HS2 Phase 2: more ancient woodland threatened

Our analysis of route proposals for Phase 2a and 2b of HS2 shows that the northern section of the route will impact a minimum of 24 irreplaceable ancient woods. Phase 1 of the controversial high speed line was granted Royal Assent in February with a final total of 63 ancient woods condemned to suffer loss or damage.

Eleven woods are threatened with direct loss and a further 13 are close enough to be threatened by damaging secondary effects including noise, dust and lighting. Examples include Hancock’s Bank near Altrincham, and Coroners Wood near Partington, both in Cheshire, New Farm Wood near Bulwell in Nottinghamshire and Whitmore Wood, Whitmore Heath in Staffordshire. All are carpeted with bluebells at this time of year.

A number of woods that could be ancient but do not appear yet on Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory have also been identified – some by HS2 Ltd, others by our ecologist Luci Ryan. As we gather evidence to confirm the status of these woods, it’s likely that the number of threatened ancient woods will increase.

Coroner's Wood, Cheshire (Photo: WTML/A Ashworth)

Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust Chief Executive, said:

“Any loss or damage to ancient woodland is a disaster for the natural environment, particularly when you consider how little we have left. Just 2% of the UK’s land area is made up of these precious and irreplaceable habitats, so for large infrastructure projects like HS2 to be riding roughshod over them, rather than setting an example to avoid them, is totally unacceptable.

“With the trail of destruction HS2 Ltd will cause to ancient woodland, it will never be able to call this project ‘green’ – so far, it’s been an absolute disgrace.

“HS2 Ltd will say it’s planting millions of trees along the route – that’s all well and good, but no amount of new trees can ever recreate ancient woodland.”

Ancient woodland is a descriptive term used for woods that share centuries of continuity on largely undisturbed natural soils. Each ancient wood is a unique product of its location, geology, soils, climate and history – conditions that cannot be re-created elsewhere. They are places of inordinate beauty, reservoirs of archaeology and history, and a source of inspiration for local culture and folklore.

Decisions around route alterations, the width of the track cutting (which varies), road building for vehicle access, or noise and disturbance – first from construction and later from trains travelling at up to 250mph several times a day – could all make a difference to the impact on ancient woods – experience from Phase 1 shows that figures and woods affected will fluctuate and change throughout the process. 

Timings

On Nov 30, 2015, Government announced the prioritisation of Phase 2a. It will extend Phase 1 from the West Midlands to Crewe (40miles/64kms). The Environmental Impact Assessment for Phase 2a is expected in July 2017. A consultation on the current route refinement for Phase 2b (from Birmingham to Leeds/ Ulleskelf – 123miles/198kms and Crewe to Bamfurlong/ Manchester Piccadilly – 51miles/82kms) ended on March 9, 2017. We expect a route to be finalised by the end of 2017. A draft EIA should follow in 2018/19.

What happened on Phase 1?

We have campaigned to save ancient woodland from HS2 since details of Phase 1 were first released in 2011.

We have attended hundreds of meetings, combed through stacks of documents, submitted reams of evidence to a variety of committees, groups, hearings and consultations, and our Conservation Advisor, Richard Barnes, has given evidence in person in front of the Commons and the Lords Select Committees.

We've had some significant wins, including:
- forcing HS2 Ltd to remove all temporary works from ancient woodland
- proving the need for HS2 Ltd to admit that the project would never achieve its aim of ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ while ancient woodland – an irreplaceable habitat – was being destroyed
- working alongside others to convince the High Speed Rail Bill Select Committee of the need to extend a tunnel through the Chilterns, saving 9.2 hectares (25 football pitches) of ancient woodland from three separate woods

Beccy Speight continued:

“These wins should now set a precedent for how the second Phase of the project is handled. We expect HS2 Ltd to take more seriously the need to avoid ancient woodland and for it to make plans and amendments to the route that reflect this need as the process continues.”

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