HS2 will shoot a poisoned arrow through the heart of our ancient woods and their wildlife, the Woodland Trust said today.

The Trust, which made a 16-page submission to the Oakervee Review including thousands of comments from supporters, says today’s announcement shows its expert opinion, that of other NGOs and the concerns of the public worried about the destruction of the irreplaceable habitat has been utterly disregarded.

More than 46,000 people added their voice to the Trust’s campaign calling for ancient woodland to be spared. Review deputy Lord Berkeley published an independent dissenting report into the review earlier this month which said the environment had not been properly taken into account.

Some 61 ancient woods along the HS2 route are earmarked for total or partial destruction while a further 47 will suffer damage from noise, vibration, light and pollution.

Adam Cormack, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, said:

“HS2 will shoot a poisoned arrow through the heart of our ancient woods and their wildlife, becoming a permanent reminder of backward environmental thinking.

“Future generations won’t forget the disregard shown for the environmental costs of HS2, especially at a time when recognition has never been greater of the need to protect the environment in the face of the climate and nature emergency.

“The Government is riding roughshod over its own environmental ambitions and ignoring lessons learned from the past, by allowing destruction of ancient woodland and other important habitats on this scale.

“Right now ancient woodlands in the line of HS2 are about to burst into life. Bluebells are emerging and birds are starting to build nests. It’s now too close to spring to be doing preparatory work for HS2 in these woodlands, which needs to wait until much later in the year to comply with guidance. It is unclear how HS2 are proposing to handle this. 

“The Woodland Trust and its supporters have been campaigning to protect ancient woodlands from HS2 for 10 years, and we’ve helped to save a number of ancient of ancient woods and trees. We will be reviewing today’s decision and talking to other charities and people affected by HS2 about our response and what happens next.”

Significant areas of ancient woodland could have been, and still could be saved through the below solutions:

  • South Cubbington Wood on Phase 1 could have been saved if HS2 had constructed a bored tunnel underneath it. Instead, the deep cutting they intend to construct destroys 2ha of this irreplaceable habitat and severs part of the woodland from the remaining woodland block, which will cause further indirect deterioration of the remaining habitat.
  • Whitmore Wood on Phase 2a – a tunnel here could have saved 5.5ha of irreplaceable ancient woodland as well as providing additional benefits to other stakeholders in the area, such as local farmers whose farms are being cut in two. This is currently the single biggest loss of ancient woodland on the whole scheme. However, the Phase 2a Committee decided that the additional cost was too high and dismissed the proposed tunnel.
  • Nor Wood on Phase 2b is an ancient woodland and local wildlife site. Over 4ha of ancient woodland, known to be home to bats, otters and numerous bird species, is to be lost to the line. This area could be protected by tunnelling or the line being moved to avoid it.

One of the main issues the Trust has is that HS2 Ltd did not properly identify all the ancient woodland along the scheme before they designed the route. If this had happened the project could have avoided much of the ancient woodland in its path. Instead, ancient woodland has been identified in a piecemeal manner and often long after the designs were finalised, making it much more difficult to save. 

In addition, HS2 Ltd’s calculations clearly show that the scheme will cause a net loss of biodiversity, and not the no net loss HS2 Ltd claim they are striving for. 

HS2 are proposing to move (‘translocate’) 9 ancient woodlands in the route of HS2. However, the Ecology Technical Standard (section 2.5.1) which provides guidance on translocation states that: Translocation should be undertaken in late autumn/early winter avoiding frost/snow and heavy rain. It is now too late to comply with this best practice guidance for translocation of ancient woodlands, which means this work would need to wait until much later in the year. The Woodland Trust opposes translocation of ancient woodlands as this technique is unproven for retaining the full biodiversity of ancient woodland ecosystems.

Ancient woodland is one of our rarest habitats and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. It accounts for just 2.4% of land in the UK. Ancient woodlands are highly complex ecological communities that have developed over centuries. That makes it irreplaceable and no amount of new planting can make up for that loss.

-ENDS-

Notes to editors

Media enquiries to Dee Smith on 01476 581121 or media@woodlandtrust.org.uk

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims:

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,200 sites in its care covering approximately 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free so everyone can benefit from woods and trees.