HS2’s nature mitigations ‘inadequate, amateurish and in the wrong places’

The ‘ecologically devastating’ impacts of High Speed 2 on protected sites and the ‘inadequate’ mitigation and compensation measures put forward would push ‘nature to the brink’ and cause local extinctions, according to a new report from The Wildlife Trusts.

However HS2 has dismissed the figures underpinning the report – supplied by local Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, RSPB and the Chilterns Conservation Board –  as “fundamentally wrong”.

The Wildlife Trusts arrived at its conclusions by assessing HS2’s environmental statements for Phase One, 2a, and a draft environmental statement for 2b and found that 28 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), three special areas of conservation, and two Ramsar sites are at risk of loss, or face significant impact from the rail line. 

Read more: Could HS2 be derailed?: 7 things you need to know

The report comes a day after the Woodland Trust published its own assessment of HS2’s impacts which concluded that 108 ancient woodlands – an irreplaceable habitat under national government planning policy – would be lost or damaged and rare species such as the dingy skipper butterfly would face local extinction. 

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts' director of campaigns and policy, said the new data showed that HS2’s proposed mitigation and compensation were inadequate. 

“The small measures that they have suggested are inappropriate – amateurish suggestions of paltry measures in the wrong places. Nature and our climate are already in big trouble and we must not make a dire situation even worse – that’s why we are calling on the Prime Minister to stop and rethink the entire development,” she said. 

However, a spokesman for HS2 has strongly refuted the Wildlife Trusts' report as “fundamentally wrong”, taking aim at its figures. 

On ancient woodland, HS2 said the rail route would only impact 62 sites and that more than 85% of these ancient woods would remain intact and untouched. On Phase One of the route, 32 ancient woodlands are described as negatively affected but, in 19 of these, the total area of loss is less than one hectare, according to HS2. However, 39 hectares of ancient woodland would be lost between London and Crewe (Phase One and Phase 2a), HS2 said.

The spokesman said that the number of sites presented in the report as being at risk of loss or significant impact was not accurate because the “sample size” by which to judge the impact of HS2 was “not accompanied by evidence of significant impact at these sites”, he said. 

He added: “HS2 take the environmental cost of construction very seriously. That is why we’re delivering an unprecedented programme of tree planting and habitat creation alongside the new railway.” 

HS2 has a policy to deliver no net loss of biodiversity, with seven million trees and shrubs to be planted along the course of the first phase of the rail link, with 33 square kilometres of new or enhanced ecological habitat to be created. To date around half-a-million trees have been planted.

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