HS2 rail link
HS2 is a grave threat to the UK’s ancient woods, with many at risk of loss or damage. The destruction has already begun but we’re doing everything we can to save as many woods as possible.
Credit: James Reader / WTML
Up and down the country, ancient woods and trees are facing the axe to make way for the high speed train line.
HS2 is now in its third year of destroying ancient woodland to make way for Phase 1 of the route. But we’re continuing to work hard to prevent more of these precious wildlife havens facing the same fate. While the scaling back of the Eastern Leg may save several woods, HS2 Ltd's ancient woodland strategy ignores best practice and Natural England advice, leaving many others at risk.
The entire HS2 scheme previously threatened 108 ancient woods. We are currently recalculating this figure to account for:
- amendments to Phase 1
- addition of previously unmapped ancient woods to the Ancient Woodland Inventory
- the downgrading of the Phase 2b Eastern Leg.
Woods under threat from HS2:
Phase 1: destruction awaits more ancient woodland
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 is now into its third year of removing ancient woodland on the Phase 1 route. 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.
HS2 Ltd has not always followed best practice when removing these woods and has broken its own assurances that it would try to minimise the damage done. For example, ancient woodland in Warwickshire was removed in April 2020, against all professional guidance and HS2’s own commitments to do the work in late autumn when the woods would be dormant.
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 February 2021, the Phase 2A Bill was given Royal Assent which provided permission for the works to begin.
As Phase 2a was being debated in parliament, we advocated for changes to reduce the impact on ancient woodland. You can watch us give evidence on Parliamentlive.tv.
In early 2021 we were successful in amending the legislation so that HS2 Ltd is now legally required to report on its ancient woodland impacts across the entire project. This transparency is vital. However, when HS2 Ltd published its report in February 2022 it contained very little new information. We will continue to push for greater transparency from HS2 Ltd to ensure that the public can hold them to account.
Further 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 rejected this option.
Phase 2b: the latest developments
In March 2022, nearly 6,000 supporters and members of the public responded to the Government’s consultation on Phase 2b to save further ancient woods and veteran trees on this stretch. HS2 Ltd only published its ancient woodland strategy for this phase after the public consultation closed, demonstrating a clear lack of transparency. It is never possible to fully compensate for the loss of ancient woodland, however the measures proposed by HS2 Ltd in their latest strategy fall well short of best practice and the advice of Natural England.
The Western Leg runs from Crewe to Manchester.
In January 2022, Government laid the Phase 2b Manchester-Crewe Bill before parliament. We have scrutinised the content of the bill and the accompanying Environmental Statement closely with the support of expert ecological advice.
Habitats threatened by the Western Leg
This is less impactful than previous phases, but is still a serious direct loss, much of which is avoidable. The MA06 stretch of the route (Hulseheath to Manchester Airport) alone is currently home to 10 of these precious woods and six valuable trees.
We're calling for HS2 to review the route to reduce impacts on ancient woods and trees. For example, a change near the airport could save multiple ancient woods and veteran trees from damage and destruction.
The case for a station at Manchester airport must also be reassessed. Under current plans, this would result in significant loss of ancient woodland and facilitate carbon-intensive air travel for decades to come.
It’s important that avoiding impacts to ancient woods and veteran trees remains on the agenda for the Government and HS2 Ltd. HS2 Ltd’s destruction of ancient woodland and veteran trees is unacceptable. We'll keep pushing hard to save these precious habitats.
The Eastern Leg originally ran from Lichfield to Leeds. It's now only expected to reach East Midlands Parkway.
In November 2021, Government announced the scaling back of the Eastern Leg, which will now only go as far as East Midlands Parkway station. This means many ancient woods will be saved from destruction, including our own Nor Wood in Derbyshire.
However, Government has indicated that the remainder of the route will be ‘safeguarded’ until a further review is complete, suggesting that these woods are not out from under the shadow of HS2 quite yet. Such a destructive route was never feasible, and Government must not revert to the previous plans.
Northern Powerhouse Rail (HS3)
In November 2021, Government committed to building a new high speed line joining Warrington, Manchester and going on towards Leeds, delivered by HS2 Ltd. This project has the potential to threaten yet more ancient woods.
Plans are currently in the early stages of development. Government must learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure future projects, including the Northern Powerhouse Rail, don't destroy our irreplaceable habitats. We will be keeping a close eye on further developments.
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. The HS2 route 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.
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 many 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'.