Campaigners have claimed that Jones Hill Wood inspired Roald Dahl to write Fantastic Mr Fox. Photograph: Lisa Foster Campaigners have claimed that Jones Hill Wood inspired Roald Dahl to write Fantastic Mr Fox. Photograph: Lisa Foster

Judge orders halt to HS2 tree felling amid Natural England legal wrangle

HS2 has been ordered to stop clearing a site in the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) with immediate effect.

The order was made by Justice Lang and forbids HS2 from carrying out works or other  activities at Jones’ Hill Wood until an application for judicial review against Natural England for licensing the operation can be heard at the High Court this summer.

Jones Hill Wood, near Wendover in the Chilterns, currently covers an area of 1.8 hectares. Campaigners have claimed that the woodland inspired Roald Dahl to write Fantastic Mr Fox.

However, the site lies within the path of HS2 and 0.7 hectares of the woodland is due to be destroyed to make way for the infrastructure project.

At the end of March, it was revealed that Natural England had issued a licence to HS2’s contractors to begin clearing the ancient woodland, known to contain protected species of bats.

However campaigners argued that NE had offered no clear evidence that proposed mitigation efforts would work.

Last week, Mark Keir, on behalf of the Jones’ Hill Wood Earth Protectors, instructed Richard Buxton Solicitors to launch legal proceedings against Natural England’s licence process.

As part of this, Keir’s legal team made an urgent application to the planning court for an interim order to suspend the licence.

This was granted by Justice Lang on Friday. No work can be carried out on the site until the case is heard in “the week commencing 24 May or as soon as possible from 8 June 2021 onwards”.

Delivering the stop notice, Justice Lang said: “In granting interim relief, I expressly weighed in the balance the inconvenience and  irrecoverable expense caused by delay to the works...However, in my judgment, the balance of convenience lies in favour of maintaining  the status quo, bearing in mind the legal obligation to protect rare species and the fact that harm to rare species may well be irreversible.”

Lisa Foster, partner at Richard Buxton Solicitors, said she was “pleased and relieved” that the judge had granted an order suspending works under the licence. 

“The important principle raised in the case is that high ecological protections matter when destroying ecologically important habitat, even in the context of nationally significant infrastructure. This case will give the court the opportunity to determine if Natural England failed in its regulatory duty,” she said.

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