Sunday 5 November 2017

Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and Fracking Protectors meet to celebrate the past, present and future of the amazing world renowned heritage known as Sherwood Forest.

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Charter of the Forest (November 6, 1217) was celebrated at the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, where the legendary Robin Hood resided. The celebration was co-ordinated by local anti-fracking groups.

“It was a provision of the Charter of the Forest to get rid of the Sheriff of Nottingham [Robin Hood’s foe],” said Julie Timbrell, New Putney Debates activist, making the link.

She pointed out that the 1217 Charter of the Forest re-established the rights of ordinary people to use the land for their own purpose, but that nowadays politics was moving in the opposite direction. The National Government has passed legislation making it difficult to oppose companies that promote seismic testing, test drilling and eventually hydraulic fracturing.

There are plans to establish a gas field across Nottinghamshire and the North of England and INEOS have been licensed to frack under Sherwood Forest and are undertaking seismic testing. INEOS have taken out injunctions in an attempt to prevent local Protectors from defending their environmental and cultural heritage.

Robin Hood, his Merry Men and Women celebrated the 800 year-anniversary of the Charter of the Forest with songs and performance by Three Acres & A Cow, a musical group which is part of the Land Justice Network. Many anti-fracking Land & Water Protectors dressed as their favourite character from the myths and legends of Robin Hood, assembled at the Major Oak  at noon for singing and short talks on the history of the land rights and the contemporary threat of fracking.

Gathering in front of the Major Oak, protesting the silencing by INEOS injunctions

No Fracking way INEOS

South Forest Leisure Centre 2-5pm

The importance of the Charter of the Forest to commoners was later explained at a meeting in nearby Edwinstowe. “It was the first charter of the propertyless,” declared Professor Guy Standing, author of Basic Income And How We Can Make It Happen.

“The Magna Carta was all about property rights. The Charter of the Forest gave all the land back that William the Conqueror and King John had enclosed and taken from the commons. It was a class based charter, and was only passed because the king, Henry III, was only ten years old and guided by his regent, William Marshall. The king was furious when he became an adult and made hundreds of attempts to revoke it, but failed.

“It lasted for 754 years, longer than any other, and was only repealed in 1971 by the Heath government. Originally it had to be read out four times a year in every church so commoners were aware of their rights.

“It was the first charter in history to give every man, woman and child the right to subsistance. This included the right to fish, and collect peat and clay, and wood.

“It was also the first environmental charter in history,” continued Prof Standing. “Principles of stewardship, preserving the commons rather than depleting them, and reproducing were all contained in it.”

Peter Linebaugh & Guy Standing

Its importance for the “restoration and reparation of the forest” was also stressed by Professor Peter Linebaugh, author of Magna Carta Manifesto. “The Charter of the Forest was all about returning what you have taken,” he said.

It allowed commoners to have wood from the forest to build roofs and as fuel for warmth, use pastures for their cattle, and put their pigs out from September to November.

He read a passage from the memoirs of land reformer Thomas Spence (1750-1814) who proclaimed “the land is the people’s farm” to be shared equally.

Spence related collecting nuts in the forest belonging to the Duke of Portland, when he was challenged by a forester for trespassing. The nuts belonged to the duke, he was told. Spence responded by suggesting he challenge squirrels for the same “offence”. As far as Spence was concerned it was first come, first served, and the duke would have to act sharpish if he wanted any nuts.

The charter was also the first to end capital punishment for a particular crime, concluded the professor, in this case for illegally killing deer.

The Rev Deborah Hodson, an inter-faith vicar, said that one of her ancestors took part in the Pentrich Rising of 1817 when several hundred quarrymen and ironworkers set out on a march to Nottingham, armed with pikes, scythes with a series of demands for change. The uprising was thwarted in part by the collusion of local landowners with the justice system, and her ancestor was one of the three that were hanged. A descendant of that landowner is party to the present plans to frack Sherwood Forest, she said. She read out a poem from her nieces and nephews about the forest.


Mothiur Rahma

Mothiur Rahman, of the Falkirk Community Charter, spoke about the lessons from the successful anti-fracking and extreme energy extraction movement  in Scotland. This was developed with local people, he said. He was part of the legal team that organized an objection to the planning process.

The team noticed that the corporation planning to undertake coal bed methane extraction had provided documentation for the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) that stated that there was no local heritage, interpreting this narrowly as meaning only historic buildings. The legal team utilised European guidance which defines heritage more widely. They used this legal tack to develop a community charter to setting out the community assets.


The Falkirk Community Charter opening paragraphs declare:

“ Our Cultural Heritage to be the sum total of the local tangible and intangible assets we have collectively agreed to be fundamental to the health and well-being of our present and future generations. These constitute an inseparable ecological and socio-cultural fabric that sustains life, and which provides us with the solid foundations for building and celebrating our homes, families, community and legacy within a healthy, diverse, beautiful and safe natural environment.”

 The charter was adopted by several local Community Councils and local people. During the Scottish Independence movement the charter was used an example of government that represented the will of the people, and used to advocate for anti-fracking pro-democracy position,  in opposition to what was largely perceived as the elitist (and pro fracking) agenda of Westminster.  A local protector asked about the possibility of using this approach in Sherwood. Mothiur said he was now based in Devon, and was part of a national fracking network that can share skills which could support the development of a charter approach in Sherwood.

Joe Boyd, the main defendant in the injunction obtained by the multi-national, INEOS, denounced the attempt to stop the actions as an affront to “our right to lawful protest”. The injunction had implications for the ability of all campaigners in general to protest against the conduct of giant corporate firms.

Joe Boyd

Addressed to “persons unknown”, it applies to all protesters and warns that they face being imprisoned, fined or having their assets seized if they obstruct the firm`s fracking operations.

The injunction specifically prohibits protesters from walking slowly in front of lorries to delay deliveries, a common campaigning tactic. Breaching the injunction could lead to a charge of contempt of court and a prison sentence of 6 months and/or a fine of £5,000.

He appealed for support and for funds as he could face a large bill if he loses.


Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

Section of the audience at South Forest Leisure Centre


Three Acres and a Cow lead a sing-a-long





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