BILSTON WOODS: THE ONLY CAMP IN THE WORLD WITH AN ECO WARRIOR SO CLEAN HE'S CALLED SHINY
These guardians of the woods insist they're no regular 'bunch of hippies
By Annie Brown
THE protesters in the woodland camp at Bilston Glen are watching their third summer draw to a close and looking forward to the autumn.
Soon there will be another carpet of leaves on the ground once earmarked for a tarmac strip of the A701.
Every passing season is symbolic for the campaigners who have helped to halt the bulldozing of the ancient wood between Edinburgh and Penicuik.
And their protest site has become a peaceful, other-worldly haven.
Through a metal gate and down a little path, the arch of a sandstone bridge forms the opening to the makeshift village in among the trees.
Wandering in feels like intruding on a den, a dark hideaway where tree houses creak and groan 30ft above the ground. Hand-painted signs point the way to the camp's centre, a clearing with a roaring fire and a huddle of people and dogs.
They're used to visitors here and, while the natives are a little wary, they are friendly.
Kevin, a dreadlocked, dusty inhabitant for the last three years, susses people out but insists the woods are not his to hog. He said: "I wouldn't be here if the locals in the village of Bilston didn't want us. Like us, they don't want these woods to disappear. So we co-exist pretty well." The woods are on a Site of Special Scientific Interest and are home to rare wildflowers, oaks, yews and ferns.
Rumour has it that William Wallace once hid out at Bilston.
The local kids have always used it and now they come and play in a big net lashed between trees.
There are open days one Sunday a month, but visiting this primitive enclave and living in it are very different things.
A few miles from Scotland's sophisticated capital, this band of 20 or so function happily with no running water, electricity or bricks and mortar.
There are 15 tree houses, one of which is communal as well as a food store and a kitchen, all constructed from wood, tarpaulin and corrugated iron.
The wooden food store had a sign warning of the "shaky floor, no dancing" but had its own double glazing, or at least a couple of windows thrown out by a glazier. Two large chillers, rescued from a dump, were crammed with fruit, vegetables, pork pies and whipped cream, all carefully selected from supermarket skips.
With stores throwing out food just because it looks tired, some very nice treats from Marks& Spencer have sizzled on the camp fire.
A list of rules stipulate that the food is for all, but that the stores must be kept tidy because the "pesky" rats are great climbers. John, one of the long-term campaigners, used to live in a home-made shelter on the ground until he woke up one night with a rat licking his chin.
In the 21st century, when living among nature and the elements arouses suspicion, the community at Bilston Woods is aware that it appears odd to the outside world.
But they seem so contented that maybe they're not so crazy after all.
As a cold wind blasts the trees, Kevin takes in a gulp of air and smiles.
"It's good for you," he said." In Siberia, they live until they're really old.
EWAN,a very neat, conventional looking 30-year-old, says he's never been healthier in his life. He came across the campwhenhewas out for a walk in the country.
Ewanhadbeen living in Edinburgh and studying web design, but he gave it all up and has been at the camp since January. He said: "I was trying to get a job working in an office because I thought that waswhat I wanted. But it wasn't.
"I lived a typical bachelor life, coming home, chucking a ready-made meal in the oven and plonking myself in front of the television.
"It is a lot healthier here, I can't believe how much stronger I feel. I feel more of a sense of purpose than ever."
He doesn't drink or smoke and treats the campaign like a job. The others call him Shiny because he looks so clean.
He admitted: "The dirt bothered me at first and I used to wash my hands religiously.
"But after a while, you have to accept that it's a wood and everything is going to get covered in bird c**p."
He fills a bowl of water to wash his hands, face and feet, and showers when he can at the local leisure centre.
There is a compost toilet and drinking water is provided by locals who turn up once a week to fill the community barrels. Unfortunately for anyone planning to live in a tree house, Ewanwas scared of heights at first and lived in a tent for three months.
But the cold and the rats encouraged him to overcome his fear and now he lives in one of the highest tree houses.
To reach his home in the sky, he has to climb a nearby tree and negotiate a treacherous rope walkway.When he wants to leave, he has to abseil his way back down again.The houses are lashed to the trees using the inner tubes from bicycle tyres because they are eco-friendly and allow the tree to move.
The whole structure sways from side to side as the tree bends in the breeze.
The houses have burners for warmth and are designed to be dismantled easily, while at the same time being difficult for the police to remove.
Ewan said: "We're not under immediate threat of eviction, but you can't get sloppy." Midlothian Council's original plan was for a new three-mile road running through greenbelt land alongside the existing A701 route, to provide access for a cluster of biotech companies in the area.
In the face of such fervent opposition, they haven't gone ahead.
But the campaigners say there is still a threat while planning permission from the Scottish Executive exists.
As soon as there is no longer a threat to the glen, Ewan says the camp will be dismantled.
He said: "We can't justify it just for a lifestyle. Otherwise we are no better than a bunch of hippies living in the woods."
But for some, it's perhaps the comfort of communal living as much as the political fight that draws them.
Vicky is only 16 and has only just come out of care in Dunoon.
She divides her time between the Faslane Peace Camp and Bilston. She has also lived on the streets.
She said: "This way of living is wonderful.There is no one telling you what to do.
"I would rather be living like this that in some council flat onan estate.
"I feel safe and welcome
Direct Action to Stop Alcoa Dam in Iceland
Activists from Iceland and around the world have setup a direct action camp in eastern Iceland to stop the construction of a hydroelectric mega-dam. The Karahnjukar project would destroy a large swath of highland icelandic wilderness. The sole purpose of the damn is to provide power for aluminum smelter to be build by Alcoa, a multinational company with a long record of abusing the environmental, human rights, and it's workers.
Protesters have organized a camp and setup a blockade which included the first ever lock-down in icelandic history. Police arrived on the scene and ordered the workers to use the heavy equipment which would cause direct injury to the activists. Several activists where violently arrested and some face deportation. Activists also occupied the Alcoa aluminum smelter site slowing down construction.
Solidarity protests have been held in London and international activists are invited to join the camp which will continue until early september.
More Coverage: Radio Reports & Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4
For more information go to www.SavingIceland.org
Honorable members of this tribunal,
Good morning. Peoples of Americaâ€™s Gulf region are facing two evils this morning. One from racism and other from nature! Me too, confronting harsh and unjust reality in this morning. An oppressive working condition, which denied me the opportunity to function like a normal human being. As a result despite my best efforts I am a bit late for this hearing. +