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Natural England advice to HS2 on ancient woodland

The Woodland Trust is relieved and delighted following Natural England advice to HS2 on ancient woodland.

Today, a report by Natural England has confirmed that ancient woodland should be removed from HS2 Ltd calculations that attempt to prove the scheme will achieve ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ (1).

The Woodland Trust has argued that ancient woodland should be removed from the ‘no net loss’ calculation ever since it was first published by HS2 Ltd in its 2013 Environmental Statement, submitting evidence to support this stance on several occasions. In February this year, the HS2 Commons Select Committee agreed with the Trust that the calculation should be reviewed and gave Natural England the task of doing so.

Beccy Speight, CEO Woodland Trust said:

"We are delighted that Natural England (NE) has taken on board all the Trust's recommendations in this report and commend them on following it through despite the pressures that arise from such a high profile project. You can't achieve 'no net loss of biodiversity' if you're destroying irreplaceable ancient woodland - it's impossible. This report is clarification that HS2 has failed on its key objective of 'no net loss of biodiversity' and that this project will be to the detriment of the natural environment.

"To consider any of the environmental work carried out by HS2 Ltd on the first phase of this project 'best practice' for future development would put our landscape in grave danger. 30ha of ancient woodland will be lost to Phase 1 of HS2 - no amount of planting or translocated soils will ever replace that. That's why we support the compensation ratio of 30:1 despite the DfTs (Department for Transport) refusal to accept the findings of the Government's own statutory body NE on this. This kind of ratio sets a very important precedent that any future development of any kind must take seriously the true value and protection of ancient woodland.

"Ancient Woodland is irreplaceable and this report sets that in stone. This is the culmination of 5 years of work, millions of words written and 100,000s of pages read by the Trust in fighting this case. Today is a win for the protection of irreplaceable habitats and a loss for badly thought through development."

Ancient woodland is land that has been continuously wooded since 1600. The unique undisturbed soils and ecosystems found in these sites form the UK’s richest land habitat, home to a host of rare, protected and threatened wildlife. It now accounts for just 2% of the UK’s land area (3% in England). Once destroyed, it can never be replaced.

There are a number of other points that the Trust is waiting for answers from HS2 Ltd on:

  • There is no evidence for the effectiveness of translocation (2) of ancient woodland soils and yet HS2 Ltd continues to push this as better than new planting, using it as a reason to reduce the area of compensation proposed.
  • Compensation planting ratios in relation to habitat loss (including ancient woodland) proposed by HS2 Ltd are at most 4.8:1 hectares. The Trust requested a ratio of at least 30:1ha for ancient woodland.
  • The environment must be fully assessed before designs are put forward. The identification of valuable habitats late in the planning process results in amendments to the scheme being seen as difficult and too expensive. Loss of habitat is then accepted as inevitable and unavoidable.
  • HS2 Ltd has made no commitment to buffer ancient woodland with new planting or to provide mitigation to reduce the indirect effects (noise, vibration, lighting, etc) of the route.
  • HS2 Ltd has unnecessarily constrained the area available for compensation planting by only looking at areas that fall within the area of the scheme’s proposed plans. The Trust demonstrated in its evidence to the Commons Select Committee that there are a variety of voluntary schemes available that would enable HS2 Ltd to identify land outside its current plans to deliver better results for habitat protection and biodiversity.
  • Some changes to the route only serve to move destruction from one extremely important habitat to another. Eg. There’s a potential increase in ancient woodland loss at Pinnocks Wood, in Herefordshire due to a haul route being moved from a SSSI.

Protection for ancient woodland is weak and threats to this precious habitat are on the increase. Support our call for better protection for ancient woodland


Notes to editors:

(1) In its ‘no net loss’ calculation, created using a draft Defra metric as a basis, HS2 Ltd gave ancient woodland a distinctiveness rating of ‘8’. This was added to the metric by HS2 to try and prove ‘no net loss of biodiversity’ was possible. By giving ancient woodland any rating at all, there’s a suggestion that it could be replaced – for example, one might assume an ‘8’ could be ‘replaced’ with twice the amount of a habitat that had a distinctiveness rating of ‘4’.

In the original calculation, Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) and Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW) were treated differently. PAWS was given a distinctiveness rating of ‘6’ – suggesting it was less valuable, and more replaceable than ASNW. Government’s National Planning Guidance (NPPG) itself states:
Both Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW) as well as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) are ancient woodland. Both types should be treated equally in terms of the protection afforded to ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework.

(2) In some cases, translocation – defined as the transfer by human agency of any organism(s) from one place to another – is considered as an option that could support the development of an ecosystem containing some of the plants and fungi of the former ancient woodland. There is no evidence available to show that ancient woodland translocation is a process that provides a better quality habitat than planting of new woodland on non-translocated soils. (Ryan, L. (2013) ‘Translocation and Ancient Woodland’. Woodland Trust).
Natural England’s view that an ancient woodland ecosystem cannot be moved, is supported by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee policy on translocation provided in its ‘A Habitats Translocation Policy for Britain’. (JNCC (2003) ’A Habitats Translocation Policy for Britain’. Joint Nature Conservation Committee on behalf of The Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage). The policy states that the uncertainty of habitat translocation means that it should be viewed only as a measure of last resort in partial compensation for damaging developments.

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading charity championing native woods and trees. It has over 400,000 supporters. The Trust has three key aims: i) to plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife ii) to protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable iii) to restore damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life. Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 woods in its care covering approximately 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). Access to its woods is free. The Woodland Trust is a charity registered in England (No 294344). A non-profit making company limited by guarantee. Registered in England No 1982873. Registered Office: Kempton Way, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG31 6LL. The Woodland Trust logo is a registered trademark.