We Are The Dead Canaries

Bath rebel Dave gives his account of an action at Bradley open cast mine, Durham. (February 2020)

The obvious route from Bath to Durham means you should start off by going south!!! …not that obvious ??? …well, it is if you decide to go via Trowbridge to support their samba band in a morning of actions to remind Wiltshire council that they declared a climate emergency 12 months ago, and don’t appear to have done much about it. One of the councillors did at least come out to speak to us. But his answers to questions about new road schemes were woefully inadequate. He still thought that congestion should be solved by building roads rather than by improving public transport.ย ย ๐Ÿ˜

So at about midday on Tuesday 25th February we finally boarded John’s computer on wheels to head north. His all electric Tesla was the most environmentally friendly way to get to Durham … and it was the first time I’d been in a car where the dashboard is really a notepad computer.

The target of the action was an open cast coal mine at Bradley. The owners (Banks) want to expand it, but a large part of the local population don’t want this. Durham council have already refused the planning application twice, but the company keep on finding ways to force it to be debated again. The locals have been fighting the mine owners for many years, and have been fighting this expansion for over a year. Theyโ€™ve now asked for extra help, so a rainbow collection of activists from across the country converged on a windswept hill top just outside Durham, under the umbrella name We Are The Dead Canaries.

We had already been warned by the locals that it would be cold (when people from Newcastle say itโ€™s cold you take it seriously !!!) so I took my best sleeping bag with me. Most of us were sleeping in “the old church” at Sacriston, and even inside the church I had to stay fully clothed inside my sleeping bag, and had the draw string pulled tight, so only my nose poked out.

The next morning a coach took us from Sacriston to Bradley, with the first trip leaving at 5am (that is so early). However, they wanted lots of equipment on that trip, so the samba band were asked to use the 2nd trip at 6am.

The first coach load were greeted by angry sounding guard dogs that were brought right up to the gates at the mine entrance. However, after a few scary moments, things calmed down, and the XR entertainment began. The first day saw a collection of 2 metre high bird cages deposited in front of the main entrance to the mine, with activists dressed as large yellow canaries inside each one.ย ย ย ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

These were soon followed by a samba band !!! … or more accurately, people from 9 different samba bands, who within minutes were playing as if they’d known each other for ages. Well done to the maestros who moulded us into a coherent sound. Lots of people were dancing …we love it when you dance to the samba ย ย  ๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’šย  … but itโ€™s also possible they were just jumping around to keep warm in the biting cold wind!ย ย ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

So a successful first day. We blocked the only entrance to the mine early enough to stop anyone getting in, and the company told their workforce to stay at home as a paid day off.

The 2nd day saw the delivery of a yellow boat !!! We’re on top of a hill, miles from the coast, so itโ€™s obvious we’d use a boat … we’re XR!ย ย ย ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

This day also saw the samba band used as a decoy. We set out on a march around the perimeter of the mine, along with a group of activists who kept running ahead, looking like they would climb over the low fence and earth embankment that surrounded the mine. Obligingly, some of the security guards followed us. At one point the samba band were in a field at the edge of the site … I’ve never done “off-road samba” before!ย ย ย ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

The security guards were missing by now, so we decided to attract them back over to our side of the site. Dave and another guy climbed over the fence and up the embankment. 2 security guards were a few hundred metres away and walking away from us … so we shouted down to the others to make it sound like the trespass was about to take place from our bit of the perimeter. The security guards came running back. It would appear that security guards can run faster than Ros expected. One arrived at her shoulder while she was still climbing back over the low fence. We feared the worst for a few seconds … but then he offered to help her back over the fence (she declined the offer – determined to do it under her own steam). The security guard also then handed some dropped drum sticks to another band member!!! They really were very reasonable people just doing a job.

Meanwhile a coach load of activists were delivered to the other side of the site. There were still some security guards on that side of the mine, but not enough to stop the mass trespass. The activists walked in (more guard dogs) and sat in the middle of the mine. The mine had already stopped operations from the entrance being blocked the previous day, so none of the machinery was operating. The activists played music in the middle of the site, and danced. The people at this action really liked to dance.ย ย ย ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

Not long after arriving back at the main entrance, we were greeted with the news that the Heathrow 3rd runway had been opposed by the courts. More jubilant dancing and hugging on top of a bitterly cold windy hill top, with confused security guards looking on. And the best bit of the day was still to come.

Late in the afternoon, the activists who went into the mine all walked out together. The samba band struck up a really fast exuberant rhythm … and everyone danced again. But this was spine tingly, euphoric dancing … surrounding the samba band and both giving energy to each other. I shall remember that moment for a long, long time.ย ย ๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’š

Samba Art: XR Logo made from drums and drum sticks