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Mon January 20 2020

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Environmental campaigners slam HS2's 'amateurish' mitigation measures

4 days An assessment of the damage caused by HS2 on the wildlife of Britain concludes that huge swathes of natural habitat will be lost.

HS2 Phase 2b runs through Rothwell Country Park in Yorkshire [Photo © Danny Hill]
HS2 Phase 2b runs through Rothwell Country Park in Yorkshire [Photo © Danny Hill]

The Wildlife Trusts, which have compiled the report, condemn HS2’s eco mitigation measures as amateurish, paltry and in the wrong places.

The report – What’s the damage?  Why HS2 will cost nature too much* – claims to be the most comprehensive assessment of the environmental damage that HS2 will cause.

HS2 Ltd called the report 'inaccurate and misleading'.

Drawing on data from 14 Wildlife Trusts along the route, as well as the National Trust, Woodland Trust, RSPB and Chilterns Conservation Board, the report assesses a range of impacts across all phases of HS2 on protected wildlife sites, species and landscape restoration projects.

It says that HS2’s current proposals for a £100bn+ high speed rail line shaped in a Y connecting London, Birmingham and Manchester/Leeds will risk the loss of, or significantly impact:  

  • five wildlife refuges of international importance, protected by UK law
  • 33 sites of special scientific interest which are protected by UK law
  • 693 classified local wildlife sites
  • 21 designated local nature reserves
  • 18 Wildlife Trust nature reserves – many are also designated wildlife sites
  • 108 irreplaceable ancient woodlands.

The report says that HS2 engineers’ proposals for mitigating and compensating these losses are “frequently inadequate and inappropriate. For example, they don’t appear to be spatially planned or tailored to the needs of local habitats and species, resulting in proposals like tree planting on existing areas of wildlife-rich semi-improved neutral grassland; wetland mitigation on areas of existing high value wetland; or mitigation proposals on isolated, unconnected sites.”

Nikki Williams, the Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy, said: “The figures are grim and the reality is worse. The potential loss of so many really important wild places and the wildlife that depends on them has never been revealed before – nor has the damage that will be done to taxpayer-funded, nature recovery projects. HS2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it’s allowed to continue in its current form – it will damage the very ecosystems that provide a natural solution to the climate emergency.

“The data also shows that HS2 Ltd’s proposed mitigation and compensation is inadequate and 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.”

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The introduction to the Wildlife Trusts' report says: "HS2 is a huge infrastructure project, which will cut and divide England’s natural habitats in two, from London to Manchester and Leeds. Despite this, the UK government did not undertake a strategic environmental assessment, which would have required a thorough investigation of the environmental impacts of the HS2 route and consideration of viable alternatives. Furthermore, it is evident from this study that the environmental statements for HS2 have fallen considerably short in terms of information, surveys, impact assessment and proposed mitigation and compensation. It is not clear why a project of this scale should have different rules to smaller projects when it comes to providing adequate impact assessment and to ensuring that all necessary environmental data is available in time to inform good decision-making."

HS2 responded: "The Woodland Trusts report is inaccurate and misleading. The fight against climate change needs to be based on facts. All leading wildlife organisations agree climate change is the biggest threat to wildlife and habitats in the UK. By providing a greener way to travel, HS2 helps fight climate change.

"The number of sites presented in the Wildlife Trusts report as ‘at risk of loss, or significant impact’ is not accurate. It appears to be simply a list of all sites within 500m of the line. It has not been accompanied by evidence of significant impact at these sites, e.g. the trusts claim that 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest are affected by the project. In fact, the number is 14, of which only 2 are on Phase One.

"We are also putting tailored mitigation plans in place, including new habitats and 16 specially designed ‘green bridges’ covered in planting and 25 miles of tunnel.

"Investment in a state-of-the-art, high-speed line is critical for the UK’s low-carbon transport future, it will provide much-needed rail capacity up and down the country, and is integral to rail projects in the north and Midlands which will help rebalance the UK economy."

*The full report, What’s the damage?  Why HS2 will cost nature too much, is available at www.wildlifetrusts.org

A proposed viaduct cuts through the Broadwater Lake nature reserve in Hertfordshire [Photo © Tim Hill]
A proposed viaduct cuts through the Broadwater Lake nature reserve in Hertfordshire [Photo © Tim Hill]

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