It’ll be three years in May that 'Camp Titnore' residents have been putting put a wonky spoke in the giant wheels of this 875-home, plus business units, project.
Since seizing the site in a dawn raid in 2006 upwards of 15 protesters at a time have moved in and moved on - living in the woods and building tree-houses, aerial walkways and a labyrinth of tunnels.
From the beginning there has been support from the unlikeliest of places: Titnore lies on the border of some notorious West Sussex housing estates. Locals on the nearby Durrington estate have given campers access to water and there have been countless open days and 'free cafes'.
On the whole the campaigners have sought to live in harmony with their surroundings and have started growing their own vegetables on a nearby patch of land at the opening to the camp.
One of them, Lorna, said: ‘It’s not just about the trees, there’s also the wider forest eco-system we want to save and work with. Local people from the estate come here to help out and give us their support. They remember playing in these woods as kids and don’t want to lose them. Their kids come over to play and we teach them about what is here and how to climb trees safely etc. As for housing there’s plenty of empty houses they could renovate in Worthing, it’s just cheaper to build here.’
Another wood-dweller, Nick, said: ‘Tesco and the rest won't walk all over us. We’re defending what is essentially one of our last bits of rainforest.’
Campaigners haven’t had it all their own way, however, and have faced accusations of burning down a nearby fishing lodge and pushing a digger into a pond, despite pointing out that the acts would go against their principles, and the fact that local kids had already boasted of doing it themselves.
On other occasions shots, protesters say they have been fired at in the nearby Tesco car park, and claim to have been physically assaulted by drunken louts who took exception to the camp.
‘It’s a shame,’ said Nick, ‘because what we’re doing is defending their and their kids right to enjoy the forest.’
However, having now weathered their third winter, and with groundworks for the new store due to be started in June, the protest camp is more determined than ever to prevent the development.
As yet the supermarket doesn't have the full planning permission to go ahead, just outline permission. The area’s 'masterplan' is due to go before Worthing Borough Council's Development Control Committee once the road plans have been finalised by West Sussex County Council.
The floor area of the new store will be 13,138 sq metres, more than twice the size of the present store, which has become ‘inadequate’ for local needs since it opened in 1981 with the whole of the eastern area earmarked for an 800-space car park.
According to the campaigners, the development as a whole will have a detrimental effect on the woodland and its adjacent ecosystems. Titnore is one of only two ancient woodlands left on the Sussex coastal plain. It is home to badgers, bats, Tawney Owls, Little Owls, Yellowhammers, Mistle Thrush and rare butterflies including the Marsh Brown Fritillary.
Titnore Woods and Camp Titnore are 20 minutes from Goring station and 5 minutes from Durrington Tesco.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2009