Socialist Worker

Treetop activists resist evictions as they fight to stop destructive HS2

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2726

Protestors at Jones Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire have fought to stop trees being destroyed along the route of HS2

Protestors at Jones' Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire have fought to stop trees being destroyed along the route of HS2 (Pic: PA)


Treetop activists remain determined to halt the destruction of ancient woodlands along the route of the HS2 high speed railway.

Activists from across Britain blocked all entrances to the 135-acre tunnelling site near West Hyde in the Chilterns last Friday. 

At the site near Buckinghamshire-village Denham, £16 million tunnel boring machines are  due to break into the Chilterns in early 2021. 

Dozens of activists from Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Stop HS2 locked themselves together and climbed bamboo structures to disrupt works. 

Rob Callender from XR said the project “is about to permanently eradicate hundreds of miles of habitats for 

living, interacting natural species”. 

“If you’re at home, you have to consider getting out here and fighting for nature and reparations because we don’t have any more time,” he said. 

“They can resell the tunnel machines. This is the end of the line for HS2.”

Activists face bullying by the National Eviction Team (NET), which wants to clear them out of trees.

NET is a privately-owned firm specialising in “evictions of trespassers, unwanted environmental protesters and squatters”.

Jones’ Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire has become a scene of major resistance. Some eleven protesters have been arrested over the last four days and many more are trying to block construction at the site.

People have been occupying the wood for seven months and tensions flared as the eviction team moved in.

Tree protector Pigeon said, “This is not just about a railway, it’s not just about keeping these trees standing, this is about so much more.

“It’s about resisting the brutality of the state evicting people from their homes, uncompensated, on behalf of corporate interests.

“This is about a continuation of a centuries-long legacy of legal land grabs, turning public lands to private profit, be it here in the UK or globally through the violence of colonialism.”

She called the trees, and the treetop encampment that activists have built, as “symbols of that resistance.”

“This is about class conflict, inequality and the privation of what is public, as much, if not more, as it is about a train,” said Pigeon.

HS2, which is expected to cost at least £106 billion, has been billed as a way to better connect northern cities to the financial City in London.

Phase one of the project would see a line between Birmingham and London. And bosses hope the government gives the go-ahead to phase two, which would see extensions to Manchester and Leeds from Birmingham.

Tickets on the new high speed line are likely to be too expensive for ordinary people to afford. And the line will only shave a few minutes off a journey from London to Birmingham.

Protesters are concerned about how the project will deepen climate catastrophe, and also about the impact on local wildlife.

Ecologists

Lawyers for Nature said, “We’ve been working with independent ecologists who have recorded evidence of rare barbastelle bats in Jones’ Hill Wood.

“Further enquiries suggest that HS2 does not have a license from Natural England to disturb bats at the site, or to damage and destroy their roosts.”

The group called on Natural England to enforce the law if HS2 ignores it.

“If not, however, we need to bring public pressure to bear to stop wildlife crimes being committed by way of the destruction of this woodland,” it said.

Activists have blasted HS2’s attempts to claim that it is reforesting areas.Rose Guiot said the fledgling trees planted by the firm won’t replace what has been lost.

“The much vaunted ‘new woodland’ which HS2 contractors have planted are just plantations of saplings,” she said. “They won’t be woodland for decades, perhaps centuries to come. There is simply no way to mitigate for the loss of ancient woodland.”

And local resident Rose said the construction in Warwickshire was a “heart-breaking scene of utter devastation”.

The NET team is closing in on the protection camps formed by activists along the route of destruction. On Monday this week protesters were removed from the Rugby Road camp, formed a month ago.

“We were expecting this eviction,” said Tahini. “We felt we prepared ourselves as much as we could physically and emotionally even though it is utterly heartbreaking. It’s time to move on to the next camp and protect more trees.”

And activist Mars said time spent at the camp, which was full of ancient oaks due to be felled, wasn’t wasted.

“We kept that wildlife corridor open a whole extra month at the end of nesting season,” they said. “I hope this helped the local wildlife who have suffered so much already at the hands of HS2.”

HS2 bosses are not backing off.It has just launched a public consultation to increase the number of HS2 platforms to be built at Manchester airport and Manchester Piccadilly station.

It’s also asking for public views on building a new train depot in Annandale, in Dumfries and Galloway.

This would represent a serious escalation for the project.

HS2 is an expensive vanity project, pushed by the Tories to hand out lucrative contracts to their mates in private construction firms.

It contributes to climate chaos and wreaks devastation on local habitats, while providing a service useful to almost no one. Time is ticking to finish off HS2 for good.


Violence comes from contractors

The National Eviction Team (NET) is a privately-owned firm specialising in “evictions of trespassers, unwanted environmental protesters and squatters”.

Four NET workers have been suspended after three activists were set upon in a hotel car park. 

It left one with a broken jaw. 

Activist Alex said he had driven into the car park of Ramada hotel in Warwickshire to assess how many bailiffs might be at the protection camps the next morning. 

“As we turned around in the car park one of them blocked us from leaving with his vehicle,”  he said. 

He added that they “forced entry to our car and took the key, although I was able to snatch it back”. 

“They wanted us to get out and fight but we are totally non-violent,” said Alex. 

“Eventually someone opened the car, punched me in the face at least three times and broke my jaw.”


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