The land we travel on

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The land we travel on

Jake Bowers writes about the rights of travelling peoples to live and move through the places they call home.


Dale Farm is a famous site for Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities – and it is famous for the violent evictions by police. As part of the Drive2Survive campaign, this summer protesters visited the site to protest against the UK’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bill would give the police more reasons to see travelling people as criminals. Credit: HUW POWELL

When members of my community, the Romani Gypsy community of Britain, drive onto land they do not own, they are continuing a journey that started in the Indian sub-continent over a thousand years ago.

Romani people have moved through the landscapes of Europe, Asia, and North Africa for hundreds of years and they brought the goods and services of the commercial traveller with them. From metalsmithing, to horse dealing, entertainment, and even fortune telling, we had a relationship with the natural and human communities we passed through.

Now, when we arrive with our caravans, we know it is only a matter of time before the police, bailiffs, or vigilantes come and we know we will not be welcome. We know that they are always asking: when are you leaving? Trespass and eviction begin once again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just as climate change and loss of biodiversity force people to accept them, they should accept nature and social diversity, too. If we all want to survive beyond the next hundred years, we must all see ourselves as part of nature – not separate from it. This means we must all reconnect with the natural world and we need places for us all to be with no restrictions. France, for example, provides both Aires de Gens de Voyage (Stopping places for ‘people of the road’) and Aires de Campings (stopping places for campervans). Those who use them pay for the services they use, and the state saves a lot of money.

In England, we can only go into land with the permission of its so-called owners: under the law of trespass, we cannot go onto 92 per cent of the land and 97 per cent of its waterways. But if we see permission to go onto land as a human, civil, and legal right, we will be closer to the Romani view of the landscape – that it is God-given and for everyone.

Usually, people don’t understand that Romani communities look after our environment. We never take more than we need and we always leave the land in a better state than we found it.

The way we look after the land goes back many years. In 1934, a 12-year-old Belgian boy Jan Yoors was allowed to join a Romani kumpania (extended family) of the Lovara tribe that travelled the across Europe with their horses and wagons. His book The Gypsies, published in 1967, showed a lively, internationalist community with respect for the environment. These people lived in Europe without any problems until oppression by the Nazis and then by the communists.

Today just a small percentage of Romani communities in Western Europe still travel, and the UK’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seems it will stop all travel in Britain in 2022.

A lot has changed in my lifetime. The places where my family would often camp are now not open to travellers. And in 1994 John Major’s Conservative government removed the duty of councils to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers, at the same time as it increased police powers.

This summer I travelled with a mixed group of people from Romani communities to Irish and Scottish Travellers, New Age Travellers, and travelling show-people. Their way of life will soon be illegal.

Some people say more and more that Gypsy caravans cause aesthetic and environmental damage to the places they stop. It’s true that a small number of travellers leave rubbish. But people never understand that Gypsies and Travellers reduce environmental problems with the scrap metal trade, for example, and that they have a much smaller carbon footprint.

But we know that the people who leave rubbish or have caravans do not create the biggest problems for the environment. The actions that cause the most damage - from intensive farming to mining - are often legal.

We need to understand that the Romani way of life can actually help us beat environmental destruction. And we need to protest against the environmental racism that sees Romani communities forced to live on polluted wastelands throughout Europe.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)