The £100 billion High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project is in serious trouble, with its northern section recently being gutted and even its southern half under pressure. A large part of this is thanks to green direct actionists who have stymied the destructive project at every turn. Laura Hughes gives her view.
The battle over HS2 echoes the 1996 Newbury Bypass protests, which famously cost a fifth of the entire price of the planned road — Stop HS2 has added “cost pressures” of £800 million. Newbury was critical in preventing 600 other proposed roads from happening under Thatcher, with the subsequent Labour government scrapping that wider scheme in 1997.
Public support for the lovable fierceness of the characters fighting their chapter of Britain’s ecowar was fed by media coverage and court battles showcasing the dire science of the situation. The Wild Horses of Newbury shows horses approaching an oak tree about to be felled, and with roaring chainsaws and old English spoken word it sends shivers down your spine. England became what it did from these old oaks and we are the descendents of the people who depended on them to see (and pillage) the world. There is a deepness and darkness to the oak and when you climb a matriarchal tree you feel its pulse. The roots hold tight when you pitch a tent below, protecting us protectors whilst we nod off, to the gentle hooting of almost extinct Barn Owls.
My first action
I was crawling through the undergrowth in Ruislip with a friend who had been expelled from the army after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’d dared to question their war and joined the anti frackers, then had come to London to see what HS2 was up to.
He fell in the river twenty minutes in, trying to climb around a tree overhanging the stream. HS2 is now polluting that stream from Ruislip’s Newyears Green Lane dump, piledriving through our aquifer via this pollution pathway, knowing 22% of Londoners drink it.
As we got closer, we could see our friend Sarah Green had lost faith in us and climbed on top of the company’s only digger. I phoned and asked her to get down as she was distressed and in turmoil at HS2, which had finally managed to enter the meadow we were protecting. We had stopped them for months successfully.
She caused a distraction for me and I briskly strolled through about 20 men in orange, smiling, then managed to D-lock my neck to the digger’s hydraulics. My friend laid in the bushes watching me for an hour until one of the staff, going for a wee in the bush, spotted him and made him leave. Then no-one could see me as they covered the view from the road.
Police searched me and handcuffed me to the digger, which was terrifying as they had no control over the machinery. I began to panic as my neck was tight in the D-lock but as I looked up, I noticed a kestrel above me, keeping watch. I knew I was protected. My eyes welled up and paramedics turned up (standard procedure), telling the police how dangerous and unprofessional their misuse of handcuffs was. Three-and-a-half hours later I was in the cells and a cop brought me a book, The Alchemist — which depicts birds of prey giving signs when they are needed.
Much like at Newbury, we have used up every bit of our energy in this ecowar and it can be exhausting, so the 2018 youth movement that arrived with Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion helped us a lot. I was one of the first arrested in 2018 with XR and Stop HS2, and have seen the two movements grow together.
XR provided us at the Stop HS2 campaign with science, media and people power, and Stop HS2 showed them a real, gritty movement of frontline activism.
Support work at Euston
I had to leave the frontlines in 2019 after a bailiff ran me over in front of my children. Instead I studied human rights law and got a top legal team together to stop my mates being crushed under the weight of a crane and metres of London clay at the anti-HS2 Euston camp In February. I did not sleep in the month the Nine were down there.
We ran interviews with the press, created Facebook groups, pulling in support from all over. Screw You HS2 even has its own Dank HS2 Memes group, which is updated constantly trying to find humour to get us through the violence. Lego animations were made using the real voices of activists and bailiffs. Musicians came out of lockdown with songs about the nine brave protectors.
This is more than just a battle about an unwanted railway. It has become a battle against the patriarchy and all that wishes to destroy life and our support systems.
People will not get in the way of what they perceive as progress, but we can certainly chip away piece by piece. This is an eco-war, and a human rights catastrophe.
Pic: Guy Smallman