In 1829 an Oxfordshire landowner, Sir Alexander Croke, tried to enclose and drain the wild wetlands of Otmoor.
Fearing for their livelihoods, local people revolted. 1,000 of them walked the 7-mile circumference of the moor, destroying every fence and drainage bank they came across. When 41 of them were arrested and taken to Oxford, local people attacked their escort with stones and bricks, and the prisoners escaped.
Fortunately the area was never completely drained: the wonderful patchwork of ditches, rivers and floodplains which makes up Otmoor was saved for future generations to enjoy.
Modern day assault on Otmoor
In the early 1980s the government announced it wanted to extend the M40 motorway from Oxford to Birmingham.
The proposed route would have sliced right through Otmoor.
A planning inquiry recommended that the M40 route should avoid Otmoor because of its unique habitats. But the government pressed ahead, intending to use compulsory purchase to secure the land.
Local people were once again fiercely protective of their wetlands – as their predecessors had been nearly 200 years previously.
This time their methods were not violent. But they were no less radical.
The late Joe Weston from Wheatley Friends of the Earth, and Chris Church who is today the co-ordinator of the Oxford Friends of the Earth local group, had an ingenious idea.
They bought a patch of land that lay directly in the firing line. The field, between the villages of Fencott and Murcott, belonged to a local farmer.
They then decided to call their field Alice's Meadow, a reference to Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. The book is said to have been partly inspired by the chessboard-like field pattern of Otmoor.
Joe and Chris divided the meadow into 3,500 individual plots, which they sold to supporters for a couple of pounds each. Many of these buyers sold the plots on again, making it hard to trace the owners. Any attempt at compulsory purchase would have been almost impossible.
Finally a planning inquiry recommended that the M40 should avoid Otmoor because of its unique habitats and it was re-routed a few miles to the east.
That brilliant campaign led to the wetland being saved for nature and people. In 1997 the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds acquired the land and carefully restored it to a patchwork of wet meadows, wetland and reedbeds.
Today the site attracts a wide variety of wading birds such as curlew, snipe and lapwing, all of which have been in decline in the UK. It's also a top site to spot otters.
And perhaps most importantly, Otmoor is one of a small number of sites in the UK where the endangered turtle dove continues to breed successfully. Turtle doves have declined by 91% in the UK since 1997.
Otmoor also links up with a number of important wildlife corridors, including the neighbouring ancient royal hunting ground of Bernwood Forest. Here you might see brown hares boxing in early spring, or the rare black hairstreak butterfly.
The third Otmoor insurrection
But even with such recognition of its importance, the story was not quite finished for Otmoor.
In 2016 the National Infrastructure Commission floated the idea of an Oxford-to-Cambridge expressway. It suggested that a new road could ease congestion, improve east-west connectivity and open up large areas of greenfield land for housing.
Out came the maps again. And again Otmoor was in the firing line.
Joe Weston, who following the Alice's Meadow campaign, went on to become a lecturer in urban planning at Oxford Brookes University, had sadly died in 2011.
But Chris Church was ready to lead the charge again. "I just thought, Oh no, not again. How could they be so stupid?" he says.
Oxford Friends of Earth worked with and supported a local group called Save Otmoor which had formed to fight the Expressway driving through the wetlands. The campaigners went door-to-door alerting local people. Schoolchildren drew pictures to show how much they loved the site, and protest placards sprang up everywhere.
Save Otmoor garnered local support against the expressway in all 7 villages which form a ring around the wetland: Fencott, Murcott, Charlton-on-Otmoor, Oddington, Noke, Beckley and Horton-cum-Studley.
In September 2018 the government made a surprise announcement that its preferred route was Corridor B. This was a route broadly aligned with a proposed new east-west rail line. As yet it's not clear whether it will pass east or west of Oxford.
Mercifully, Otmoor was ruled out as an option.
Not here, not anywhere
But despite this success, the fight against the expressway goes on.
Two days after Corridor B was announced as the favoured route, the No Expressway Alliance was launched. This group includes Oxford Friends of the Earth, the Campaign for Better Transport, local politicians and Save Otmoor.
They argue that the road is simply unnecessary, and that any route will cause terrible damage.
The only consultation we will get is where do you want this road. No-one has asked us if we want it.Chris Church, Oxford Friends of the Earth
The alliance argues that Corridor B could threaten other precious landscapes such as the Thameside water meadows and Wytham Woods. In fact the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust says Corridor B is the most damaging option of all, putting 20 nature reserves at risk.
A government consultation into the route of the expressway is expected to be launched in the coming months.
But alternatives to road-building exist, such as moving forward with plans for an east-west rail link. The No Expressway Alliance will continue to campaign against any plans to build a new road and you can find their petition against the proposals here.
At the same time, on Otmoor a new campaign has started to declare the wetlands an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
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Roadbuilding, nature and climate change
Forty years after the beautiful wetlands of Oxfordshire were saved from tarmac, it's hard to believe that today's government continues to rely on roadbuilding to solve housing and congestion problems.
With major roadbuilding schemes threatening other national treasures such as Stonehenge, it's time to ask the government to invest in better public transport. Building more roads will not help us to meet our commitments to tackling climate change.
Will you help us to campaign for better transport?