become the preserve and the fortunes of the elite. The monopoly of land ownership which results has implications far beyond houses being expensive. It is acknowledged that our economy is dangerously tied to speculation on housing prices, which hit home hard during the recession but hasn’t changed one bit. And who would have guessed that those who suffer most from austerity measures are those living in poverty? There may even be deep routed psychological effects: Lesley Riddoch suggests that working class people automatically shun spending time in the countryside because it is the preserve of the rich. A disconnection with the natural world resulting from dispossession.

Put your money in land, that’s what they say. Put it in beautiful land and you will be rich in the future since other people will do the same. And don’t worry, because there won’t be any common muck to worry you, they were removed long ago. Your ancestors made sure of that.

Johnny Marten      October 2014

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Comment: Scottish independence referendum

Now that the dust has settled, after all that we have gone through, what are we left with? Did we get any closer to getting what we want? To knowing what we want?

freescotlandThe referendum brought some truths about Scottish people to the fore. The spectrum of grass-roots organising showed how diverse we are across the country. People rallied from all avenues to shout their support for autonomy; it was a triumph against the homogeny prescribed by the British state. It was hugely inspiring to read online the broad spectrum of places people came from to reach their decision. Their journeys were unique, defined by roots, geographic locality and personal experiences. Scotland is after all a synthetic construct in the same way that the UK is, forged by power and greed in times of yore. The needs of the counties and urban centres and rural communities and in-betweens are starkly different – and so they should be. Diversity is a positive thing for our culture, economy and ideologies.

So it is a wonder that so much diversity came together in one vision. A mish-mash of hopes and dreams focussed on the same tangible thing. At the core of it we were all set out to tackle the same deep-seeded issues: the abject poverty, extreme inequality, dispossession and disempowerment are plain to see. So if the referendum has shown us that we are all different then it also has shown us that in some ways at least we are all the same. The Yes campaign was defined by unlikely comrades and surprising unity. The grass-roots voices of the independence charge prove that there is much common ground amongst diverse voices. Even across the ideological yes/no line many people voted with hopes of more power to the people of Scotland, for increasing self-determination via a ‘devo-max’ but concerned about going the whole hog. There was even some shared ideology amongst the entire electorate; despite the split result more than 80% of people in Scotland who could vote voted because they felt that their opinion mattered. We agreed that we should all have a say.

This all reveals that we need to search for ideals that are universal across the political and social spectrum in order to create a common good. We need answers that run deep within human nature to resolve our shared issues and provide self-determination. For hundreds of years people have hoped that independence for Scotland will bring us control over our own lives and that would make our lives better. Is this where we can find the root to our common quest? Burns asked “where is thy soul of freedom…?”

Birth-right in land

People have been asking the same questions we asked during the run-up to the referendum for some time. In 1689 John Locke wrote an anonymous letter entitled Two Treatises of Government which was to become outlawed and associated with the American and French revolution. In it he stated that “men [and women], having been once born have a right to their preservation, and consequently to… things as Nature affords for their subsistence.”

Locke clearly felt that people deserve and have a right to a fair use of the earth, and that this is necessary for self-determination. He was not the first or the last to utter such sentiments. In 1775, in a speech which had him expelled from the Newcastle philosophers, Thomas Spence said that “[all people should] have as equal and just a property in land as they have in liberty, air of the light and heat of the sun.” This was Spence’s ticket to universal freedom, a natural right like others we take for granted.

So just as the question is centuries old, the answer has been uttered down the ages. True self-determination requires a fair right to the things of life; a birthright in land. That “every man [or woman] has a right to an equal share of the soil, in its original state” proclaimed Scotland’s William Ogilvie in 1782 in his Essay on the Right of Property in Land. “The earth having been given to mankind in common occupancy, each individual seems to have by nature a right to possess and cultivate an equal share.”

So in organising, debating with friends, discussing on facebook and shouting at politicians what are we working towards with attempting to gain self-determination? Where are we going with a call for independence and the fall-out of a ‘no’ vote? “It is not enough that men [or women] should vote” stated Henry George in his 1879 socio-economic epic Progress and Poverty. “It is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature…. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of the centuries.”

