Watlington Rally and Action 18th July 1999

In Watlington, Oxfordshire, the campaign against the farm-scale trial had been running from the moment the test plots were announced. Stalls were held in the town and an organic picnic was organised along with a walk to the site. By lucky coincidence, literally metres away from the Model Farm GM test site, lay an abandoned farm house with an overgrown garden full of wild flowers. This swiftly became the Alternative Model Farm for two weeks, with beautiful displays of permaculture and organic farming methods. Open days were held for the general public to decide which ‘model’ of the future they wanted.

On Sunday 18th July, a beautiful summer’s day, locals mingled with campaigners and concerned individuals from all over the country at a rally addressed by Nottingham South MP, Alan Simpson; Swindon campaigner, Jean Saunders; a local food writer, Linda Brown; Jim Thomas from Greenpeace, and George Monbiot, journalist, campaigner and all-round defender of truth and justice! At the end of the rally over 600 people, dressed in white paper decontamination suits and waving biohazard flags, large bumble-bees and banners went to symbolically surround the site. But then, like a scene out of Braveheart, they just walked through the conventional control oilseed rape onto the GM oilseed rape itself.

An hour and a half later the site was almost totally destroyed. Although the crop had already pollinated, the test site was rendered scientifically useless. As the last protestors were returning to the rally site police reinforcements, including horses fresh from a demo at Hillgrove Cat-Breeding Farm, attempted to snatch people randomly out of the crowd and scatter it with horses. A mounted policemen lifted one woman up by her hair. The ensuing chaos provided the media with pictures of ‘violence’, allowing them to portraying the jubilant and good-humoured crowd as an angry mob.

This provocation can only be seen as a deliberate attempt to belittle what was an extremely empowering, significant and, above all, peaceful action – one of the biggest in the recent history of the environmental movement. For many people attending, this was the first time they had taken direct action against the genetic pollution escaping into the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside. A lasting image will be that of an eighty-year old woman, without a suit, quietly pulling up the oilseed rape.

“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. Please do everything you can to ensure that it continues in the same peaceful vein and enjoy it” From a leaflet distributed at the rally.