Eco Soundings

The Guardian Wednesday April 17 1996

ALL HAIL Nicholas Blandy, Under Sheriff of Berkshire, Sword of Justice, Master Ouster of Treehouses. The vigour with which this legal lion has persued the Newbury protesters is now legendary; his keen judgment and calmness under pressure from man and swan is revered; his respect for the due processes of law acknowledged. How right then that after 765 arrests, the eviction-gorged lion should now relax in the conservatory of his Chiltern cottage in the beautiful village of Nettlebed. There, he can look out on the finest unspoilt south Oxfordshire countryside, chuckle at the absurd stories being told about him and muse dreamily on past triumphs. Like how he neglected to apply in advance for planning permission to erect his huge and unsighty conservatory.

BUT the Lion can know no peace. First he must defend the behaviour of the climbers he employed at £700 a day to bring the protesters out of the trees. They claimed to be working to guidelines set by the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (Irata). It is none too happy and has distanced itself from Newbury events. Irata Secretary John Fairley says the guidelines were not drawn up «for the purposes of hauling someone from a tree who is resisting and covered in grease» and has written in strong terms to Mr Blandy, demanding an inquiry.

THE SHELL Transport and Trading Company plc is better known as Shell UK and its chairman is John Jennings. It should not be confused with its Holland-based parent company, Royal Dutch Shell which has Mr CAJ Herkstroter as its president. Having almost come to blows following the Brent Spar affair where London's version of events was wildly at odds with Amsterdam's, these two corporate leaders now think remarkably alike. So much so that the 1,200 words that Mr J has penned as his personally-signed foreword to the company's 1995 annual report reads word for word the same as Mr H's personal foreword to RDS's annual report. So are Messrs J and H one and the same? Did they intuitively come up with the same silver words, the same excuses for the 1995's PR meltdowns? When they both say «I think the group will do better,» do they speak with a single voice or a forked tongue? When they say, à propos of Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni that there are limits beyond which partners cannot go with governments, do they mean the same limits, the same governments? «It isn't a coincidence at all», says a spokesman. «They both agreed on the words. It was done by negotiation. It would create chaos in the markets if they were different.» All hail sameness.

TONY BLAIR will be pleased to see his vision of a stakeholder society has been seized on by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. The organisation is urging its supporters to attend the annual meeting of British Aerospace on May 1 to protest against the company's sale of Hawk fighter planes to Indonesia's murderous regime. In the hope of a lively turnout, the campaign is advertising free BA shares in its latest newsletter.

BACK TO the Lion of Newbury, slumbering now in conservatorial peace. A bad dream. The trees are down. Spring is sprung. Berkshire birds are nesting. In the felled trees. St Armdega, the patron saint of conservatories, whispers in his ear: «Should they not be evicted, too?»

BIT OF a nightmare for Ken Franklin, head of Manchester's pollution task force. Last week, the former Lord Mayor's car was stopped for a spot exhaust test. It failed. Mr Franklin is having bad luck. He recently launched Manchester's Agenda 21 campaign, stating that cities were «intrinsically sustainable». Last year he was cruelly quoted in the Evening News as saying that Manchester's air pollution was disgusting and something should be done about it. Within hours the edition had been corrected.

THINKING laterally, Newbury locals are setting up an utopian «digger» community on the bypass route this weekend. So land will be tilled, seeds be planted and there shall be joy again on the land etc. Thinking vertically, some of the protesters have begun digging down to protect the venture. So far they are at 24 feet. No water yet, reports Eco Soundings' moles. But the lion is said to be considering employing potholers.

MEANWHILE the Institute of Civil Engineers, which boasts environmental credentials, has exacted terrible Old Testament revenge on two members of staff who dared to merely suggest to colleagues that they support the campaign against the Newbury bypass. David Copas and Keely Sutton used the ICE internal messaging system to distribute an ad which had been in most national newspapers. They were summarily fired, even after apologising. «They betrayed our trust,» thundered ICE diretor general Roger Dobson, OBE. Mr D -- who publicly advocates dialogue, balance and debate -- will on Friday call for ICE members to work constructively with environmentalists.

THE LION stirs. Far away can just be heard a radio station. It's broadcasting lousy techno music. Can it be Newbury's very own Tree FM on 87.7FM. Now the voice is asking for tapes about the environment, about evictions, about trees. It wants prose, humour, poetry sent to Friends of the Earth at Unit 3a, Stirling Industrial Estate, Newbury, Berks. It says that £100 would spread the word as far as Oxford. Almost as far as Nettlebed. It says it's reaching out for Nicholas Blandy. AAAgh.