Voices from the trees

Treehouses and tunnels - a short film about the frontlines of ecological activism

Voices From the Trees is a short insight into the lives of those living on the current frontline of UK ecological activism. We started this project without prior knowledge or preconceptions of the HS2 development nor the campaign against it. We were initially seeking stories of people outside of the mainstream political debate. People who were passionate about change, and willing to take action to realise it. We found ourselves in the woods, talking to the activists who live there.

Phase 1 of HS2 will stretch between London and Birmingham. Over the last couple of years several “resistance camps” have been built along the route. Euston Square Gardens is the most well known, the eviction having recently made national news, but there are many larger and more established communities in more rural locations. The activists’ goal is to resist, slow and prevent the destruction of the woodlands that stand in the way of the railway.

Many of these woods are classed as ancient, meaning they have existed undisturbed since at least the year 1600, and are home to fragile and irreplaceable ecosystems. HS2 themselves recognise this fact and have laid out mitigation plans, such as planting new trees and the un-tested practice of “translocation” whereby parts of the ecosystem are relocated. Activists are skeptical that such measures will be effective or properly implemented, a risk they say is too great to take and that cannot be undone.

Most of the time the camps feel relaxed and community focused. Community outreach days, skills workshops, camp maintenance and strategy planning take up much of the time. However conflict with bailiffs, security and police is an ever present threat. Direct action to slow construction brings stand-offs with security and living on injunctioned land brings the bailiffs knocking.

Reports of violence and intimidation from the bailiffs are common, some protestors have even been hospitalised. The police have been arresting activists on charges which more often than not are dismissed. We were told there have been over 400 arrests with only two convictions so far, giving credence to allegations that the arrests aren’t about stopping crime, but using police powers to hinder rights to legitimate protest.

As we have researched the topic we have begun to see the complexities within the issue and so will continue to make videos to broaden our understanding. In particular we want to now speak to those in favour of the project and to look at the relationship between ecosystem protection and carbon emission reduction.

HS2 argue that the loss of the woodlands is an acceptable measure in order to lower transport emissions, but many see this willingness to destroy existing habitats as foundational to the climate problem. A recent Oxford University study has highlighted the risky nature of huge infrastructure projects in economic terms, claiming that they are slow, expensive and are not certain to reap the intended returns.

The environmental argument surrounding HS2 is the same: is the risk of removing existing trees worth taking?

These activists firmly believe the answer to be no.