London24NEWS

JANET STREET-PORTER: Spraying paint over landmarks will not be noble trigger

This weekend, over 50,000 people will march through London under the banner Restore Nature Now, calling for greater protection for wildlife and the natural environment. 

For the first time, respected charities like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust will be joined by the new wave of eco-zealots from Extinction Rebellion and and other radical protest groups.

It’s billed as ‘family-friendly, peaceful and legal’. If that comes to pass, I will be amazed. For every non-confrontational marcher, there will be a small group of radicals who passionately believe direct action is the only way to save the planet from destruction.

Climate change and looking after the land has become a mainstream concern: three-quarters of voters think that politicians should be doing more to reduce the decline of our natural habitat.

Just Stop Oil protesters have sprayed Stonehenge with orange paint in their latest stunt

Just Stop Oil protesters have sprayed Stonehenge with orange paint in their latest stunt 

Regulations which lowered the threshold for police intervening in protests were unlawful, the High Court has ruled. Pictured: A Just stop oil protest at London Bridge in June last year

Regulations which lowered the threshold for police intervening in protests were unlawful, the High Court has ruled. Pictured: A Just stop oil protest at London Bridge in June last year

Members of the public were seen trying to prevent the protesters by dragging them away

Dame Judi Dench will be in attendance at the march this weekend

Dame Judi Dench will be in attendance at the march this weekend 

In spite of committing to a green future, Rishi Sunak approved 100 drilling licences for new North Sea oil sites a year ago, and last November he announced more would be granted in the future. 

Labour will be unable to revoke these licences, but say no more will be granted if they are returned to power.

Tree-hugger Dame Judi Dench and musician and clean water campaigner Fergal Sharkey will be marching alongside the usual luvvies like Emma Thompson

They’ll be joined by supporters of protest group Extinction Rebellion, who closed roads and bridges in a series of dramatic sit-ins during 2022 – and whose founders have been convicted for their costly and disruptive actions.

Dr Grace Bradbrook of ER climbed onto the entrance of the Department of Transport in London in 2019 and caused £27,500 worth of damage by smashing a glass window. 

In court, she claimed she had ‘permission from God’ for her actions and declared ‘god help us, life is being actively killed’. The judge was unmoved and handed her a suspended sentence and community service last November.

In April, after a four week trial, ER co-founder Roger Hallam was convicted (with other supporters) of plotting to use drones to close Heathrow airport down- and although the policing of his protest was estimated to have cost £1 million, he too only received a suspended sentence.

According to Dr Bradbrook, the court system was on trial, not herself. This is the mindset of radical protestors, a long way from the intelligent and considered approach of Chris Packham and Feargal Sharkey who have spent the last few years taking on politicians for their failure to protect the environment.

Emma Thompson joins the Extinction Rebellion protest at Oxford Circus on April 19, 2019 in London (above). She will also be marching this weekend

Emma Thompson joins the Extinction Rebellion protest at Oxford Circus on April 19, 2019 in London (above). She will also be marching this weekend 

The two Just Stop Oil eco-zealots who were arrested today after smashing the protective glass on the Rokeby Venus painting at the National Gallery have had previous run ins with the law. Pictured: Harrison Donnelly (left) and Hanan Ameur (right) at the National Gallery today

The two Just Stop Oil eco-zealots who were arrested today after smashing the protective glass on the Rokeby Venus painting at the National Gallery have had previous run ins with the law. Pictured: Harrison Donnelly (left) and Hanan Ameur (right) at the National Gallery today

The protesters struck the painting around 11am this morning using what the gallery has described as 'emergency rescue hammers', the gallery says

The protesters struck the painting around 11am this morning using what the gallery has described as ’emergency rescue hammers’, the gallery says

Last year, ER announced they would be changing tactics, moving away from the controversial road and bridge blocking that had made life hell for thousands of commuters and ordinary citizens just trying to go about their daily lives. 

This could be because further direct action could see the founders in jail, but also because the public were sick and tired of the disruption and the cause was in danger of gaining new supporters.

That message hasn’t reached Just Stop Oil, the other environmental group who will be marching this weekend, calling for an end to fossil fuel usage by 2030.

This week they sprayed orange dye over Stonehenge, a world Heritage site- and were roundly condemned by politicians on all sides. In the past they’ve chucked tomato soup at a Van Gogh in the National Gallery, and tried to wreck the case protecting the Magna Carta in the British Library.

Just Stop Oil isn’t interested in being reasonable. Headline-grabbing stunts are their way of working – yesterday two idiot women supporters cut through the fence of the private jet compound at Stansted airport, searching for Taylor Swift’s plane. 

Failing to find it, they sprayed another two orange instead. One told the press she was a Swiftie, unhappy at the superstar’s well documented use of polluting private jets.

When these protestors do get charged and end up in front of a judge, it generally results in small fines, suspended sentences and the imposition of community work.

There will be fancy dress protests and placards outside the court (welcome publicity religiously covered by the BBC and the other main news outlets), and a few months later it will happen all over again. 

In 2022, I wrote about the ‘tofu-eating twerps’ who chucked soup all over Vincent Van Gogh’s glorious painting of Sunflowers in the National Gallery.

Since then, there has been vats of orange flour, paint and smoke, culminating in the attack on Stonehenge, a fragile piece of history.

One of the protestors said after the stunt: 'What is worth more, art or life?' before they glued themselves to the wall

One of the protestors said after the stunt: ‘What is worth more, art or life?’ before they glued themselves to the wall 

One of the protesters, Phoebe Plummer, 21, is led away by police following the political stunt

One of the protesters, Phoebe Plummer, 21, is led away by police following the political stunt 

This was vandalism, nothing less. One idiot from JSO remarked ‘it’s just cornflour, it’ll wash away when it rains’. In their eyes governments are allowing oil companies to destroy our environment so drastic action is needed, even if it means damaging precious carvings which have been untouched for 5,000 years.

I beg to differ. Escalating protests to this level will not achieve your goal any quicker. It’s not clear why such vandalism isn’t severely dealt with. Although the government passed the Public Order Act in 2023, there has been little change in the level of punishment and certainly no reduction in the number of protestors.

The police still seem powerless to impose radical action to close down most demonstrations, even though the new law is supposed to make it easier. By last December, the Met reckoned they had spent £20 million alone dealing with JSO protests. 

Since then, Lord Walney produced a review into tackling political violence, and even suggested banning organisations who use criminal acts to cause serious disruption- but nothing has been implemented.

As for the big march to save our trees and fields and butterflies and streams- it’s naïve to think that the two groups of concerned protesters- the peaceful (Chris Packham, Dame Judi and the birdwatcher and farmers) and the confrontational (ER and JSO)will ever be able to work alongside each other in the long term.

I want clean water to swim in, and countryside where birds are protected and butterflies not poisoned by fertilisers. But I don’t agree with chucking paint over national monuments. It’s the actions of angry toddlers.

I hope that Saturday’s March is a peaceful event. Sadly, I doubt it will have any effect. Does Labour even have a policy for the countryside?