social justice

Who is Black Cat?

September 10, 2018


I recently gave this presentation at a workshop at Brunel University. The event was themed around Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states ‘Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible’. Each presenter was asked to think about the notion of what happens when a question is shared. This was my contribution.

People regularly ask me, “where did you get the name Black Cat”? But once I was asked “who is Black Cat” and that got me thinking. You see it’s a name that I’ve recently been using, I like it - yes, but it’s more than that, it’s a name that has come to serve as a remainder of a transition into this, what I would call ‘life less ordinary’. Now I call myself an ordinary person. I used to have an ordinary job and an ordinary life and life was good. The turning point was when I discovered spirituality and that’s when things began to change. ‘I’ started changing - in lots of ways, like losing interest in materialism… but the biggest change that happened, was that I started to let go of the fear that surrounds life. The fear of not having enough money, of needing long term security, I was letting go of the fear of total annihilation which was binding me to my job.  So then I retired. (age 34). 
Now I didn’t retire to enjoy sleeping in or to sit out on a beach for evermore. I planned to volunteer in a yoga ashram where spiritual seekers can do what’s called ‘selfless service’ this involves volunteering full time through teaching yoga and running the ashram in return for food/board and of course more spiritual development.

So that was my long-term plan. Soon after I left work in Feb 2015, I travelled to India to do a yoga teacher training course and there I first became acquainted with the ‘travelling scene’. I was impressed at how these folks were just happily roaming around on a shoe string budget and mainly camping on the land to support this. So I too ended up spending several months high up in the mountains in traveller communities doing the same… learning how to live on the land, make fires, build shelters and while this was happening I started to really deepen my connection to the natural world. I ended up spending a lot longer in India than I had originally anticipated and after 17 months (June 2016) I came home. When I came back I realised a lot had changed in me, I still wanted more adventures and I didn’t quite feel ready to commit myself to the ashram. So what was a going to do? Well later that year in (October 2016), I as ‘Black Cat’ decided to begin my own nomadic journey in England. Why? I didn’t exactly know at the time, but everything seemed right.

This is my current life, I go by the name Black Cat and I have one agenda, to live without spending a lot of money (because I retired right!). Now rent IS a lot of money but the good news is there are a lot of options if you keep an open mind. Where the problem lies is ‘comfort’ but that just has to be dealt with. You have to mentally work to get over that which is where spirituality has helped me a lot but that’s all I’ll be saying because that’s a whole other story in itself!

On the 14th of October I set off travelling with a couple of shower curtains for shelter. Yes two shower curtains because I deemed a tent too heavy! I started in Wales and then on to Glastonbury and after a month I decided to take some good advice and spend the winter camping on the beach in the Canary Islands, but in the interim, I had a few weeks to kill so I headed off to a protest camp I’d heard about.. something about high speed rail? – I didn’t have any more of an idea than that, so on 13th of November I arrived at the Wildlife Protection Camp on Harvil Road and pitched up (a tent was acquired).

I really only meant to visit for a couple of weeks, camp in the safety of others, play some guitar and disappear off to the Canary Islands, but it didn’t work out like that…I decided to stay! For so many reasons, because I had met amazing inspirational people who I believed in, because I felt the connection to protect nature, because I wanted to help our supporters, but most importantly because I felt fulfilled making a difference. Everybody was making a difference, no leader no plan just everyone creating and contributing in their own way. This was unity in diversity coming together for the common purpose and I loved it.

I just want to say a little bit more about the job of a resident on a protest camp because just living on the protest camp by itself is a huge contribution. To live on a camp especially in winter is extremely physically and mentally challenging and there usually aren’t many volunteers! I almost didn’t make it, but one thing which I can honestly say helped me was that there, I was warmed by the fire of friendship, comradery, righteousness and touched by the support and kind words we received. This is what made the difference, all day long seeing the smiles and hearing the cheers from the passing cars. But behind those smiles knowing the sadness and brokenness created by HS2, this is why it became important to me and why I could not leave.

I spent a lot of time engaging and building relations with the local village, Harefield. I felt this was particularly important to help prevent the camp being type caste as ‘trouble makers waste time sitting at the side of the road’. I think a lot of people use this excuse to discredit a good thing just because they don’t want to get involved in it so it was hard.

On the 14th of April after 5 months and with the long winter firmly behind me I left.

