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Lappersfort Stays!

Lappersfort Protest Camp, Belguim

A beautiful forest, less than two kilometres from the centre of Bruges, abandoned by homo sapiens for many years that now has to be partly cut down for a new road, new industry and a place for coaches. When we heard of these plans, we immediately thought: "No fucking way".

It was in the beginning of 2001 that a local called Peter showed our anarchist collective 'uitgezonderd' the unknown forest 'the lappersfort'. He told us about the plans of the local government and about the action group he had started, Axiegroep Zuidelijke Ontsluiting. They had put up a petition and organised a event in May where 300 people enjoyed a biking tour, a walk in the forest and live music. The next month we organised a vegan barbeque, climbing workshop, and a botanical walk. On the 27th of July we took it to the streets, held a critical mass with a hundred people (which is quit big for the small city of Bruges), climbed in the flag poles , hung a big banner and put on some political theatre for the locals. The plans for an action-camp were put upon the indymedia-website, and a week later we started occupying the protest camp that has become our home.

The Lappersfort is situated south of Bruges, by the canal to Ghent. While it is land with a history of human intervention, it has been fallow for many years and has become wild again, turning back into a forest. It contains seven different biotopes, being situated by a canal and next to a swamp where many birds breed including three different kinds of owls, robins, tits, and woodpeckers. There are also a lot of squirrels and bats and a huge amount of midges! It is wooded with old oak, chestnut and beech trees. Now it is owned by Fabricom , a big enterprise in the steel industry, who want to sell it. Once Belguim was a land of forests and moors; now it is agriculture, industry, and the densest road network in the world!

The Plans

The forest is currently threatened by three different projects, which would leave very little natural land intact:

They want to build a road connecting the motorway with the Bruges ring road, and next to that a big cinema complex. Through the publicity of our actions and camp, they have toned down this project and now only want to widen an existing 'local traffic' street; but this still would take out a part of the forest.

On the site of a munitions factory which burned down many years ago - but which nature has since reclaimed - the city council wants to build a coach car-park, claiming that the current spot is 'inefficient'. The local wildlife are going to love the stench of the buses on top of losing their homes.

The biggest part of the swamp has been reserved for small industry. Although the City Council has been put under enough pressure to say that they will negotiate with the land owner to change the course of the new road, the most beautiful part of the swamp could still end up as parking space. Possibly only a quarter of the whole site will remain as nature.

Action Stations

As Lappersfort is Belgium's first direct action camp, we had to learn a lot of things - legal issues as well as practical. A week after we started occupying the site we informed the press, the police and the owner. The local press was interested, but the national press weren't bothered. The plod came after a week to inform us that we were doing an illegal action. The city council declared that our action was too early as their plans were only in the preparation stage.

The owner was quite friendly in the beginning. Even when the police asked permission to evict us because they believed the forest was going to be used as a base for violent protesters at the anti-globalisation-demo in September the owners said 'no', because they wanted to negotiate with us. These negotiations stalled when the owner worked out that we in fact planned to save the whole fucking lot - at that point they asked us to leave.

Soon after publications came out people began to visit. Locals were amazed by the beauty of this unknown location, and people from all over came to help. Some Dutch activists helped to build treehouses and repair the old house. A crew from the 'Nine Ladies protest site' built a tower on the house and people came by with food, building material, and climbing material. In the beginning we had a meeting every night (called fire moment). But after eight months of occupation this has gone down to weekly meetings. When winter came things grew a bit silent around the camp; so we made our own entertainment getting in speakers, a slideshow, and vegan pancakes which was a raging success.

At the time of writing (April 2002) we're having lots of press attention. Last week we held a press conference together with some conservationist groups because we wanted to publicize another place that is threatened by industry. One national newspaper picked up on the fact that we were into the 250th day of our occupation, and other national press followed. Suddenly we were giving interviews for the seven o'clock news, getting the front page of a French paper, being made into a documentary and invited to chat with the mayor on a political programme on national tellie. But if we have learned one thing on this camp it's about the hypocrisy of the press, because most are more interested in lifestyle matters than in the real issues - the nature that has to be saved from destruction. Having said that we haven't had any negative press so far...

Coming Up

In one newspaper the city council declared that they want to start building the place for the coaches at the end of the year and evict us then (when Bruges stops being the cultural capital of Europe). Just in case this is true (not that we believe anything in this particular paper) we are building a fort on this area and help is welcome.

In August 2002 we will celebrate the first anniversary of our occupation by having a big feast. This summer will be more actions on this land which holds ecological as well as archeological value (aerial photos show signs of Bronze Age burial sites). Anyway we are not giving up our fight to save precious nature.

Contact address: PB 715 8000 Brugge Belgium (don't mention Lappersfort) Site-phone:
(0032) 0494591467

How to get there: standing with your back at the main entrance of the station, you turn right and just before the high bridge, you turn right again (Vaartdijkstraat), follow the canal and pass some industry, follow it some more and you see a path with willows. Now follow this into the forest where you'll soon meet some pixies.