UPDATE: As of 5.30 today, all the protesters have been evicted from the site.
Protesters opposed to the destruction of parts of the Colne Valley Park, a nature reserve on the outskirts of London, have halted the felling of trees by HS2 Ltd by camping out underneath a digger. Five protesters now occupy land on Harvil Road in Harefield after one initially stopped work by getting herself underneath one of the construction vehicles. The protesters believe the work HS2 Ltd are currently undertaking is illegal as they do not have the necessary licenses from Natural England to disturb the habitats of protected species.
At around 11am on Monday 2nd October, local resident Sarah Green saw that trees were being cleared from a site off Harvil Road outside of Harefield, and immediately entered the site where she crawled under a digger. Overnight, she was joined in the compound by four other protesters, in what is expected to be the first of many direct actions against HS2. Trees are being cleared from the site as part of preparatory work, as they are making way for a temporary construction road.
In November 2016, when appearing in front of the House of Lords HS2 Bill Committee, Green was assured by HS2 that “Works are done in accordance with the code of construction practice, such that there’s a myriad of controls in place to ensure environmental matters are conducted responsibly.”
At the time, Green presented evidence to Parliament compiled by Greenspace Information for Greater London (the official environmental records keepers for Greater London) that there are 2,400 species present in the Colne valley park, including protected species of bats. However, since then HS2 Ltd have claimed that their surveys have found no evidence of bats, and therefore do not have to come up with a detailed ‘Ecology Management Plan’ or to obtain licenses from Natural England under the law before they start to clear the site. Green said:
“There is so much wildlife here. An osprey was seen recently and I saw wonderful bats here last night. I don’t know if they have a licence to demolish this area given that we have so many bats here. We have reported the bat issue to the police because we believe a wildlife crime may have been committed.”
A police spokesperson has since commented:
“Police received an allegation of wildlife crime on Tuesday, 3 October in relation to activity at a site near Harvil Road, Uxbridge. Officers assessed the information provided and spoke to parties involved. No evidence of a crime was established. No further police action at this time.”
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Alice Greenham responded:
“HS2 Ltd have not proven the legalities of the situation and their actions are strongly suggesting otherwise.”
A tarpaulin been erected around the site meaning it is now not viable from the road and bailiffs have arrived. Police have since confirmed that two arrests have been made. Witnesses at the scene say the people arrested were attempting to get food to the protesters inside the compound. The occupiers have vowed to go on for as long as possible.
“At the age of 62 this is the first time I’ve been involved in any direct action protest. This is the start of the direct action protests against HS2 but there is much more to come.”
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin responded:
“It seems exceptionally convenient that the official environmental records keeper for Greater London thinks there are protected bats on this site, but when HS2 Ltd do their own survey, suddenly there aren’t any, so they can just chop all the trees down willy-nilly without any care for the Habitats Regulations or the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This method of operation is no surprise to anyone who has been dealing with HS2 Ltd for the last seven years, and exactly what we have come to expect.”