Resisting HS2: THE Welsh Road Protection Camp

by Alexandros Kassapis, GLOBUS Correspondent

Cutting through 108 ancient woodlands, 693 local wildlife sites, 18 Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves, and many more protected areas, the UK’s current largest construction project, the High-Speed Rail 2 (HS2), has triggered a massive natural disaster. Since the construction of HS2 began in 2020, a long belt of resistance camps has formed along the line of destruction where the train is marked to pass.

From London Euston to Birmingham, you can find squatters who wish to defend nature’s rights to existence and have dedicated time and effort to hinder the construction work, leading many times to evictions and arrests.

Upon learning that there is an HS2 camp near Leamington Spa, I decided to make the hour-long scenic trip to the Welsh Road Protection Camp with a group of friends. We joined the occupiers overnight and were able to glance at the destruction caused by the train construction and learn about the actions of the camp residents. 

We reached a small patch of land hidden behind massive oak trees towering above the lodgings carefully constructed by the volunteers. Vivid signs welcomed us to the small settlement where we were offered delicious warm vegetable curry cooked by donated ingredients.

By conversing with the people at the camp, I was able to piece together the story of the camp. It all started when a young woman named Cyprus set her tent on the edge of a farmer’s piece of land. Since then, the tiny patch has evolved into a vibrant recreational space of resistance including a few treehouses, numerous beds, a trampoline, a tire swing and a lodging with impressive kitchen facilities and a communal area.

Not shaken by the compulsory purchase ordered by the Secretary of Transport, the landowner has let the protestors live on the land to prevent its unnecessary destruction. Nevertheless, the massive oak trees – which must be hundreds of years old – have been marked by large ominous X signs which foreshadow the sad day when they will be felled.

We were shown around the area by Britney, a young DJ from Glasgow, and now a resident at the camp. During the tour, we witnessed the destruction committed by the construction work. Spaces of land which used to be teeming with wildlife have been transformed into a barren lifeless landscape, and these areas seem far larger than what is necessary for a railway line.

G from the camp explained: They seem to be flattening way more area, to move trucks and for parking purposes. They want to clear the land from vegetation and sell it for profit.”

Indeed, it is quite difficult to understand how the ‘no net loss in biodiversity plan’ will be followed when witnessing the landscape. HS2 has placed too many protected sites under potential risk of significant impact and has failed to propose adequate and appropriate mitigation and compensation for the impacts on these wild places. Further information can be found in this report.

Destruction in the site heavily contrasted the natural and welcoming spirit of the camp area, where we had further conversations with Venus as we were jumping on the trampoline and she was swaying on the tire swing.

Each person ends up in the camp that is the most suitable for them,” said Venus. “The vibe of each camp and the work they do can be really different”. Welsh Road has been very peaceful compared to other camps where there have been multiple arrests. The spirit might change though when the bulldozers come to clear the patch of paradise.

I will tie myself up on the treehouse and they will have to cut me out of it.” Determination rang strong in Venus’ voice as she pointed high up the old oak tree where the tire swing was hanging from. The protestors are planning to fight for each individual tree, which would increase time and cost for the construction of the HS2.

Meanwhile, Terry revealed how HS2 has also used land belonging to Warwick University. For example, parts of Diamond Wood have been swept away, despite being too far away from the train tracks to have any use for HS2.

Terry also told us that HS2 is funding the New Warwick University Arts Centre. The HS2 Community and Environment Fund (CEF) was set up with the aim to benefit the communities along the route of disruption owing to the construction of Phase One of HS2. 108 ancient woodlands. 693 local wildlife sites. 18 Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves. These are lands which will be directly destroyed by the HS2. While communities fight for the rights of nature and receive minimal response, it disappoints me to realise that the funds are being allocated to those who face less direct impacts, like the University Arts Centre. The consequences of this may or may not be dire, but only time will tell.

Thank you, Welsh Road Protection Camp, stand strong when the tractor comes.

All photographs taken by the author. Header by Jessica Sysengrath on Unsplash

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