The environmental activist Dan Hooper, known as Swampy, has said he believes the tunnel protest under way outside Euston station in central London could be “the tipping point” in the climate emergency battle, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.
Hooper is one of a group of activists who have dug and inhabited a network of tunnels outside the station in one of the busiest parts of the capital. They are protesting against the building of the controversial high-speed rail link, HS2, which they say will destroy swathes of ancient woodland and vital flora and fauna. An eviction team is trying to remove the protesters from the tunnel network.
On Thursday, five arrests were made at the protest site. Two people – one man and one woman – were arrested under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act and three men were arrested under the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020. Police say they are remaining at the site to prevent further potential breaches of the peace and to uphold Covid legislation.
Hooper became famous as Swampy in 1996 when a new bypass was being constructed to carry the A34 around his home town of Newbury, in Berkshire. Protesters dug themselves into tunnels in woodland that was due to be cleared to build the road and he was the last to emerge. Other environmental activists say he has enormous expertise in building and living in tunnels.
Speaking in a video clip from inside the London tunnel, Hooper said the structure stretched a long way and “an excellent crew of people” were occupying it during the eviction process. He predicted that it could take the national eviction team, part of the high court enforcement group, a long time to remove all the protesters from the tunnel network.
“It could be the tipping point hopefully,” he said. “I think this is the way to go.”
Hooper has spent the last 16 years living off-grid with his family in an eco-community in west Wales. He shunned the limelight for many years but has recently become an active figure in the climate emergency movement. Last month he attended a mass trespass at Stonehenge to protest about a road building programme around the historic site.
Speaking to the Guardian from inside the tunnel, Hooper called for the money spent on HS2 to be diverted to the NHS, and said that ordinary people, rather than corrupt politicians, should lead the way with tackling the climate emergency.
“It’s been many years since I’ve been down a tunnel. I never thought I’d do this again but this cause is just too important,” he said. “HS2 is truly monstrous. Parliament has declared a climate and ecological emergency but the government goes ahead with a carbon intensive mega-project.”
Hooper also argued that the train line will end up being a shuttle service for the mega-rich rather than for ordinary people, even though everyone is footing the bill.
A comprehensive survey of the impact of HS2 on wildlife said the project will destroy or irreparably damage five internationally protected wildlife sites, 693 local wildlife sites, 108 ancient woodlands and 33 legally protected sites of special scientific interest.
HS2 disputes this, and says it is delivering an unprecedented programme of tree planting and habitat creation alongside the new railway with 7m new trees and shrubs set to be planted between London and Birmingham alone. Economists and planners have also told the Guardian that they believe the route will help create jobs away from London, and ease some of the geographical inequalities in the UK.
“Just think what the NHS could do with all those billions,” said Hooper. “That’s how ordinary people would like to see their money spent. And yet we get this widely hated obscenity instead. It all goes to show how horribly corrupt and unrepresentative this government and the entire political system is. It’s not democratic. It’s broken and unfit for purpose.
“We urgently need a citizens’ assembly so that ordinary people, the sensible British public, can guide us through this climate and ecological emergency. We want to see an end to the needless destruction of our beautiful, precious woodland and wildlife. And then we might stand a chance of surviving the coming storm and of there being a future for our children to inherit.”