The first Ecology Action group in the UK was set up in Oxford by Laurie Greenfield and his wife, Carole, both biologists, during 1969-70. The main focus of the group, in line with the general Ecology Action philosophy, was on lifestyle change rather than political change. They called themselves Oxford Ecology Action (OEA)Laurie was a soil microbiologist at Oxford University in the Forestry Department reading for a PhD. Carole had been unable to get a research grant and had started teaching; finding children much more receptive to new ideas. Michael Allaby based an entire chapter of his 1971 book 'The Eco-Activists' (pp11-130) on a visit to the Greenfields, giving a detailed account of their thinking and practical activities in Oxford.
The Oxford group had grown by word of mouth, and was very much focussed on individual action. There was no formal organisation apart from consensus on the need for action. Laurie: “One can say there are at least 26 biologists [in the group]. At one of our meetings we estimated there were about 70 or 80 people.” This was all achieved by personal contact, everyone would tell a couple of friends and thus the group grew.
They generally did not engage with established environmental bodies, except at the level of volunteer forces in the field. This was seen as both a generational and a class divide.
Laurie “ I’m not qualified, nor interested enough, to branch into the political field. I’m quite prepared, most of Ecology Action here in Oxford are quite prepared, to provide evidence and solid fact, because most of the Ecology Action people here in Oxford are biologists who have specialised in certain fields.”
The one established body they were very positive about was the Conservation Corps1, who they saw as being effective in taking direct action to help clear up and counter the effects of pollution.
Allaby concluded: “On the wall of their flat there is a poster which says ‘The gifts of the Earth, they are given to all’. If Ecology Action has a manifesto this is it.”
Oxford Ecology Action, like most EA groups, were very much focussed on direct practical action rather than engaging with the political and bureaucratic machinery of local and national government and agencies.
Six years later in Oxford, the founders of the Oxford Political Ecology Research Group (PERG) and Oxford Ecology Movement (OEM) appear to have been unaware of the Ecology Action Group that had existed in Oxford in 1970-71. Although PERG was science based and remained strictly detached from political engagement this was so that it could provide impartial non-partisan advice in to government, rather than 'on-the-ground' practical action which was OEA's focus.
- The Conservation Corps had been founded in 1959, in 1970 it was renamed The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and in 2012 was rebranded as The Conservation Volunteers (TCV). Created as an offshoot of the Nature Conservancy to engage young people in nature conservation work despite its establishment credentials it has always had a very strong focus on practical action.