Saturday, 12 December 2009

John Muir`s Blue Sierra

The Ramblers, The John Muir Trust, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the National Trust Scotland are among a number of conservation organisations joining forces to oppose the controversial Beauly-Denny pipeline, which will see a 138 mile-line of 600 mega-pylons put in place across the heart of the Highlands, including the Cairngorms National Park, and passing by the Wallace Monument.

A leaked government document seems to indicate that Scottish ministers are planning to give approval to the line, though as we all know, sometimes politicians arrange for these things to be leaked in order to test the strength of public feeling. 

In a new development, Richard Cellarious, International Vice-President of the Sierra Club, The John Muir Trust`s influential American sister organisation,  has written to Scotland`s First Minister Alex Salmond urging that the plan be abandoned in favour of "more environmentally benign alternatives".

Talking of the Sierra Club brings me seamlessly to that organisation`s involvement in America`s  Blue Green Alliance, a "national, strategic partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy".

Initially, the BGA was an alliance between the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers trade union, but as it developed momentum , numerous trade union and environmental organisations signed up. In some areas, notably Cincinnati, the BGA has developed in a grassroots, activist-driven way, with emphasis placed on raising money for a green jobs study, fighting for a living wage for recycling workers and more generally building links between the labour movement and the environmental lobby.   

Now the United Steel Workers has made an agreement with Spanish co-operatively run business Mondragon to build worker-owned manufacturing co-operatives in America. It is generally felt that this intiative could fit in well with the USW`s commitment to the BGA and it`s `green jobs` objectives.

I gather Mondragon have, to use their own phrase "no pretensions" that they represent an alternative to capitalism, so it would seem that here we have a free enterprise initiative, co-operatively owned, backed by a trade union with impressive green credentials. In theory, presumably, that should tick all boxes, but one suspects  it will have it`s detractors. Against that, I`m sure there will be many supporters, if only because I`m sure many Americans, like many here in the UK, would welcome moves back towards an economy based on production  rather than one based on  speculation, as both countries have at present.

It will be interesting to see if this American example inspires similar initiatives elsewhere.

We`ve covered quite some ground, from pipelines in Scotland to workers` co-ops in the USA, but here are sme useful links ;


Ramblers Campaigns -
Ramblers Scotland    -
National Trust Scotland -
Mountaineering Council of Scotland -
John Muir Trust -
Sierra Club -
Blue Green Alliance -
United Steel Workers -
Mondragon -


As far as I recall, my sources for this article were ;

Phil Amadon - `Worker Co-Ops, The Blue-Green Alliance and Mondragon` - People`s World , 9/12/09

Unsigned Article  - `Pipeline Given Go-Ahead`  - Walk Magazine , Winter 2009

and other details were from some of the websites listed above


Nick Osmond - Rambling Through Adversity - , 10/12/09.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Scandal of the Child Migrants

With the recent apology from the Australian Prime Minister over the plight of the so-called Child Migrants, no doubt there will be renewed calls for a similar apology from Gordon Brown, and possibly from reresentatives of the charities and church groups involved.

The plight of the children is so harrowing that I coudn`t possibly do justice to it in the limited spare time I have for this sort of thing, and to deal with it hastily would be an insult. In any case, the Nottingham-based Child Migrants Trust are quite capable of explaing the issues themselves, and can probably do it better than I can in any case. Check out their website at


Also in the UK, it seems that a row has broken out within the government over the proposed sell-off of British Waterways, with Environment ministers claiming they will be unable to do their job properly in affected areas if the sale goes ahead. No doubt there will be comment in due course from the general public and from affected groups such as conservationists - especially those connected with canal preservation groups - and the relevant trade unions.

Speaking personally, I never feel entirely happy with this selling-off of the country`s assetts to the highest bidder, I don`t like to resort to smear tactics but I have to say I always feel there`s something unpatriotic about it. Anyway, check out the links below and form your own opinions.


British Waterways -

Waterscape -

There are number of links to canal preservation groups and other conservation-related bodies at

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Power2010 and the Well-Known Chocolatier

New kids on the block  in the UK are Power2010, a new pressure group seeking to capitalise on voter discontent, a big issue over here. Their initial statements do seem likely to strike a chord with the  population at large ; "Our democracy is in crisis. MPs fiddle while the planet burns...Bankers blow billions and the taxpayer fooots the bill", as is their solution ; "A healthy democracy that works for all and not just a powerful few".

At present it`s unclear whether the new organisation itself plans to become democratic (though they would no doubt claim that their method of working, which is to solicit suggestions for campaigng issues from the public and then take up the most popular, is in itself an open and democratic process). It`s also not entirely clear how the new organisation will differ from Unlock Democracy or 38 Degrees, particularly given that Director Pam Giddy`s previous posts include a spell as Director of  Charter 88, one of the bodies that merged to form Unlock Democracy. I should make it clear that Unlock Democracy have welcomed the new organisation, and are looking to work co-operatively with it.

