Twyford Down is an area of chalk downland lying directly to the southeast of Winchester, Hampshire, England next to St. Catherine’s Hill and close to the South Downs National Park.
In 1991, the down was the site of a major anti-road protests against a section of the M3 motorway from London to the south coast of England. There had been plans since the 1970s to replace the 1930s Winchester bypass which was regularly congested. There had been environmental resistance to those plans since the 1970s as well.
The principal arguments of the protesters were their concern about making wildlife species, such as the Chalkhill Blue butterfly, extinct, putting a highly visible scar on the landscape, and that they believed the new motorway would not adequately resolve traffic problems.
In 1992, the first anti-road protesters camped on Twyford Down to stop the M3 extension 20 years ago. Unemployed youths calling themselves ‘Dongas’ set up set up camp above Winchester to protect the downland. The “Dongas Tribe” was a collection of anti-road protesters and travellers in England.
Protests began to escalate. More and more people came to the vast cutting through the chalk hill. The protests turned nasty as security guards dragged people off the site. Many protesters complained of being beaten.
Environmental activist Rebecca Lush, who had stayed on the down from September to the night of eviction on December 9, later claimed “It was a horrific experience and very violent. We were dragged through thorns and we were being kicked and punched and someone pulled out a clump of my hair.”
By the spring of 1993, the cutting was nearly complete but the police kept a constant presence. Protests stepped up as Twyford Down became an environmental cause and political opposition mounted. Work was constantly hampered as direct action became the most effective way to stop the road. By early summer, hundreds of people were joining the Dongas to protest at weekends.
The protest attracted different classes of people, the many of whom were peaceful. According to Denham, a popular phrase among those protesting was “I never thought that I would find myself doing something like this.”
The M3 cutting was complete by mid-summer. Many were shocked by the scale of the destruction. Last minute attempts were made in the London courts to stop the road.
The protests began to spread to London and other places where roads were planned and gave birth to Britain’s anti-road movement that was known as “Reclaim the Streets.”
The Twyford protests are acknowledged to have started the British road protests which led directly to anti-corporate globalization, climate change and anti-capitalist movements.
Scott Parkin is a Senior Campaigner with Rainforest Action Network and organizes with Rising Tide North America. He has worked on a variety of campaigns around climate change, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mountaintop removal, labor issues and anti-corporate globalization. Originally from Texas, he now lives in San Francisco.