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‘I couldn’t be prouder’: Swampy and 16-year-old son in HS2 tunnel protest | HS2

Veteran environmental activist Dan Hooper, known as Swampy, who is one of nine protesters in a tunnel in central London to raise the alarm about the environmental destruction they believe the high speed rail project HS2 will cause, is in the tunnel with his 16-year-old son, it has emerged.

The activists have been in the tunnel close to Euston station since Tuesday to raise awareness of the climate emergency and to try to halt work on the HS2 project which is under way in the Euston area. They argue that many ancient woodlands will be destroyed by the project. HS2 says it is planting 7m new trees.

There are concerns about their safety in the honeycomb of tunnels, dug beneath a busy London square. On Sunday they brought a legal challenge against the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), saying the work of the eviction team was endangering them. There have been a number of collapses, and mud pouring into the tunnels.

An environmental activist raises his fist as enforcement agents monitor a protest camp against the HS2 high speed rail line, erected near Euston train station in central London.
An environmental activist raises his fist as enforcement agents monitor a protest camp against the HS2 high speed rail line, erected near Euston train station in central London. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The eviction team say they are extremely concerned about the safety of the tunnels, and have a team of experts including paramedics monitoring the situation. HSE said they are in contact with the team and are being updated.

Rory Hooper helped his father, 47, dig the secret HS2 protest tunnel under Euston Square Garden.

Dan Hooper said he was happy for Rory to help with digging the tunnel but was hesitant when he asked to join the protesters underground for the eviction process.

“To begin with, I didn’t want Rory to be in the tunnel for the eviction, but he was absolutely adamant that he would stay down there with me for it.

“He did help dig it and it is his future at stake, and that of other young people like him, so I couldn’t really argue. He reminds me of what I was like at his age and I just couldn’t be prouder of him.”

He said he was impressed with his son’s climbing abilities. “He is already becoming a better climber than me so yes, he will probably become better at digging and tunnel dwelling than me as well. But don’t tell him that, I don’t want him getting a big head.

“He already likes to wind me up that I’m past it and I must admit, tunnels do seem to have become less comfortable than they were a few decades ago, but I think he’ll find that there’s some life in the old dog yet.”

Hooper lives with his partner and their three children in Tipi Valley, an eco-village in west Wales. The family live a sustainable life growing vegetables, using solar panels for electricity, composting waste and filtering water from a nearby stream.

Dan Hooper, AKA Swampy, and his son, Rory.
Dan Hooper, AKA Swampy, and his son, Rory. Photograph: handout

As a seasoned tunneller his advice to Rory and other members of the underground crew is: “Safety first always, a good food supply, plenty of nutritious food, but some tasty treats as well, and games to play, like cards, because you’re going to be down there a long time and don’t want to get bored. And try to build a good and respectful relationship with the people evicting you, however much you might disagree with them.

“Above all else, when it gets hard, remember why you are doing it. Think of the beautiful ancient trees you’ve been living in and are protecting by your actions.”

Hooper said that protests such as this one “can turn the tide and get the climate emergency under control”.

He said that although the government was now planning a new road building programme along with the HS2 project the anti-roads protests that he and others were involved with in the 1990s had halted much of that programme.

Rory said: “I’ve always been aware of what Dad did years ago, before I was born. But it’s only since visiting HS2 sites with him this summer and seeing the beautiful ancient woodland they’re destroying that I’ve properly understood what it is to feel so passionate about trying to stop it.

“Growing up in an eco-village, I’ve had a strong connection to nature all my life. I was always happier climbing trees than being in school. But I never dreamed I’d wind up doing this. Most people have never actually set foot in an ancient woods. They are alive with so many animals, in a way that nowhere else is. You can’t just plant one, it takes hundreds of years to become like that. They are magical places and there are so few of them left. I can’t just let them be destroyed without trying to save them.”

His mother is not in the tunnel with Hooper and her son but is checking up daily on them by phone. “Mum is really proud. She tells me on the phone and I can feel it. She likes me to ring her every day. I know she worries about me but also she knows that I am safe with Dad.”

As for the day-to-day life underground, he said: “It’s more fun than I thought. I actually love it underground. It’s really peaceful.”

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