If we all truly desire equality and liberty – a meaningful self-determination – then we must recognise a birthright in land as essential to this task. Recognise that everyone on this piece of rock, whether you consider that Scotland or something else, deserves the “right to their preservation”. That we have all found ourselves, through the immense improbability of creation, on this earth and for that simple fact we all deserve fair use of what can be produced from the soil. We need to bring a birthright in land to the debate. The earth beneath our feet is the most basic of all requirements, the most vital for all our needs, but so unjustly divided up and so bizarrely accepted by society. This is the ancient elephant in the room.

So as Henry George insists, to achieve self-determination we don’t just need a vote for an independent Scotland, we need to express a natural right to land. This doesn’t mean the same use of land; it doesn’t mean everybody growing vegetables; it doesn’t mean partitioning into equal chunks. It means that many more people should have access to land; that access to land would encourage creativity and ingenuity; that the acute concentration of land ownership drives extreme inequality. Give people access to that which is held unfairly by so few and see what they can do for themselves. That is what will reduce inequality and empower people and that is what we want.

Whether you voted yes or no you did so to express a basic right, one on a list of undeniable rights. Add a birthright in land to that list. It may well be the answer to our questions.

Johnny Marten

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RTF gathering in Scotland – some photos and feedback

gathering montage

Dear all,

Thanks for coming along to the gathering. Here are a few photos of the gathering and a quick summary of events. For those of you who didn’t make it read on and we’ll get you next time.

Monimail tower was a great venue, amazing garden with huge vegetables, well worth a visit if you didn’t make it along.  We ate well the whole weekend cooking lots of fresh veggies and apples and plums from the orchard. The gathering was self-organised so everyone chipped in with cooking and washing etc. making it run like a well-oiled machine. Thanks to all! We got plenty of sunshine over the weekend so we crammed in some lounging around and volley ball, then finished off the day with outside films and a fire.

Workshops galore

We had a great line-up of workshops starting with DIY mushroom growing and ending in a discussion on free software.  Others included sustaining resistance, connecting with the elements, the land question, connecting children with nature and rhythms of resistance.  There was a great mix of workshops and it feels like we only just got started on these subjects.  For the full list visit http://rtfgatheringscotland.weebly.com/whats-on.html. Get in touch if you want to know more about any of the workshops that took place and we’ll send your email on to the right person.

If anybody would like to feed back from a workshop then just email the list at your leisure.  recalimthefieldsscotland@lists.noflag.org.uk

The zine stall was a great point for people to distribute their writings and let people know about the RTF network in Europe. The tea urn was also there so it naturally became a hang-out. Check out the RTF bulletins which have all sorts about what’s going on in Europe and summary of EU gatherings at http://www.reclaimthefields.org/content/bulletins. There are plans for the next RTF Scotland zine, get in touch if you would like to get involved in writing, drawing or puting together.

The main discussion was an open, facilitated session to bring out the issues people attending the gathering felt were important for the movement which includes Reclaim the Fields. We split into three groups in the second session to discuss:

Networking (RTF and wider) – what’s there and how to improve our networks
Community – organising, ownership and action
Direct action – land squat possibilities

Notes were taken from these discussions and those who have taken it on will feed them back to the group – so look out for updates.

Reflections

It’s good to reflect on the things that we do. A few of us will be getting our heads together to discuss the ups and downs, and where to go next. Get in touch if you would like to help out with this.

It was great to meet up with you all, and to see some new faces too.  See you at the next RTF Scotland event, watch this space!

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Workshops announced for summer gathering

Help out monimail with practical workshops

Monimail Tower Project is a small environmental organisation that carries out gardening and woodland work as well as maintaining the 16th Century Tower. The project occupies a beautiful 16 acre site in North East Fife comprising of four acres of walled gardens, 12.5 acres of surrounding woodland.  Read more

The Land Question workshop

Scotland today remains semi-medieval with roughly half of the private land owned by just 432 people – the highest concentration of land ownership in the developed world.  The aristocracy – old money who plundered their way to power in story-book times – still rein strong: it is estimated that at least 25% of estates of over 1000 acres have been held by the same family for over 200 years.  And the private sector owns 83% of Scotland’s total land area. Read more

https://rtfgatheringscotland.weebly.com

RTF Summer Gathering

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Free-trade deal threatens UK Food Security

Farmers and growers from the Landworkers’ Alliance will protest in London on the 12th July calling for the free trade negotiations between the EU and the US to be scrapped.

The controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the biggest bilateral trade deal in history but negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. They aim to ‘harmonise’ standards and regulations, which will mean a shift towards the lowest common denominator, with serious repercussions for farmer’s livelihoods and public health.