Life on camp is mainly about survival, survival of the camp and of ourselves. When every day we are working just to meet our basic needs it’s difficult to engage in much else. I got interested in writing articles while I lived at camp to help to publicise our efforts but even writing an article is pretty difficult in those conditions but since I’ve left I have been able to write and do much more.

And that’s where I am today…

This is my current life I go by the name Black Cat and I have two agendas, firstly to live without spending a lot of money and secondly to make a positive contribution in the world. And why? because I just spent the last 6 months having the time of my life. Making a real and positive contribution in society is what I’ve discovered creates fulfilment in my life and is this now the intention of my journey ahead.

There are many new projects that have been brought to my attention that I want to explore. I find there is a deep need in ourselves to feel supported in life. We go from the guidance and care of our parental homes then straight into the arms of the state who have almost perfectly contrived every possible way to keep us bound to the system, comfortable with life but truly fulfilled? Living life at camp at that basic level has also inspired me to confront issues of social justice. In my journey I am homeless because I choose not to have a job. Homeless doesn’t have to mean suffering or hopelessness and I hope to find many options of how to live a rich and fulfilled homeless life.

Final word

In the past 6 months I’ve experience many set-backs. My efforts blocked, stopped, criticised you name it. But it’s the old cliché ‘it’s from these experiences that I have grown the most’ and without them this journey would never have been the same. So if you’re going to support a good cause - why not pick one which seems ridiculously hopeless because you’ll win no matter what happens!

My journey started when I left my job and now I’ve walked a full circle because I’ve been lead back into working. I have always enjoyed work but the difference now is I am directly contributing to making positive change in the world and there is nothing more fulfilling. It’s unpaid work but in my opinion, this is the most important job I have ever held. And as for my personality well I feel like I have become a better person for it.. There is a beauty in service and I feel that a kindness in me is growing, a more understanding me but also a me who realises with each day that time is short and the time to act is now.






environment

Article - Tree Planting Mittigation

September 07, 2018


And now some good news the HS2 tree planting mitigation has just begun!  
For the millions of trees which will be cut down to pave the way for the notorious high-speed rail project, HS2 have pledged to replant 7 million. Crowders Nursery up in Yorkshire has been busy growing thousands of native species of oak, hornbeam and alder soon to be flourishing in Hillingdon in once empty fields. Wonderful news we cry, time to stop protesting and give HS2 a pat on the back!  Now I don’t consider myself an unreasonable person but sadly, delving beneath the surface of HS2’s famous statement ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ we uncover that the reality is not quite as it appears to be.
Tree planting at Dews Lane is one of several local sites for ecological mitigation. But what is surprising is that these young trees appear to have been rather densely packed together, easily noticeable when compared with the adjoining woodland. This planting density immediately raises questions to their growth and wellbeing, so my first port of call is to approach the HS2 help desk for more information, they said: At woodland ride edges (Dews Lane) 1m average centres are likely to be used with an anticipated tree planting density figure of 10,000 trees per hectare’.  
This density figure 10,000 trees per hectare is shocking to say in the least. HS2’s tree replacement programme at Dews Lane classifies this area as ordinary scrub land giving it little ecological importance. Habitats that are typically created for nature conservation would have a planting density of between 1100 – 1500 of trees per hectare and there is an enormous difference here.  When trees are planted it is common practice to plant more than would make it into adulthood as trees are routinely thinned  removing less desirable damaged trees, but when trees are planted at 1m spacings they will be increased competition for water nutrients and sunlight and it is certain that a very large percentage of these tress will have to be felled.
Colne Valley is a species rich nature reserve with a high ecological and conservation value and I question why HS2 are not prioritising and implementing the strictest mitigation measures for nature conservation. We can hazard a guess as to why HS2 have squeezed so many trees into such little space and my bet is, that it is just another exercise to report figures that look good on the table. To state that seven million trees will be planted sounds good to anyone but is grossly misleading when the expected survival rate is immediately halved at best making the reality of ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ into an increasing mockery. 
There is no compensation for the cutting down of mature trees especially our ancient woodland. We cannot mitigate for hundreds and hundreds of years of developing ecology, there is no such thing. Climate change is upon us right now and Colne Valley, known as the green lungs of London plays an important role in absorbing toxic air from heavily polluted London which remains in breach of European air quality laws. Air pollution is now a contributor in the deaths of nearly 10,000 people across the capital per year. Can we really afford to wait 50 years for a fraction of these trees to mature? Every effort for environmental preservation must be taken now.

environment

Article - Mud on the Road

September 07, 2018




Harvil Road is a busy road, home to several heavy industries bringing a constant stream of HGV’s (heavy goods vehicles) for much of the day. It is also a hospital road leading to a life-saving heart hospital in Harefield and well used by the other emergency services. Sadly, this road is notorious as an accident hotspot and fatalities have often prompted campaigners to request a reduction in speed limit. Road safety is of utmost concern to all who use it and should be especially so for the companies who share it.

