While the nation is invited to stay at home, rebel protesters against HS2 have chosen to isolate themselves in makeshift camps in threatened forests. Dozens live in old wooded areas during the lockdown – spending days in the trees – where they say they isolate themselves as if they were one big household.
Crackley Woods camp near Kenilworth, Warwickshire, consists of a rotunda constructed from hay bales and covered with tarpaulin, a country kitchen, about 20 small tents and a handful motorhomes. The owner gave protesters permission to move in here before the lockdown, and has continued to do so for the past six weeks.
The supporters bring food and care packages and leave them at the edge of the camp. It was originally made up of residents of the Stop HS2 campaign group, but was joined by people from other organizations, including Extinction Rebellion.
It is possible to walk along a public ramp which takes you through the woods to the edge of the camp, and to the fences which have been erected by HS2 contractors to keep protesters away. On the one hand, mobile video surveillance camera units called Armadillos, as well as HS2 personnel wearing PPE who patrol the border to check on the incursions.
On the other side, the protesters built treehouses and a portico to see what is going on over the fence. Almost all of the trees that should have been felled have been felled in the past few weeks. Activists went to the treetops to try to stop the work, and a number were arrested by law enforcement officials.
One, known as Quercus – Latin for oak – is a former tree surgeon. He spends most of the day in a tree house 30 feet tall. He told me that when he saw the trees falling, he was “overwhelmed with grief” and was ready to be arrested again to try to prevent the trees from being cut down.
He has been in camp for several weeks and says he believes it is important to continue fighting as long as the country remains locked.
“Even before the pandemic and the containment, there was a large minority of people who were able to come forward and demonstrate like that – certainly far fewer people now,” he said.
“The people’s democratic right to protest and have a say has been withdrawn at this time. “
Activists say 108 old-growth forests along the road, which has been approved by the government, are threatened. HS2 said it was an exaggeration.
Paul Faulkner, managing director of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, is a big supporter of the project. He believes he has very good green credentials and says that a tiny fraction of the country’s ancient forests will be cut down.
“HS2 aims to be the most sustainable high-speed railway in the world. It has a whole series of pro-environmental measures that it is introducing, and that is before we move on to the massive economic benefits that HS2 will bring. “
Stop HS2 has argued that the economic benefits have never been proven and they believe the money would be better spent after the lockout ends.
HS2 CEO Mark Thurston said that 11,000 people from 2,000 companies are already working on the project and he expects to double it over the next two years.
“We now see that HS2 has an important role to play in getting the economy back on its feet,” he said.
The Department of Transport said in a statement: “While the government’s top priority is rightly fighting the spread of the coronavirus, we must not delay work on our long-term plan to level the country.”
Matt Bishop grew up in Coventry and visited Crackley Woods when he was a child. He became one of the camp leaders. He still hopes that the project – which has received the green light from the government – can be halted.
“We have to show the government that you can’t just draw a line in the middle of the campaign. It’s just not acceptable, ”he said.
The first train is not expected to arrive at the new Birmingham Curzon Street station until 2029.