If the corporations involved get their way we will see the increasing import of inferior produce into the EU which will depress prices for farmers. Furthermore, important health and safety standards are at risk with US negotiators pushing to remove regulations on Genetically Modified foods, increase the quantity of pesticide residues permitted and allow the use of dangerous chemicals, antibiotics and growth hormones previously banned in the EU.

“The EU’s pre-negotiation concession to allow imports of American beef decontaminated with lactic acid spray is indicative of what is to come – quality in farming and food processing will be driven down into a race to the bottom with farmers and the public loosing out” said Humphery Lloyd a grower and member of the Landworkers’ Alliance.

“This agreement is shaping up to be a hand out to corporations at the expense of public health and food security. If we degrade our import standards in line with the demands consumers will have more than just chlorine soaked chicken to worry about – this will force farmers out of business and seriously erode UK food sovereignty. We demand that the government stops selling out UK farmers and consumers in these negotiations.”

The LWA is a member of the international peasant farming movement La Via Campesina which represents 200 million small-scale producers around the world. We campaign for the rights of small-scale producers and lobby the UK government and European parliament for policies that support the infrastructure and markets central to our livelihoods.

Interviews and photos 12:30pm, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 1 Victoria Street, SW1H 0ET, London

e: LWApress@riseup.net
w: landworkersalliance.org.uk

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Latest News from Yorkley Court defending land against illegal eviction

There has been a 48 hour stand off between private security contractors and residents & supporters of Yorkley Court Community Farm.

Legal updates
The legal injunction against the security firm could not go through this morning because there was not a judge with sufficient qualification/power/experience to make a decision
It is likely the injunction will go through just after 10am tomorrow

Policing & Security
There was a larger police presence today
Roadblocks on both ends of the road managed by the police to reduce traffic passing the side
New shift of cops at 8pm & shift change 8am

The site is well defended with barricades & other tools. There are growing numbers of people but more are needed.

What you can do in solidarity

Get to the site if you can!

Bring food/snacks/water

Donate:  http://www.gofundme.com/aonxpo

Background:

In the early hours of Monday morning, police and private security thugs decended, without prior Notice (a legal requirement), upon the peaceful peasants living on the land, and growing food at Yorkley Court. This outragous, competely unlawful act of aggression came without warning, whilst Yorkley Court Farm are fully engaged with the District Council in their planning process, and were looking likely to be granted the initial stages of planning permission during the coming weeks. We’re not sure what exactly the Council, no doubt in colusion with certain private business interests think they’re doing, more information as we get it. Please come and help us stop this illegal eviction attempt

http://yorkleycourt.wordpress.com/

How to get there: Head to Yorkley, near Lydney in Gloucestershire.

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URGENT support needed at Yorkley Court Farm

**Support needed now – Please get the the site**

Bailiffs attempted an illegal eviction at Yorkley Court Community Farm this morning & are still there and its likely they will try something on the bottom strip tonight.


More people are urgently needed to defend the land.

Even if you can just get there for a few hours, it helps to have as many people as possible on site.

Background:

In the early hours of this morning, police and private security thugs decended, without prior Notice (a legal requirement), upon the peaceful peasants living on the land, and growing food at Yorkley Court. This outragous, competely unlawful act of aggression came without warning, whilst Yorkley Court Farm are fully engaged with the District Council in their planning process, and were looking likely to be granted the initial stages of planning permission during the coming weeks. We’re not sure what exactly the Council, no doubt in colusion with certain private business interests think they’re doing, more information as we get it. Please come and help us stop this illegal eviction attempt

 http://yorkleycourt.wordpress.com/

How to get there: Head to Yorkley, near Lydney in Gloucestershire. See a map below.

Site mobile: 07784887895

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Who Owns Britain? Bristol Teach-In with Kevin Cahill

On Saturday 12th July 2014 The Land Is Ours in conjunction with Bristol Housing Action Movement presents………

Former Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ journalist Kevin Cahill is the author of ‘Who Owns Britain’. Beginning at 1pm he will discuss & explain the inequalities of land ownership in the British Isles and former empire. After a break at 2pm Kevin will answer your questions. Venue opens for refreshments at 12 noon… social until 5-6pm.

VENUE: Trinity Community Arts, Trinity Centre, Trinity Road, Bristol  BS2 0NW

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Soil Summer School

Soil Summer School

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