‘This is not just about a railway’: meet the women at the forefront of the battle to save Jones Hill Wood

Stop HS2

Republished from The Canary on October 9th

After nine days of amazing resistance by activists, the battle to save Jones Hill Wood is entering its final phase, with nine people arrested on Thursday 8 October. Jones Hill is an ancient woodland which will be destroyed imminently to make way for the HS2 high speed railway, dubbed “the most expensive and destructive infrastructure project in Europe”.

Activists have spent most of this year making a home in the special woodland, building and sleeping in treehouses high up in the old beeches, becoming a protective presence to one of the last slithers of Britain’s ancient woodlands.

But Thursday saw the police working hand-in-hand with National Eviction Team (NET) bailiffs to destroy the last of the tree houses. HS2 Rebellion described the scene:

Two NET climbers have gone to the under-storey of the tree house, and they’re just ripping everything out… Meanwhile, there are still three police officers… right up on the top of the tree, chasing… people right up into the very, very highest branches.

The police have done most of the demolition of the tree house, which essentially means that they are evicting. They have no right to do that. There are no court writs in this eviction. This is a common-law eviction; therefore police cannot be involved in the eviction.

Women at the forefront

For many of the activists, the battle to save Jones Hill Wood has never just been about a railway. It’s always been about the whole fucked up system. A system that serves the rich, and has fenced us off from the land that we all belong to. A system that’s conditioned us not to question why less than 1% of the population owns half of England.

At Jones Hill, it’s been women who have been at the forefront of the resistance.

I spoke to a woman called Beany, who has been living in the woods for the last three months. She told me that:

It’s about the much wider issue of land justice, and opposing the state’s oppressive brutality…

We have virtually no common land left that is freely accessible by the people of this country. All of our land has been taken from us. It started with the Enclosures Act, and there have been continual land grabs. All of the land in this country is owned by a very small number of people, and we have very little right to roam, or to live and to sustain ourselves, or to enjoy the land that we have here.

And there is an Act that is going through parliament right now that will turn all trespass from civil trespass to criminal trespass, and make it a criminal offence, which will just be the final nail in the coffin, sealing us off from the natural world and our land. And so being here is about defending this woodland, but it is also about taking a stand against the government and the state and saying that we’re not going to take that. We’re not going to stand for it.

Violently assaulted

Like many of the activists, Beany was violently assaulted when she was evicted, but it was she who was arrested by the police and charged with assault. She explained:

I had been resisting the eviction for three days up in one of the tree houses, when two of the National Eviction Team – Steve Collins and Matthew Bailey – came up to remove me from the tree and destroy the house. These two men are known for being incredibly and unnecessary violent.

The whole struggle lasted about half an hour with the two of them twisting my limbs, using pressure points and using really aggressively tight grips. I am now covered in bruises and at some point in the struggle a slice of skin was taken off my finger. They eventually tied my feet together with my own safety line, and I was dropped into the cherry picker to be taken to the ground, arrested and then falsely charged with assault.

‘Jones Hill Wood is just the beginning’

I also spoke to Fairy, another woman who has been living in Jones Hill Wood for months, building tree houses and teaching people to climb. Before it was destroyed, Fairy’s tree house was one of the most impressive, with glass windows and a sliding door. Fairy explained that for her, this struggle is also much bigger than a railway line. She said:

For me, resistance is life. It’s not always aggressive, but is fuelled by my unwillingness to accept state violence. The UK government squashes working class people into a box where one size fits all; creativity and uniqueness extracted, interests and opinions silenced.

This country has put money before the people and the environment for too long: short-term gains for those with assets, long-term misery for those without. We must put a stop to this cycle, meet every oppression with a resistance so strong and loud that the systems of violence are no longer necessary. I will continue to plant seeds of a new culture and use my compassion and love to support the growth of a sustainable future for all. Jones Hill Wood is just the beginning.

We are all part of a wider struggle to create an alternative to capitalism, whether we are building tree houses, or delivering mutual aid to people in our community, or trying to stop the culling of badgers. And we are growing in numbers.

By Eliza Egret