Not everyone it appears does share this concern and protesters on Harvil Road have regularly witnessed breaches in road safety at the HS2 works entrance (North gate). Almost every day during the Winter, vehicles were seen leaving the compound trailing slippery mud along the road and yes it is still happening to this day. A dangerous activity as the reduction in surface friction causes wheels to lose surface grip and result in loss of vehicle control. Protesters have been documenting these incidents since last year and Louisa Ede, a local business woman has taken up the issue with Hillingdon Council she says, ‘In 2013 I was fined and shut down for a week when the council received a complaint of my vehicles leaving mud on the road. HS2 regularly leaves mud on Harvil road and far worse than in my experience, why is this continuing to happen?’

After raising the matter with the council, a road cleaning unit is now being intermittently deployed but protestors say this is hardly satisfactory when the mud is sometimes left for days on end. HS2 have stated in their own document, Draft Code of Conduct Practice, ‘appropriate wheel cleaning measures will be employed to prevent the transfer and accumulation of mud or other granular deposits on the highways.’ but HS2 are clearly failing to honour this commitment. There are many solutions available such as wheel washing facilities which other companies employ, and it seems unacceptable that so little has been done.

Another hazard frequently observed stems from the ‘illegal driveway’ created by HS2. This illegal driveway could never have obtained planning permission had HS2 been made to apply through the proper channels. On refusal of deliveries at the gate road safety logic would suggest allowing vehicles entry to turn around but they are forced to back out on the bend of the most dangerous part of Harvil road. HS2 security preferring to keep their gates firmly locked. Clearly there is room for improvement!

In addition to communications with Hillingdon Council, protesters have made HS2 well aware by raising these issues in the high court. Road safety evidence was served to HS2’s top international solicitors, Evershed and Sutherland, and witness statements containing evidence were also read out. Failing this the protestors have been directly requesting a road safety meeting with HS2 community liaison representative but four months later they are still waiting.

HS2 subcontractor Murphy ltd are proud to display their latest pledge as “considerate contractors” stating their compliance to certain codes such as ‘Respect the Community and Secure Everyone’s Safety’. But can it be possible to respect a community when the local people do not welcome or want this project; set to destroy their environment, houses and local businesses. And can they really be showing their intentions to ‘securing safety’ when these documented road safety issues have been left to continue?

If you have experienced any problems with HS2 road safety, we would like to hear from you. Come and visit us at the Wildlife Protection Camp on Harvil Road or email us at protectcolnevalley@gmail.com. ‘Local people coming together to stop the madness of HS2.’














environment

Article - Colne Valley 'its all about the water'.

September 07, 2018



Following a recent spate of heavy rain, we have seen the flood plain of the beautiful Colne Valley transform. Water levels in the lakes have risen and are overflowing their banks, the wet woodland has emerged in all its splendour, even the footpaths have pooled up into knee deep temporary ponds creating new spaces for water-birds to enjoy.

Sadly, the construction yard the other side of Harvil Road is a different story. In October - November last year, hundreds of trees were removed in advance of a gas pipeline diversion. These enabling works involved the building of a long and winding road through a once dense forest. Views from Harvil Road at the dog’s trust show part of the extent of the destruction as heavy machinery crushes and compacts the land daily.

Recently the heavy rain falls of March and April have begun to reveal the true impact of this changing landscape. Environmental Protestors on Harvil road have witnessed and documented torrents of mud/clay slurry streaming through the construction site. The runoff now makes its way to the roadside gutter however this stretch of drainage has long been heavily blocked despite Hillingdon Councils efforts to fix this. What appears to happen is this runoff is finding its way into Newyears Green Bourne stream, where it flows straight into the Mid Colne Valley and into Lake ‘Pit 2’. The environmental consequences of any contamination are yet to be seen.

