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On April 30th, Vice News released the documentary “Inside the battle over the UK’s ancient woodland”. Their report marks a significant shift in media attitudes towards HS2 and finally sheds some well-deserved light on the struggle against its destructive campaign. It’s an emotional and thought-provoking film which tells the story of brave activists fighting to save Jones Hill Woods from the jaws of HS2. The film provides a heartbreaking insight into state violence against activists in the wake of new legislation which aims to criminalize trespass and enable police to use more force with less accountability.
The documentary features activists from a unique range of backgrounds, including Green Party councilor Steve Masters who unapologetically declares his willingness to be arrested and thrown into prison in order to defend what he considers to be an “incredible piece” of our dwindling woodland- conveying a message of hope for the future in the midst of what, at times, feels like a losing battle against HS2.
Vice provides a fresh take on one of the lesser-known struggles against the new “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill”, displaying footage of police climbing crews brutalizing one activist whilst escaping into a tree mid-eviction. This is a stark reminder to viewers that the battle against increased state violence is not limited to the streets in our cities. The film also establishes a repetitive pattern of National Eviction Team (NET) aggression, shot by Vice’s camera crews which clearly shows bailiffs physically abusing activists- giving an up-close and personal perspective of the daily battle that anti-HS2 protesters face, in turn forcing the viewer to re-evaluate their relationships between themselves and authority.
The documentary is a powerful reflection on the relentless efforts of our government to destroy the environment, in order to make way for unsustainable infrastructure in its place. Towards the end of the film, workers are shown putting up metal fences set to mark the boundaries of HS2’s encroaching path of destruction. In one powerful segment, an activist sets personal differences aside to confront the fact that HS2 Ltd. Workers are “unaware of their involvement” in the destruction of the environment and that “those people on the other side of the fence” are just as affected by Jones Hill Woods’ deforestation as all of us.
In the closing sequence, text reads: “The activists launched legal proceedings, challenging the felling license granted by the government body of Natural England due to the evidence of Barbastelle bats.” Their case was unfortunately overturned last month, leaving myself and other viewers on a note of melancholic uncertainty. The selflessness of tree-protectors and ecologists shown during the documentary, however, leaves us with a glimmer of optimism for the future- and I am overjoyed in knowing that their efforts will no longer be unnoticed thanks to the production of this film.
Photo credit: Maureen-McLean