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Inside The Battle To Stop HS2

A war is being waged in Britains countryside by activists campaigning to stop the high-speed rail project, HS2.

It’s 10 am, sun beams through ancient woodland in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, birds sing and animals rustle in the bushes. 20 yards away stand metal fences, robots and men in black.

The 20 year high-speed rail project is the largest infrastructure project in Europe, its aim is to provide more rail capacity and rebalance the economy with investments outside London.

Crackley Woods in Kenilworth is one of 43 ancient woodlands that will be affected by the project. Activists set up camp here last October, they say the £106 billion project will cause widescale environmental and ecological destruction and that such capacity is no longer needed following the coronavirus pandemic.

HS2 argue that it will be the most sustainable high speed railway in the world and is Britain’s biggest ‘environment project’ delivering miles of ecological and landscape investments.

Adding that a green corridor will be created alongside the route replacing any habitats affected by the construction of HS2.

The camp at Crackley Woods has dozens of battered tents on site with several wooden stuctures serving as kitchens,storerooms and toilets. Many see this as a small community with activists from up and down the country visiting for varying durations.

Three activists are huddled around a fire in the camp whilst a socially distanced workshop is taking place nearby on direct action techniques. listen

“We’re all wild creatures we’ve just forgotten. And I think part of being on camp is about rewilding ourselves. You know, every single step.” says Indra Donfranesco.

Indra , 50 from Glastonbury visited the camp in March to help deliver training, lockdown was imposed shortly after and she felt it was best to remain at the camp as her husband was in the ‘at risk’ group.

Indra Donfranesco takes part in a direct action in Cubbington,Warwickshire. Credit: Dylan Hayward

‘I’ve been an environmentalist, I’d say all my life’ she says, explaining that at 18, she started a recycling company where she saw a trajectory to a doomed humanity, she became very depressed as she realised how much we consumed as a country and learnt about landfills.

Since she has campaigned against parks being turned into blocks of flats, the 90’s roads programme and fox hunting.

After 30 years campaigning, Indra calls HS2 the ‘biggest and the most important’ campaign she has been involved in.

Indra speaks about the felling of trees at Crackley, she says “ I feel embarrassed for humans that we are doing this for humanity, that we haven’t realised what they are.”

Activists here are adamantly against felling trees, they call such work ecocide, Indra adds;

They are living creatures that have been here longer than us… We are cutting off the breasts of our mothers by killing trees.

Listen

The camp is known as a skillshare where people are encouraged to come and learn new skills such as tree climbing, structure building and receive direct action training.

Albatross, 19 is a student who first came to the camps in July and has spent most of the summer at camps along the line, acting in direct opposition to he views as ‘the greatest ongoing wildlife crime in Britain.’

At the camp, he has learnt how to climb hundred-foot oak trees and build platforms and structures in them which will allow activists to occupy these trees when the bailiffs come to evict the camps.

Albatross was initially supportive of mass investment in public transport, he said;

“Over the past few months as I’ve learned more about the project and the role it plays in the transformation of the UK over the next two decades, my view has completely changed.

HS2 represents an expansionist, industrialist view of Britain in the future.

It assumes we will continue to manufacture, continue to pollute, and continue to pump megatons of CO2 into our atmosphere year-on-year.

It does nothing to lower our carbon emissions, but instead will result in an estimated 1.49 million tons of CO2e emissions over the course of its construction and operation. At a vital time in the UK, when we need to be rapidly decarbonising, this is an act of climatic suicide.”

HS2 construction sites are heavily secured by six to twelve guards who activists call carrots due to their orange high visibility clothing.

Dotted along perimeter fences are Dalek like alarm systems called Armadillos that play a 120db alarm and message when motion is detected.

‘This is security, your presence has been detected, the owner and police have been informed.”

A fifteen minute drive away from Crackley Woods lies another affected ancient woodland in the village of Cubbington.

Here, men dressed in black stand behind a perimeter fence, these are enforcement officers from The National Eviction Team (NET) which carries out evictions and enforcement on behalf of HS2.

. Members of the National Eviction Team and activists stand off.
Credit: Dylan Hayward

Indra along with other activists from Crackley Woods have come here for ‘none violent direct action’ which she says often means doing pretty much anything to halt work at HS2 sites.

Tree Protectors frequently attempt to stop work on HS2 sites by jumping on machinery, blocking gates, and have been accused of sabotaging machinery.

“It makes you feel like you can do something. and it brings you your humanity back by standing in front of something and saying no.” Indra says.

Dozens of activists walk alongside the perimeter fence, some start jumping over and running towards trees where work is underway to fell them.

Once caught, enforcement officers inform them that they are trespassing on HS2 property and ask them to return to the other side of the fence. Some comply but others like Indra refuse and are carried over.

In early October, four NET bailiffs were suspended following an alleged assault on two activists that resulted in one being hospitalised for a fractured jaw.

The incident is claimed to have taken place in the  Ramada Hotel car park in Leamington Spa, an activist who was at the scene said bailiffs blocked them in the car park and attempted to drag them from a vehicle. 

”They are completely out of control. Basically, they think they can do whatever the f**k they want”  said the activist.

A spokeswoman for the National Eviction Team said; 

“This incident took place away from any site operations and after the individuals concerned had finished work for the day. They were not engaged in any activity for the National Eviction Team at the time.”

As the weather gets colder, activists fear it will be harder to occupy sites.

Albatross says this colder weather will make camps “more dangerous places as HS2’s security and hired bailiffs are emboldened to commit further assaults on peaceful protestors and as activists brave the weather to bear witness to and attempt to halt the acts of ecocide that are occurring in this once green and pleasant land”

He adds that more support is needed to “survive a long, cold winter and ‘stop HS2 from bulldozing any more of our home.”

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