Colne Valley sits upon the prestigious Mid-Chiltern chalk aquifer which provides a significant amount of London’s drinking water. This rain water would once have seeped down through the soil, find its way to the water table and help replenish our precious fresh water supply. But sadly, the direct consequence of building on a flood plain is that this water is now lost. HS2 are responsible for the mitigation and flood impact assessments but in our opinion very little information can be ascertained from this. Here we have begun to witness the implications of large scale construction without the proper planning permission that any local project would have had to have gone through and this is only the beginning of what is to come.

Committed environmentalist and resident at the Wildlife Protection Camp, Sarah Green says: ‘The ‘wet woodland is comparable to England’s rainforest. Colne Valley is the most diverse of London’s nature reserves with over 2000 species on record. During the heavy rains of April, the water in the canal changed to a copper brown colour. There is no natural explanation for this. I am in touch with the Environment Agency and will continue to monitor the situation closely’.

How HS2 plans to deal with the threat of flooding is of utmost importance. Residential properties, businesses and the flood plain meadows with many ground nesting water birds will all be at significant risk. The implications for an oversite to occur here would be beyond words. To enjoying a walk though Harefield Moor, it is highly noticeable that the grass is completely saturated. The water is held just under the surface by various moss and grasses and you would expect this to have been revealed in any basic risk assessment. There is a great deal at stake here and HS2 need to shape up or back out.

environment

Article - High Court Injuction

September 07, 2018



As you may be aware HS2 began works on their controversial project at Harvil Road North entrance in October 2017. The felling of hundreds of trees caught the attention of concerned local people who gained access to the land and captured footage of wildlife crimes taking place. Bats were seen to be flying overhead where tree felling was occurring, trees which may have been home to their bat roosts. This marked the beginning of the Wildlife Protection Camp on Harvil Road that has since been collecting and recording evidence of HS2’s detrimental environmental impact and holding them to account. 
Protesters have since argued that HS2 have not provided the correct ecological surveys for the current works. Is it possible that enabling works onto ancient irreplaceable woodland are allowed to take place without correct surveys or mitigation? Are UK environmental laws so weak? HS2 have stated their obligation to protect the flora or fauna if required to do so but are they looking to find it? Quite on the contrary they have been tearing the evidence down behind them. 
As construction continues, information to keep the Public informed is becoming more inaccessible. If you have ever tried to obtain any answers at the HS2 Help Desk good luck. It is this frustration that has been key in leading people to use peaceful direct action as a last resort. Protesters have been trying to halt the destruction because HS2 have failed to produce the proper planning permissions and the correct ecological surveys. Unfortunately after managing to attract the attention of HS2 bosses Protesters found they were not interested in providing any answers but attempted to silence them through legal action.
On Monday the 19th of February the Secretary of State for Transport and HS2 Ltd took 8 defendants to the High Court to serve an injunction preventing trespass and obstruction to vehicles. Many believe that the injunction was a cover to remove the camp from its current location as activities to capture environmental breeches were a thorn in HS2’s side. Or was it simply because active protesting is a continuing embarrassment to HS2 as it celebrates much public support from its prime location on the busy Harvil Road. Despite the injunction being awarded the Judge Mr Justice Barling praised the camps efforts as committed environmentalists deeming their actions as entirely laudable and saw fit to safeguard the camp from eviction through the order.
Despite the positive reassurances from the Judge the service of the injunction raises two major concerns. HS2 remains a hugely unpopular project which the public has been fighting though democratic means over many years. When that voice has remained unheard because it seems that government and multinationals have conspired together to push this project into force, what choice is left but to take direct action? To remove this last hope to make governments listen and instead to persecute, threaten bankruptcy and attempt to criminalise those who fight for social justice is clearly wrong.
Secondly now that the injunction is in place, HS2 have essentially secured themselves the rights to continue working safe in the knowledge that any wildlife breeches can go unchecked. It was raised in court that an independently appointed Wildlife Officer should be put in place to provide the necessary protection, however the Judge did not have the powers to grant that request. The power is now in the hands of the rich corporations who have essentially bought a law securing them secrecy and unaccountability.
To find a copy of the injunction, a trip down Harvil road will reveal the notices attached to fences, gates and various fields earmarked for development. Or further information can be found at https://hs2inhillingdon.commonplace.is/;
The Wildlife Protection Camp now plans to tackle HS2 at the root of the problem, local government. With 4 of its residents running for council on the 3rd of May they have hopes to bring a more fair and balanced view into the decision making for the local area.