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HS2 to start digging up ancient woodland from April

Woodland Trust

2 min read Partner content

HS2 Ltd has confirmed to the Woodland Trust it will begin the futile act of attempting to move the soil from five ancient woodlands during April.

The move goes against both conservation principles and guidance from Natural England.

The five sites are Broadwells Wood, Birches Wood, Crackley Wood, Fulfen Wood and Ashow Road, all in Warwickshire, and the work will take around eight weeks.

Trust ecologist Luci Ryan said:

“Instead of bursting into life, these irreplaceable ancient woodlands now face imminent              death.

“Attempting to move ancient woodland soils from one site to another is flawed. Attempting it in April doubly so. Add into the mix that the contractor doing it has never translocated ancient woodland nor visited a translocated site and it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s like getting a bike mechanic to service a Boeing.”

Translocation is defined as the physical removal of a habitat from one location to another in an attempt to offset the impact of development on the ecological interest of a site. Unfortunately, it is increasingly being suggested as a form of environmental compensation for proposed developments. However, translocation is not feasible for ancient woodland because ancient woodland is defined as an irreplaceable habitat. Natural England guidance clearly states that an “ancient woodland ecosystem cannot be moved”. It is therefore not an appropriate alternative to conservation in situ.

Translocation of ancient woodland involves moving soils and sometimes coppiced tree stumps to a receptor site in the vain hope some habitat is salvageable, but there is very little evidence of its success. The complex communities found in ancient woodland are a product of the interaction between unique geographical and historical factors taking place over many centuries; interactions that simply cannot be replicated.

If translocation is attempted it must be carried out in late autumn/early winter when plants are dormant.   HS2 had previously agreed to do this, but now appears to have changed its mind due to costs increasing and timeframes slipping. The Woodland Trust wants to see the work halted and carried out at the correct time of year.

Mrs Ryan added:

“HS2 Ltd has admitted it is acting against industry standards by doing the work now, when ancient woodland is bursting into life. We are shocked at their approach.  Protection of the environment continues to play second fiddle to costs and timetables.”