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Anti-HS2 activists face trial for defence of Jones’ Hill Ancient Woodland and surrounding Chilterns AONB

Press Release by Jones Hill Wood Protectors

The Battle of The Bean Can – Chapter two – Anti HS2 activists face trial for defence of Jones’ Hill Ancient Woodland and surrounding Chilterns AONB. 

LocationLaw Courts, Easton Street, High Wycombe HP11 1LR
Time – Trial Start 10am 

Today, May 27th 2021, six activists face potential charges at High Wycombe Magistrate Court. These alleged offences stem from the eviction of Jones’ Hill Ancient Woodland in the Chilterns. All six defendants were arrested from the last remaining treehouse of the eviction, which was commonly known as “The Bean Can”. This is one of a number of cases the activists are set to face, including cases that have been escalated to crown court to be heard in September. In early October 2020 employees of HS2, The National Enforcement Team (NET), supported by Thames Valley Police, began an eviction that was resisted by a large number of activists from around the country. This eviction lasted eight days and led to a number of alleged offences and arrests.

The camp at Jones’ Hill Wood has been in place since March 2020, and brought together a diverse community of individuals, political ideals, ages and experience. One of the roles that many of the local community focussed on, supported by the campaigners in the camp,  was the ecological impact that the construction of HS2 and associated land take would have on rare and protected species in and around the area.

Whilst engaging in community outreach and the active resistance of the destruction of Jones’ Hill Wood the group were able to survey, record and collect a large amount of data regarding Bats, Badgers and other iconic and key British species to highlight and challenge HS2s inadequate and often absent ecological work.

One activist, commonly known as Squirrel, who was also arrested during the eviction, commented,

“We gathered a huge amount of data. This showed clearly to us that there were a number of species that should be protected by UK wildlife law.The only way we could highlight this and further our legal challenge was to resist the eviction physically and face potential criminal prosecution.”

Working alongside recognised experts the group had identified rare and protected Barbestelle bat roosts within the woodland just days before the eviction started. Expert Kevin Hand, vice President of Cambridge Natural History Society stated,

“The activist living in Jones’ Hill Wood recorded rare and protected Barbestelle bats leaving their roost trees. This vital information had been missed or overlooked by HS2 ecologists. The activists showed me where and I was able to confirm their findings. Very exciting! Challenging HS2 and Natural England on this enabled us to save the woods for several months.”

Since the eviction in October,  the campaign group based from Jones’ Hill Wood, have successfully raised over £25,000 in order to mount a legal challenge against the felling of protected habitats, and the issuing of the licences from Natural England, and have prevented any felling of the woodland until May 2021.

Through this process it was established that HS2 initially intended to fell the woodland in October, and if the resistance and eviction hadn’t happened this work would have been done illegally and without challenge. The group successfully managed to halt work across the entire Jones’ Hill Wood site temporarily, when it was ruled by Justice Lang that there needed to be a review of the licencing issued by Natural England. 

Willow, a long standing campiagner of Jones’ HIll Wood, highlighted the issues of law and prevention stating,

“We knew that HS2 did not have the appropriate licences or mitigation in place, and we had the evidence to challenge this legally. It was only in part thanks to the long occupation and eviction we could act upon this information.”

The group states that this highlights the hypocrisy of UK law, clearly showing that, currently, UK wildlife law is reactive, not proactive or preventative. That the necessary structure is not in place to protect wildlife and habitat. In this case, without the actions taken by those arrested and facing alleged charges, there would have been no protection for the woodland and no accountability of HS2 or Natural England.

In light of this, many of our community now face criminal prosecution for acts that prevented crimes by HS2. The group have stated through social media and other outputs that they believe that this project goes way beyond just the environmental impact, and these views are reflected in the diversity of issues around the HS2 project  highlighted by members of the Jones’ HIll community. 

 One of the six facing charges today added to the conversation,

“Who stands to benefit from HS2? CEOs and the already wealthy? Certainly not those who have had their homes taken, uncompensated, by HS2, then to be silenced by the use of Non Disclosure Agreements. Compulsory Purchase is theft. We stand in solidarity with all those who have had their homes taken and against the government who are now trying to criminalise trespass and further reduce common land in this country. HS2 will cost the planet and people more than we can afford.’

In statements released during the eviction from those facing court today, it can be understood that this group wanted to highlight wider issues that go beyond the construction of the railway. That this resistance and occupation, and resulting arrests, were necessary to challenge the structure, policy and delivery of this project. That this project was symptomatic of a wider, and global struggle of oppression and destruction. 

Sam S, one of those who were removed from the trees at Jones’ Hill Wood, was quoted as saying, 

“‘We are here to fight against the criminalisation of trespass, the privatisation of common land and the loss of space for people to enjoy. This project is a huge transfer of public funds to the private sector. Nature is not a commodity and is not here to be used for corporation’s benefit.”

Pigeon, one of the six facing charges today, conveyed her motivations and added that, 

‘This eviction, and particularly the violence enforced by Thames Valley Police and the  NET in response to our actions highlighting the illegality of HS2’s work, revealed the hypocrisy of our current justice system and the unbalanced way it is applied and enforced by the police. 

The law values punishment over protection – of both habitat and people at the hands of HS2, but also more broadly. Policing ignores HS2s’ wildlife crimes and the violence committed on their behalf: wildlife suffers; communities suffer; those having their homes demolished under CPO, uncompensated, suffer and so do those who try to speak out. With the police, crime and sentencing bill set to criminalise and silence protest, it is more vital than ever that we resist this erosion of rights”

The Jones’ Hill Wood community have conveyed they are adamant that there needs to be a process to challenge HS2’s exemption from normal legal process that has been granted through the Hybrid Bill. It is clear there is a lack of social understanding and consent for this project, and the bloated powers granted to HS2 to enact this destruction, and forced evictions of land, homes and business’. 

Mark another long term member of the camp and wider HS2 campaign believes,  

“The success of Jones’ in challenging this in the courts, and the public imagination, has established a precedent that needs to be built upon and that will require the work of communities and activists and all those who feel compelled to act to protect the natural environment and our communities.”

The group in court face a number of varying charges and are hopeful that they will be found not guilty, or the cases will be dismissed. They believe that they have a strong case and body of evidence, and that this case is far from being in the public interest when billions of public funds are being misspent on the HS2 project. While they are hopeful of a positive outcome, all are willing and ready to face the consequences of their actions, and have vowed to continue to campaign around issues of social and environmental justice.

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