HS2 Project Told To Stop Cutting Into Ancient Woodland

Transport Secutary Grant Shapps has told the ambitious HS2 project that they must stop cutting into ancient woodland ‘unless absolutely necessary’ whilst a review of the project is undertaken.

With concerns that the project could far exceed the original £56bn budget, an independent review has been ordered by Ministers to determine the scale of the problems faced by the HS2 line.

The HS2 line would allow trains to run from London Euston directly through to Wigan, Manchester and Leeds in less time, making the possibility of commuting into London from these areas more practical. However, the project has been plagued by difficulties; the original budget of £32.7bn has now risen to its current £56bn, and it is reported that this could reach between £81bn and £88bn before the project is complete. The first phase of the project, the London to Birmingham section of the line which was due to open at the end of 2026, could now be opened between 2028 and 2031 thanks to delays.

A decision as to whether the project will be taken forward or scrapped completely will be made by the end of the year, although with £7.4bn already having been spent on the project, and the number of jobs that could potentially be lost, the idea of abandoning the project has been described as ‘a disaster’.

The Woodland Trust have said that this announcement is “a welcome step”.

Over the course of the project it was expected that at least 108 different ancient woods would be affected by HS2. 34 of those affected sites are in the first phase of the project, the London to Birmingham section of the line. Overall 63 woodlands are expected to be hit with “direct loss” and damage.

Five sites which were to be cleared during this part of the year have now been deferred until Autumn/Winter 2020. These are:

  • Roughknowles Wood
  • North Wood
  • Un-named copse off Drayton Lane
  • Rookery Wood
  • Burnt Firs

Six more sites have been deferred to early 2020. These are:

  • Fulfen Wood
  • Broadwells Wood
  • Birches Wood
  • Crackley Wood
  • Unnamed Woodland south of Ashow Road
  • South Cubbington Wood

However, works which are deemed to be absolutely necessary can still be carried out as not to impact on the construction schedule and to avoid major costs.

Local residents and campaigners have raised concerns that irreversible work could be undertaken, and with the future of the project unknown this work poses too much of a risk to the environment. Grant Shapps said it must be recognised that some works “cannot be undone later.” However, with HS2 still getting to make that decision as to what is deemed absolutely necessary work, there is scepticism as to the actual impact Shapp’s order will make. Luci Ryan, an ecologist at the Woodland Trust, said: “This is a welcome step in the right direction for our ancient woodlands, but unfortunately these woods remain threatened as HS2 can still decide for themselves whether works continue or not. Until the outcome of the review all ancient woodlands should be off limits, full stop. Our welcome is therefore cautious.”

HS2 have tried to quell the unrest caused by the destruction of this ancient woodland by committing to planting more trees and creating four times more woodland then they have to remove to make way for the train line. The gov.uk site states that:

“HS2 aims to be one of the most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects ever delivered in the UK. It will be a greener way to travel offering some of the lowest carbon emissions per passenger kilometre, significantly less than cars and domestic air travel.

Seven million new trees and shrubs, including over 40 native species, specific to each location will be planted as part of the HS2 programme. The new native woodlands will cover over 9 square kilometres of land.

Over 33 square kilometres of new and existing wildlife habitat – equating to an area the size of 4,600 football pitches will be created. That’s an increase of around 30% compared to what’s there now.”

The woodland that they are clearing to make room for this line is so much more than just trees though; as the National Trust has said, these ancient woodlands are home to “highly complex ecological communities that have developed over centuries”. You can’t just remove these, put in some new trees and expect those ecosystems to just pick up where they left off. Many different types of plants, animals and fungi rely on the ecosystems built up within these woods, including animals such as bats and hedgehogs, whose numbers have already been declining at a terrifying rate over the years. This doesn’t even take into account the long term damage that the new line could cause to the ecosystems around it from noise, vibrations, and air, soil and water pollution.

With the decision as to whether the HS2 project will be allowed to continue expected to be made by the end of the year, we can only wait. Whilst it is great to see the project acknowledging the impact it will have on the local environment and trying to mitigate these impacts, their approach is still problematic. With HS2 seemingly being able to determine for themselves what is ‘absolutely necessary’, and with no real information as to the steps they are taking to ensure they comply with UK and EU laws around the work, it is easy to be sceptical of their claims.

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Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard

31 years old, currently living and working in London, UK.

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