On 18 November, Government confirmed that the Phase 2b Eastern leg of High Speed 2 has been scaled back and new track will be built only as far as the East Midlands. While this news will likely mean a reprieve for a number of ancient woods and veteran trees along certain parts of the route, the Government must also look again at how impacts to these precious habitats can be avoided on the sections that are still going ahead. We will be waiting cautiously for further details to emerge regarding the other transport schemes that have also been committed to across the Midlands and the North. We support sustainable transport solutions, however, where they result in impacts to irreplaceable habitats we consider that they simply cannot be called ‘green’.

Up and down the country, ancient woods and trees are facing the axe to make way for the high speed train line.

Despite a lengthy review process, the Department for Transport announced on 15 April 2020 that Phase 1 could begin.

Four ancient woods in Warwickshire and two in Staffordshire have already been felled. We’re working hard to prevent more of these precious havens for wildlife facing the same fate.

Woods under threat from HS2:

Phase 1: destruction awaits more ancient woodland

Phase 1 of HS2 will link London and Birmingham. 32 ancient woods will be directly affected. A further 29 will suffer secondary effects such as disturbance, noise and pollution.

We campaigned, lobbied and petitioned Government about the impacts of this phase. We argued that HS2 should first avoid and, if not possible, minimise damage to ancient woods and trees, and the species that depend on them. They took heed of some of our concerns, but clearly not all.

The devastation has begun

HS2 Ltd started removing ancient woodland in Warwickshire in April 2020. This is against all professional guidance - and HS2 Ltd's own commitments which stated this work would only happen in late autumn when the woods were dormant.

Unfortunately, with the arrival of autumn HS2 Ltd is now preparing its latest schedule of destruction as it enters the ancient woods with its bulldozers. The loss of these irreplaceable habitats is devastating, for the people who care deeply for these special places, and for the plants, fungi and animals that call these places home. It’s not too late for HS2 Ltd to save some of these vital havens for wildlife.

If works are happening near you that affect ancient woodland, you can let us know using our report a threat form.

Phase 2a: the ongoing fight

Phase 2a runs from Lichfield to Crewe.

In May 2019, we appeared before the HS2 Select Committee at the House of Commons for a third time. We raised further concerns about proposed Phase 2a changes that impact ancient woodland.

These changes reduced the railway’s impact on Whitmore Wood, but only by 0.5ha. Whitmore Wood is still impacted by the single biggest loss of ancient woodland on the entire scheme - an enormous 5.5ha. A single tunnel in this area would remove this loss, but unfortunately the Select Committee has so far rejected this option.

Our appearance before the House of Lords Select Committee on Phase 2a was delayed by the General Election and then the coronavirus pandemic. We finally appeared virtually on 3 September 2020. You can watch us give evidence on Parliamentlive.tv. The Committee is expected to finish sitting in October 2020 and will then publish its report. This is when we will find out if it has taken our concerns into account.

The Bill will then return to the House of Commons and likely be given Royal Assent in early 2021. This will give permission for works to begin.

Phase 2b: worse than we thought

Phase 2b is in two parts. The western leg runs from Crewe to Manchester and the eastern leg runs from Lichfield to Leeds. At least 19 ancient woods are threatened with direct loss. And we expect that number to increase as more woodland is being added to the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI). 

Another 11 ancient woods are subject to indirect damage.

Over 38,000 people responded to the draft Environmental Statement consultation in 2018. A staggering 32,000 of these were from the Woodland Trust’s campaign.

We're now waiting for a final Environmental Statement consultation, which is expected in 2021 at the earliest.  Once it's available, we'll let you know and help you to respond.

Key successes so far

Though there's still a long way to go, our work has had real success, including:

  • influencing MPs to support a tunnel extension in the Chilterns, saving over nine hectares of ancient woodland
  • persuading HS2 Ltd to remove temporary works, such as construction compounds and stockpiles, from ancient woodland
  • convincing HS2 Ltd to examine the impacts of the scheme not just on ancient woods, but also ancient and veteran trees, and potential unmapped areas of ancient woodland
  • halting enabling works in 11 ancient woodlands due to be affected by Phase 1 during the 2019-20 Oakervee Review into if and how the scheme should proceed
  • saving 14ha - the size of 22 football fields - of ancient woodland in total.

But there is much left to do. HS2 remains a huge danger to our precious ancient woodland, a danger which, with your continuing support, we’ll keep fighting every step of the way.

Our view

While we are in favour of green transport and not against high speed rail projects in principle, we are strongly opposed to the HS2 route.

With at least 108 ancient woods subject to damage and loss, we consider that the impact of the HS2 route on ancient woods and trees across the UK landscape is wholly unacceptable.

Any transport system that destroys irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland can never be called 'green'.

More on the HS2 rail link