Earlier this month Freedom correspondent Lousy Badger packed his bags and headed to Wendover Active Resistance camp to help in the fight to protect ancient woodlands from destruction linked to the HS2 railway project. Below he describes the impressions he’s had from two weeks among the trees.
With a belly full of processed “Atomic” service station food, the van landed at Wendover Active Resistance camp. It was dusk and our troop of punks, anarchists and pirates were tired but excited at what the Stop HS2 camp we were entering was going to offer.
Fed up of the gentrification war zone that was Manchester, hopes and dreams were being carried along with a selection of tents, sleeping bags, waterproofs and beer to ensure that the next few months of wild living were as comfortable as possible. We were greeted at the gate by a camouflaged man, smile beaming ear to ear, and I immediately felt at home.
We were here for the Off the Rails festival organised by camps across the campaign. The idea behind it? Simple. To raise awareness for the local community, wider campaign and anyone nationally that sympathised with the cause. Before this however we had to set up our sleeping arrangements whilst darkness was taking hold, and anyone who has lived on sites before knows to always get your kit set up before it gets dark. By the time we had made our new homes of benders, tents and hammocks the sun had left and the moon was beginning to shine. I had a good feeling about what the next year was going to hold for me. I love the smell of fire at night.
The festival itself was deliberately low key. Workshops, camp fire songs (courtesy of Jay Terrestrial), an electric acoustic stage, poetry, and an assortment of circus performers, all with a sense of family. Having children present at the site made everyone be on their best behaviour and added an innocent energy to the vibe. The weekend passed without trouble and as I awoke Monday morning hungover and tired, but with a belly full of fire, I was ready to get stuck in.
For obvious security reasons I can’t talk much about the layout of the camp, but what I can tell you is that from huts, tree houses, towers, tents, and benders to a large perimeter made from pallets (and other cute little security measures!) this was a camp that lived up to its name, a mini Minas Tirith, and it was prepared to defend the ancient woodland that surrounded us to the bitter end. Over the last few days it had been my pleasure to meet many of the locals, from Anne of Wendover (a powerful woman with drive and energy that puts many to shame) to many others who came offering food, clothing, showers, washing access, pallets, firewood and much much more. Its clear that the campaign was driven by the locals and supported by us, the perfect mix for an effective resistance.
I had settled in pretty well given my social anxiety, mainly because of the Northern contingent that had settled here along with southern squatter comrades from Grow Heathrow and London’s East End. It feels like my extended family and I must thank all of those on camp for accepting me into the crew. For me, these last few days had been about forming bonds, swapping stories, and integrating with the community, because this is a community that is building slowly but surely across the land.
I’m a massive Roald Dahl fan. I have every copy of this magnificent writer’s books, some signed, some falling apart of the seams and to know that today I was visiting “Jones Hill,” the setting of Fantastic Mr Fox, was a great pleasure. This is an ancient part of the Wendover woodland that sits partly on HS2 land and partly on privately-owned soil that is currently not part of the HS2 route (however given the HS2 Hybrid Bill this could change at any moment) The vibe and energy here is different.
An Ewok village sits in the canopy of the trees and it is much more open and airy, however do not mistake this sense of freedom with weakness; the people here are serious about stopping HS2 and its poorly-planned economics, blatant disregard for democracy and permanent destruction of wildlife that is essential to battling the current climate crisis.
I spent the day mingling with the occupants, all with pseudonyms for security purposes, and again felt at home. They had washing stations, recycling points and compost toilets (just like all camps including ours), and I was greeted with friendly smiles and by comrades I hadn’t seen for a long time.
We spent some time in the trees learning how to climb, something that I had a great fear of, in between listening to recitals of Fantastic Mr Fox, poetry and eating amazing vegan food. I love communal meals. Its the cornerstone of these communities and the wider nation should take a great deal from this small yet essential offering. By the time we left I was beginning to realise that the campaign really had a chance of achieving it goal; to stop HS2.
I do not sleep well. It’s a monkey on my back that I have carried for some time, mainly due to squatting in the City for many a long year, however for the first time in over five years I’d had my first full night’s sleep. Its amazing how your body begins to sync with the Sun and the Moon, how healing it is to be tired when it gets dark and to feel refreshed and energised when you’re awoken by the morning chorus.
Camp life is tiring. Everyday actions that you take for granted like cooking become full time occupations, from collecting firewood and water to preparing food. Our atomic city life equates to little more than pressing a button and queuing at a bland supermarket for your daily poison. However we have great support from the Wendover community to assist with the long walks, lack of food and other facilities that the camps do not have the time to install and make sustainable. We do have however a shower and a 12v solar and wind powered electricity supply, basic and crude, that is a luxury.
Today’s mission? Denham Camp.
All of the camps on the HS2 route are unique and Denham no less so. Here the camp is surrounded by two HS2 compounds and looks like ground zero with the National Eviction Team (NET), Black Onyx and the HS2 security, known as “The carrots” due to their orange boiler style suits. Again this is an organised camp with another Ewok village and a spiky energy that is necessary when surrounded by the enemy, however they are again welcoming and friendly and the ethos of skill sharing is a great asset to the campaign and the wider community.
Here my fear of heights was tested to the full. The trees seem like woodland skyscrapers and the wind is an ever-present when climbing. After spending some time building a tree house in the tallest part of the woods however, I was ready to leave and return to the security of WAR camp and its northern humour and relaxed atmosphere.
These last three weeks had been of great comfort to me, from gaining new friends and hooking up with old I began to realise that this was what I had been waiting for and although my 40-year-old body was aching and screaming for a rest, my energy and sureness of success had been refilled and I was ready to take up the call for arms!
Peace and love…badger and out x
~ Lousy Badger