Four environmental protesters have stopped work by shackling themselves on a nature reserve where a new phase of construction of the HS2 high-speed rail link had been due to start on Wednesday evening.
The group locked themselves to a contraption made of chimney pieces in a field at the Colne Valley nature reserve in Hillingdon where HS2 operatives are currently working on the controversial rail project.
The nature reserve is home to a variety of wildlife including bats, owls and osprey as well as various tree species. Environmental activists have staged protests at the site before and have established a camp close to where the HS2 development works are taking place.
HS2 operatives had received a permit to close part of Harvil Road, which runs near to the nature reserve, over Wednesday night to bring heavy diggers on to the site.
But the activists, at least one of whom said she had taken part in the Extinction Rebellion action that stopped traffic in London last week, were able to block off a soil bank that they said the diggers were coming to remove.
They said police arrived and told the group they were in breach of an injunction, but they were able to show on a map that the spot where they were sitting was not covered by the order. By 2am the police and work teams had left but the protesters planned to stay on until 6am when the road closure permit expired.
“I was taking part in Extinction Rebellion activities in central London,” said April Stewart, one of the protesters. “It’s very different out here at the nature reserve. We’re doing this because we need to stop this insane destruction of our planet.
“If tonight’s action allows the trees on the site to breathe for a little bit longer that will be a good thing. It is terrible to watch what’s going on here but nobody is being held to account. I’ve got lots and lots of clothes on and am having sips of hot drinks. The mist is starting to rise out of the ground and it’s getting very cold.”
Stewart said she was in her early fifties and like many other people she was waking up to the destruction of the earth. “The four of us who are locked on are sitting where a hedge used to be that HS2 has removed.”
Parliament has approved an act allowing the HS2 works to go ahead and there is flexibility within the legislation for a wide variety of development works to take place.
Critics of the scheme have expressed concern about the high costs and the damage it could cause to the environment. Advocates say that when it is completed, it will be the fastest rail network in Europe with trains able to carry 1,100 passengers travelling at 250mph.
The cost of the project is escalating and it has been billed as the most expensive railway development in the world. The first phase is costing £24bn which is forecast to rise to £56bn for the whole scheme. HS2 has been approached for comment.