1/2/2021 — The daily walk permitted by the government takes me today to Euston Square Gardens. It’s Day 5 of the tunnel which HS2 Rebellion protesters have dug and occupied under this public open space to prevent HS2 from cutting down the trees there in order to create a taxi rank for HS2.
The plane trees of Euston Square Gardens are emblematic of all the trees that will be destroyed in the building of the high speed rail link.
According to the Woodland Trust, between London and Birmingham, “32 ancient woods will be directly affected. A further 29 will suffer secondary effects such as disturbance, noise and pollution.”
This sacrifice demanded of the trees is in order to slightly shorten the train journey between those two cities for those who can afford to pay the fare.
Just before ten O’clock a solitary photographer on the pavement peers in through the netting outside the railings round the east side of the square. The protesters camp has been mostly demolished and under the plane trees there are great mounds of pallets, clothing and bedding, pieces of timber and more pallets between areas of cleared damp earth.
Some elements of the protest camp structure remain on the Euston Road side of the site. And the entrance to the tunnel, which HS2 Rebellion have been building beneath the site, may be inside this structure of pallets, wood and fragments of tent.
The sombre scene of bare trees, bare earth and debris is startled by the Hi-Viz jackets of the legion of security men thronging the site, wearing fluorescent orange or yellow. Others wear black with eye torches strapped to their foreheads. All wear hard hats.
Beside the structure a large area of bare ground has been cleared and a security man is carefully removing small items of litter from it. More security men and sometimes police regularly walk past on the pavement.
Another photographer appears with a small aluminium stepladder so he may take photographs over the fence. He thinks there may be about nine people in the protesters’ tunnel, including a young girl. He asks if I have seen “The Great Escape” — I haven’t. Meanwhile the burly security men above ground wait.
2/2/2021 — This morning I hear that the chairman of HS2 has suddenly resigned. He said it was in order to give more of a chance to his successor — or words to that effect.
I return to Euston Square Gardens for today’s permitted walk. Another photographer is on the pavement. A lady with tubular bells is waiting for her drummer friend nearby so that they may play music to lift the spirits of the protesters. Someone says that the security men have been digging a tunnel very close to the protesters’ tunnel thus putting the protesters lives in danger.
Looking into the site, the area of cleared ground is now occupied by two tents, one navy and one olive green that were not there yesterday. After a while several men walk towards the new tents — two of them are wearing suits under their raincoats and hard hats. The photographer says these are lawyers for the protesters. They disappear into the navy tent as if to consult the oracle.
A man arrives to say that the protesters have gained access to the canopy over the entrance to the HS2 headquarters round the corner so I go to see. They have hung an orange banner over the main entrance and security have erected a scaffold tower to reach the protesters who are being brought down one by one on stretchers.
I bump into a man with a drum kit on his cargo bike and I ask if he is looking for the lady with the tubular bells. He is. I tell him where she went. He says the protesters have just taken possession of the large construction site to the west of Euston station. A nearby photographer says “It’s just like ‘The Great Escape’ isn’t it?” I smile and nod.
3/2/2021 — St Pancras Church on the Euston Road is providing sanctuary to HS2 Rebellion and Extinction Rebellion to put up banners and flags on the church. A new orange banner now hangs from the roof of the church, facing the gardens. It reads: NHS NOT HS2.
4/2/21 — It seems as though the security people are finally broaching the tunnels. HS2 have started sawing branches off the old trees.
5/2/21 — Day 10. Apparently the security people have managed to access the youngest person in the tunnel and they are trying to cut him out. For now, the rest of the tunnellers are secure in their underground hideaway and can keep going for a long time (and I will be nervously watching The Great Escape over the weekend, hoping for a happy ending).
By the time you read this, the fate of the protesters will be known but, whatever the outcome of the Euston Square Gardens story, these protesters and many, many more people who care for our environment will continue to stop HS2 from destroying trees.