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HS2’s catalogue of errors like a runaway train

Woodland Trust

5 min read Partner content

HS2 Ltd. is continuing to fail the environment with a catalogue of errors growing longer all the time says the Woodland Trust.

As the Court of Appeal deliberates on Chris Packham’s request for a judicial review of the Government’s decision to green light the project, the Trust has issued a list of some of HS2 Ltd’s biggest failings around ancient woodland so far and says there needs to be a real step change, not just on the current Phase 1 from London to Birmingham where ancient woodland has already been chopped down  during the lockdown, but also on Phases 2a and 2b to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds where there is still time to do the right thing.

Luci Ryan, Lead Policy Adviser for Infrastructure at the charity said:

“HS2’s catalogue of errors is growing ever bigger. It’s like a runaway train, gathering momentum and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. One mistake invariably leads to another and one of the biggest losers is ancient woodland and the wildlife that relies on it for survival.”

Among failings relating to ancient woodland, wildlife and its own processes, HS2 Ltd has:

  • Erroneously claimed Phase 1 would impact 18 ancient woodlands when it turned out to be 34. 
  • Removed ancient and veteran trees and some ancient woodland for temporary works meaning they have been lost forever unnecessarily;
  • Broken four assurances - commitments made between the Secretary of State, HS2 and the Woodland Trust under the Hybrid Bill Process. These include:
  • failing to engage with the Trust in reasonable time ahead of any work adjacent to or within 100m of ancient woodland;
  • failing to have regard to the guidance in Natural England’s advice on avoiding damage to or loss of ancient woodland or ancient and veteran trees and for compensation for any unavoidable loss;
  • failing to ensure that there are no construction works within a certain part of Newyear’s Green Covert in Hillingdon; and
  • failing to consult with the Trust in respect of any construction activities undertaken within, or within 100m of, an area of Ancient Woodland.
  • Begun to submit planning applications for additional works outside the works boundary on Phase 1 which will have a detrimental effect on a further two ancient woodlands not currently on the list
  • Ignored industry best practice and a commitment made in its own strategy and standards by attempting to translocate ancient woodland at the wrong time of year. Four woods in Warwickshire were destroyed this spring as they were bursting into life instead of when it was dormant in the autumn. It has also planted new trees on the receptor site for the translocated ancient woodland soils at the wrong time of year, further increasing the chance of failure.
  • Failed to complete translocation of Broadwells Wood in Warwickshire before their bat licence from Natural England ran out, despite being given an extension period more generous than the Woodland Trust and other environmental groups have ever heard of. This means the final 20 per cent of the woodland being translocated from Broadwells will now be removed in September and the work that the removal of the wood was facilitating will now be further behind schedule. Translocation is an inherently risky process – HS2 has massively increased the risks of this failing by doing it at the wrong time of year and then spreading it out over 6 months.
  • Breached its bat licence during the translocation work in Broadwells wood by de-limbing a tree without checking it for roosting bats first. The Woodland Trust has since become aware Natural England is investigating a second possible breach.
  • Failed to give clarity on which ancient woodlands will be destroyed next, this autumn, despite repeated requests being made.
  • Repeatedly said – and is still claiming - there will be “no net loss to biodiversity” on the scheme.. No net loss is impossible to achieve where ancient woodland is destroyed because it is irreplaceable. No amount of new planting can compensate for that loss even at the recommended ratio of planting 30 new trees for every one lost.
  • Refused to only plant trees sourced and grown in the UK and Ireland, which would reduce the risk of importing pests and disease and make the newly planted landscape more resilient and less of a biosecurity risk.  All three million trees the Trust planted last year met UKISG standards – if we can do it then so can HS2 Ltd.

Mrs Ryan added:

“This list is by no means exhaustive and we don’t expect it to stop growing any time soon. Government wants HS2 to be an exemplar project when it comes to the environment, but right now it is anything but.

“HS2 Ltd must be held to account. Phase 1 is in relatively early stages of construction with Phase 2 yet to be given permission.  There is an opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve how this project is delivered and the Transport Secretary, HS2 Minister and Select Committee have both the power and the obligation to ensure this happens.  Making and sticking to a public commitment to adhere to best practice would be a good start.  It might be too late for the ancient woodland already removed, but it is not too late to prevent a repeat of the disaster we have seen in Warwickshire.”

Translocation is the practice of attempting to remove ancient woodland soils and sometimes coppiced stumps to a receptor site in the hope it will regrow. There is very little evidence of it working. To give it the best chance of success it should be carried out when ancient woods are dormant in autumn/winter.


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