The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Fearless, posh and PR savvy,

Ed Cumming reports on the canny tactics of a new breed of well-educated green activists


It was the image that defined this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. At 9am on Thursday morning, Just Stop Oil protesters ran on to the Royal Bank of Canada’s Brewin Dolphin show garden and scattered their signature orange paint around the place.

They shouted about how the Government needed to stop licensing fossil fuels, which amounted to a “war on the young” and a “death sentence” on all of us.

“Just stop oil, join us on a slow march in London every single day,” shouted one, appealing to the population who don’t have day jobs.

On the face of it, the Chelsea Flower Show was a surprising target for an environmen­tal protest. Who knows more about climate change than gardeners? Besides, few institutio­ns have been more self-flagellati­ng and introspect­ive about climate change than the Royal Horticultu­ral Society, especially when it comes to Chelsea.

In recent years there has been an acknowledg­ement that shipping plants from around the world for a six-day jamboree in SW3 does not make for an eco-friendly festival.

Exhibitors these days must show that they are thinking constantly about the climate. Rather than celebratio­ns of design, gardens are increasing­ly drought-proof, carbon-neutral, weed-filled warnings from the world’s altered future.

Yet in another sense the Chelsea Flower Show was the perfect target – the latest in a rolling series of Just Stop Oil protests that maximise visibility among the middle classes.

While the group has continued its targeted protests against fossil fuel companies, they have also branched out to include art, sports events and shops. They’ve spray-painted Harrods, an Aston Martin showroom and smeared cake over the waxwork of King Charles at Madame Tussauds.

In March last year activists disrupted the Baftas. Galleries have been repeatedly targeted: demonstrat­ors have glued themselves to Constable’s Hay Wain and Vermeer’s

Girl with a Pearl Earring while soup has been thrown at Van Gogh’s

Sunflowers. This March, a protester locked on to a goalpost at Goodison Park during the Everton vs Newcastle United match.

Six activists walked on to the track at the British Grand Prix last year. Last month, a man jumped on to the table at the Crucible in Sheffield during the World Snooker Championsh­ip, another powerful orange-on-green visual. Then there are the “slow walks”, which infuriate motorists.

For years, the image of climate protesters had evolved naturally.

There was a clear through line from Swampy-style live-in-a-tree types to

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