Interestingly, start-up funding for Power2010 comes from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Rowntree was a Quaker and chocolate manufacturer, a man of liberal and philanthropic views, whose influence is still felt today. Traditionally, there has often been criticism of philanthropists from the political left, often on the grounds that they address the symptoms of social ills and not the causes. Interestingly, this was a view that Rowntree shared, he was very much concerned with causes, as well as the alleviation,  of poverty. In this, he may have been influenced by his son, the strangely-named Seebohm Rowntree, a noted anti-poverty campaigner and author of Poverty ; A Study of Town Life (1901).

In light of his interest in identifying the causes of poverty, he set up the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to "help to overcome the causes of poverty, disadvantage and social evil". This was one of four trusts founded by him (the others are The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust , The Joseph Rowntee Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust), all of which are still active today, as we`ve already seen.

For further information on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Rowntree Society, see the links below.


Power2010 -

Unlock Democracy -

38 Degrees -

Joseph Rowntree Foundation  and Trusts -

The Rowntree Society -

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Search for Common Ground

Interesting to learn recently of the annual Common Ground Awards, given by Washington baed charity Search for Common Ground, which works internationally to find non-violent ways for communities to deal with conflict.

I like to keep these articles short, but here are just a couple that struck me as interesting.

Cease Fire - The Campaign to Stop the Shooting is run by the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention. They rely on outreach workers and `violence interrupters` (individuals `familiar with gang culture` who have now channel their energies into preventing violence). The organisation also goes in for more traditional activities, such as marches, rallies and vigils after shootings. They believe in mediation and changing community norms.

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish is a medical man who seeks to bring about reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli communities. He refuses to become discouraged, despite losing three daughters and a niece to an Israeli shell earier this year. In their memory he has begun Daughters for Life, a charity aiming to provide access to education and medical care to women throughout the Middle East.

Full details of awards and nominees on the Common Ground website (see below).


Common Ground -

Cease Fire -

Daughters for Life -

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Kinder Conservation and a Historic Mass Trespass

Located in the Peak District area of Derbyshire, UK, Kinder Scout is a high upland/moorland gritstone plateau, mostly 600 metres above sea level. It`s highest point, Crowden Head, is the highest point in the Peaks.

Recently, it has been declared England`s 23rd National Nature Reserve, on the advice of conservation body Natural England. The land, once privately owned, is now the property of the National Trust. 

On 23rd April 1932, it was the scene of the celebrated Mass Trespass, a protest against English law of the time which denied the public access to areas which had been (and are now), `rights of way` (a right of way in English law is a footpath or similar which the public has a legal right to walk on, even if it crosses private land, as many do. While enforcement is patchy and varies from area to area, landowners who fail to allow access can be prosecuted. Buildings such as barns that are `accidentally` built across a right of way can be simply demolished to re-establish access).

The spark for the protest was an incident where a group of factory workers were set upon by gamekeepers (men employed by landowners to keep out trespassers and to maintain supplies of wild  `game` , such a grouse and deer, for shooting parties). The Peaks at the time were a popular area for young men and women, often factory workers, miners and mill girls, seeking to escape the noise and cramped cramped living conditions of  the cities.  There were many confrontations between the youngsters and gamekeepers, leading to a deep mutual distrust and resentment.

The protest itself attracted considerable attention, with a large police presence and more protesters apparently than the organisers had ever expected. Benny Rothman, a young Manchester Communist, emerged as a leading figure on the day, although it is unclear what role he played prior to that. Apparently, the young Benny was not even scheduled to address the crowd, but simply `filled in` when one of the speakers was overcome by nerves. 

On the day, a group of young men ascending Kinder Scout via William Clough (a `clough` was a local name for a river valley) clashed once again with gamekeepers and a number were arrested, Benny Rothman among them.  The subsequent trial was felt by many to be unfair and the sentences unduly harsh. The resultant public backlash paved the way for new legislation and the emergence of walkers (`ramblers` as they were known) as a formidable lobbying force. It`s no co-incidence that most walking groups including, the largest, the Rambler`s Association, trace their origins back to the `30s (though some, such as Peak and Northern, have a history going back much further).

Over 70 years later, walking groups continue to be an important lobbying and conservation group in UK society, though perhaps a little less conscious of their `rebel roots` than they used to be, thanks in part to efforts of Benny Rothman and others.

ON THE WEB  , , , , .

There are many entries on the web for Benny Rothman, which you can easily find for yourself. His own account of the day was contained in his 1982 book, 1932 Kinder Trespass ; A Personal View of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass. I belive he also contributed to the Kinder Scout  Mass Trespass 50th Anniversary Programme.

I expect this is very sentimental and a bit over-done, but I`d like to dedicate this article to the memory of some of my companions whose walking days are over, these being Trevor Smalley, Arthur Weldun and my oldest friend Chris Watkinson. I would also like to dedicate it to the memory of my late father, who did as much as anyone to encourage my love of the great outdoors.