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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Eco-warriors in Barbours and brogues
Jon Kelly
BBC News, at Stansted Airport

Martin Beachley
Martin Beachley is among a new breed of eco-warriors
Protesters lobbied the first session of a public inquiry into expanding Stansted Airport. But the campaigners from nearby towns and villages were far from the stereotype of green activists.

They wore Barbour jackets rather than camouflage gear, and sensible brogues in place of Doc Martens.

The throng of protesters picketing an anonymous-looking Essex office block represented a very different brand of environmentalism from that of the popular imagination.

"We're hardly your typical eco-warriors," laughed Martin Beachley, 66, a retired consultant.

"You won't see anyone here looking like Swampy," added 66-year-old Ian Ramsay, a former investment banker.

But for all their good-natured banter and respectable clothes, they were driven by a genuine passion.

Liz Woods
I can't see how any number of cheap flights would be worth destroying it for
Liz Woods

The protest was called by Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE), a pressure group made up of local people who are opposed to extending the airport.

Its owner, BAA, has asked for permission to increase the number of passengers using the airport from 25 million to 35 million each year.

SSE believes the plans will increase pollution, mean greater noise and inconvenience for local people and spell doom for the environmentally-sensitive Hatfield Forest, which sits adjacent to the airport.

And its members, augmented by members of Friends of the Earth and the National Trust, made sure their presence was felt at the opening of a public inquiry into BAA's application.

The closest any of them came to the standard stereotype of an environmental protester was Liz Woods, 43.

The museum registrar rose at 0500 GMT to style herself with green face paint and a bright orange wig as what she self-deprecatingly describes as an "Essex earth mother".

But she said her presence was prompted not by eco-radicalism, but a simple affection for the countryside.

Ade Clarke
Visitors get little chance to experience peace and tranquillity here any more because of all the aircraft flying overhead
Ade Clarke, Hatfield Forest

"I just think the forest is a lovely place," she said. "I love walking there.

"I can't see how any number of cheap flights would be worth destroying it for."

Ade Clarke, 36, Hatfield Forest's property manager, said he had spent so long tending the wood's 800-year-old trees that he felt duty-bound to speak out.

"I've worked here for 15 years, so I feel a real responsibility to the place," he said.

"As it is, visitors get little chance to experience peace and tranquillity here any more because of all the aircraft flying overhead.

"If the expansion goes ahead, they'll get none at all."

SSE says that an expanded airport would make no economic sense for the area, which has the lowest unemployment in the east of England.

'Roads can't cope'

Tricia Barber, 62, a parish councillor and churchwarden from nearby Takeley, insisted that the region simply does not have the infrastructure to cope.

I most certainly do support airport expansion. I think it's called progress
Danny, UK

"As it is, we have a massive problem with 'fly-parking' - people abandoning their cars on our narrow roads while they go on holiday for a fortnight.

"There aren't any big towns round here - we just don't have the capacity to cope."

BAA has argued that the environmental impact of the proposed expansion could be minimised.

But the local people making their presence felt at the inquiry were unconvinced.

Carol Barbone, SSE's campaigns director, said: "You can see today how strongly people feel. They know what expansion would mean for their area."

Map: Stansted airport

Spokesmen on both sides of the debate speak out

Scruffy is the new green
09 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature

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