More than 1,000 people have been arrested at Extinction Rebellion climate protests in London, police have said, in what organisers described as the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history.
The Metropolitan police said that as of 10am on Monday, 1,065 arrests had been made and 53 people charged in relation to the protests.
Police cleared the last of the activists from Waterloo Bridge late on Sunday after protest sites at Oxford Street and Parliament Square had been vacated earlier in the day. Demonstrators from those sites moved to the main camp at Marble Arch, where they have been given permission to gather.
On Monday, as people at the camp enjoyed musical performances in the sunshine, scores of environmental activists staged a protest at the Natural History Museum in south Kensington. The group lay on the floor in a “die in” to raise awareness of the mass extinction of species.
The demonstrators – some wearing white facepaint with red veils and robes – gathered underneath the museum’s blue whale skeleton and remained to listen to an impromptu classical music performance.
Extinction Rebellion, which aims to use non-violent civil disobedience to avert a climate breakdown, held a public meeting on Monday afternoon to decide its next course of action.
The group started its protest on 15 April, stopping traffic at Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and the area around Parliament Square.
Roger Hallam, a founder and organiser behind the Extinction Rebellion movement, said on Monday that it had been the biggest civil disobedience event in recent British history. He said the number of arrests surpassed that at the anti-nuclear protests at Upper Heyford in 1982 (752) and at the poll tax riots in 1990 (339).
He said that they had had confirmation from the police that none of their officers had been hurt in the past week’s protests. Hallam said the protests would continue for at least another week. “We’re hoping that the political class wake up, because if they don’t the next thing that will happen will be much more dramatic,” he said.
The group is planning to stage a demonstration this week in Parliament Square as MPs return to Westminster following recess and attend prime minister’s questions.
The past eight days has seen a variety of protests from the group across the capital. Last Wednesday two activists climbed on to the roof of a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf station, while another was glued to the side, causing temporary disruption to rail services.
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has described the disruption as “counterproductive” to the cause of climate change, saying it was stretching police resources. The head of the Met, Cressida Dick, has urged activists to restrict their action to the officially designated site at Marble Arch.
Shane Collins, a Green party district councillor in Mendip, a volunteer organiser, said that the fact that the Marble Arch camp was a strictly no drugs and alcohol zone had contributed to a positive atmosphere.
The band Massive Attack played a surprise gig at the camp on Sunday evening and publicity for the event described them as “the Stroud Village Green Band” in order to avoid attracting unmanageable crowds. “We had Greta Thurnberg speaking and then Massive Attack playing and nobody was pissed,” said Collins. “It was a dream.”
“One of the most beautiful things for me was in my tent about five nights ago, I heard bird song,” he said. “Nobody has heard bird song in Marble Arch for decades because of the traffic the birds can’t communicate. The traffic has gone, air pollution has dropped, the sound levels have dropped, the birds are back.”
Attending the protests on Monday, was Philip Kedge, a retired chief inspector with Hampshire constabulary. “I have a seed of doubt that’s been growing in terms of what’s been happening to our environment and I decided that I could do two things,” he said. “I can go sit on Bournemouth beach and enjoy the sunshine with ice cream or I can come here and find out more.”
“My respect to all the service officers here,” Kedge added. “I’ve seen nothing but the utmost professionalism and respect. And the same goes to the protesters who have treated the police with dignity and respect.”
Another former police officer, Richard Ecclestone, who attended the protests separately from Kedge, said he had policed protests against the A30 road in Devon in the 90s, but that Extinction Rebellion felt different. “This is very different because it is not just a bunch of very well meaning and committed activists. This is all of us,” he said.