The Woodland Trust has “grave concerns” that ancient woodland due for imminent destruction by HS2 Ltd might be felled without proper survey work to identify bat roosts, and without the proper licences required by law.

After Natural England confirmed to the charity that HS2 Ltd does not have any licences to disturb bats or damage roosts at Jones’ Hill Wood, the Trust is calling for an immediate pause on work at the wood to allow the matter to be fully investigated.

Jones’ Hill Wood and failure to carry out appropriate wildlife surveys

Jones’ Hill Wood is an ancient wood in the Chilterns. Around half the wood, which is hundreds of years old, will be destroyed to make way for the high speed rail line. The Woodland Trust understands that felling is due to start any day.

This comes after independent ecologists sent a report to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps raising similar concerns about HS2 Ltd potentially breaking the law by failing to follow basic industry standards around wildlife surveys and obtaining the proper licences to carry out work.

According to a recent statement, HS2 contractors are now carrying out bat surveys at Jones’ Hill Wood, but belatedly and not under the right conditions. Not only is it the wrong time of year to carry out surveys because the bats are likely to be hibernating, but high-intensity security lighting rigs have also been installed at the wood which has the potential to disturb any bat roosts.

Last week the Trust wrote to both HS2 Ltd and the Minister with responsibility for the project, Andrew Stephenson MP. The letters highlighted a lack of evidence that Jones’ Hill Wood was surveyed for protected species, and has asked for an explanation as to why there is no licence to disturb bats and destroy roosts for that site as well as a number of others. The Trust has also called for the dismantling of the lighting rigs around Jones’ Hill Wood because of their potential to disturb wildlife. The trust has yet to receive a response from HS2. 

Woodland Trust CEO Dr Darren Moorcroft said:

“Ancient woodlands are packed full of special plants and animals, some of which are protected by law. Felling ancient woodland without carrying out industry standard surveys or securing licences for protected species would be like bulldozing a church or listed building without even looking what’s inside it.

“Surveys and licences for protected species are basic environmental protection and they apply whether you are converting a loft or building a high speed railway. Given the spotlight HS2 is under it is essential that the project demonstrates best practice when it comes to its treatment of the natural environment.

“In a week when the Prime Minister is pushing forward his environmental ambitions it is essential that HS2 demonstrates best practice when it comes to its treatment of the natural environment. When the Hybrid Bill for HS2 was passed it was unthinkable that this Government sponsored project could fell ancient woodlands in breach of the law, yet we have grave concerns this could happen.

“We have written to HS2 to seek urgent clarification and a commitment that no felling will take place until the correct surveys have been undertaken and valid licences are in place for any protected species at Jones’ Hill Wood or any other ancient woods impacted by HS2, now and in the future.”

Other ancient woods the Woodland Trust is concerned about

The Trust also has concerns around six other ancient woodland sites due to be felled this autumn where it understands there are no licences in place to disturb bats and damage roosts and where we've seen no evidence that adequate surveys for bats or other protected species have been carried out.

The Trust asked HS2 Ltd to see evidence of its surveys from these sites in mid-October and again last week but as yet the information has not been forthcoming.

The sites are:

  • Decoypond Wood and two unnamed woods near it, Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire.
  • Mossy Corner Spinney, near Mixbury, Oxfordshire.
  • Halse Copse, near Greatworth and Halse, Northamptonshire.
  • Fox Covert, also known as Glyn Davies Wood, near Boddington on the Warwickshire/Northamptonshire border.

UPDATE 24/11/20

New information today from Natural England has confirmed that bat licenses are in place for three of the seven sites listed above - Decoypond Wood and two unnamed woods near Decoypond Wood. We are awaiting a response from HS2 regarding ecological survey and protected license information for all the listed sites.

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact Dee Smith in the Woodland Trust press office at deesmith@woodlandtrust.org.uk.

Bat licenses

All UK bat species are given a very high level of legal protection under the following.

  • Section 43 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (continuing in force by the Conservation of Habitats and Species (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019).
  • Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Jones’ Hill Wood timeline

November 2013 Jones’ Hill Wood Is mentioned in the HS2 Environmental Statement describing “a major adverse effect” on the wood from the railway line. According to independent ecologists, ecological surveys undertaken at that time fell well below industry standards.

Between November 2013 and August 2020 To the best of the Woodland Trust’s knowledge, and to that of independent ecologists, no additional surveys were undertaken.

August 2020 The Woodland Trust received notification from HS2 Ltd that Jones’ Hill Wood would be felled in the autumn.

September 2020 Preparatory work in the wood including protestor eviction, tree de-limbing, and scrub clearance is undertaken by contractors.

October 2020 Felling and clearance work is temporarily halted after reports emerge of rare barbastelle bats at the wood. Thames Valley Police intervene. Security lights are installed at the wood which illuminate potential bat roosting sites like hollow trees. Bat surveys start but do not appear to involve any tree climbing to inspect roosts and will be prejudiced by the security lighting and the inappropriate time of year. These surveys are far short of Government and industry standards.

November 2020 Natural England confirm that no bat licence has been validated or granted for Jones’ Hill Wood.

November 2020 The Woodland Trust writes to HS2 Ltd to ask for an explanation of why there is no valid bat licence for Jones’ Hill Wood and six other ancient woodlands on the Phase 1 route.

About the Woodland Trust

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. Restore 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 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.

More on HS2 and ancient woodlands