50,000 shades of grey

The final environmental statement for phase one of High Speed 2 finally arrived on the 25th November 2013.  We all knew it was going to be big, but no one was quite prepared for how difficult it was going to be to wade through all the information contained within it.  However, at around 50,000 pages long I never thought I would be in the bizarre position of feeling like I don’t have enough information to fully determine the impacts of HS2 on ancient woodland.

The ES states that 19 ancient woodlands will be directly affected by Phase 1 of HS2. However, my review of the ES so far indicates that there are 26 woodlands that will be directly affected by HS2. A further 17 ancient woodlands will suffer from indirect effects, such as noise, dust and changes to lighting. And there are another 24 woods under threat that we believe could also be ancient, we are working to get these recognised as such by Natural England.

Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and a habitat of national importance. Volume three of the Environmental Statement recognises this. However, the detailed community reports whilst accepting ancient woodland is irreplaceable then classify their importance at the county/metropolitan value at best.  This devaluation of the significance of ancient woodland habitat is potentially misleading to people responding to the Environmental Statement.

The construction boundary has significantly increased from the draft Environmental Statement. In many places this appears to be due to the inclusion of utilities works that were not covered in the draft ES.mpsMaps of the proposed route are scattered through the ES and this makes it very difficult to understand the proposed works and how they relate to one another. In my review so far I have found maps to be poorly labelled, and there are few map references within the reports so reviewing the mapping is proving to be very time consuming. The ecology maps (Vol. 5) and environmental baseline maps (Vol 2) are particularly misleading because the cross hatching used to denote ancient woodland is obliterated by the green used to designate local wildlife sites. All of these little issues are hugely increasing the amount of time it is taking to review the environmental statement.  We have requested electronic maps from HS2 Ltd. to overlay on our mapping system but so far these have not been provided.

HS2 Ltd. has divided the proposed route up into 26 Community Forum Area (CFA) reports and each contains details of the likely significant effects of the construction and operation of the proposed scheme. Each CFA report – around 350 pages – follows roughly the same format, but the level of detail varies between each one, making it very difficult to obtain a clear and consistent picture of the effects along the line. As a result of this it has not been possible to determine how HS2 has come up with the figure of 32ha of ancient woodland to be lost. Discrepancies between figures of woodland loss within some CFA reports are further complicating this issue.

Worryingly ground works that will be required for the construction of some parts of the line do not appear to have been included in the Environmental Statement. For example, the draft ES clearly stated that 15 boreholes were needed to be drilled in Long Itchington Wood (an ancient woodland and a SSSI that the ES recognises as being of national importance).  However, this had disappeared from the final environmental statement, which states that the wood will not be physically affected.  Discussions with HS2 Ltd. have indicated that these bore holes will still be needed and that ground works will be subject to a separate report.  This begs the question what other ground works are required along the length of the line that we do not know about, but that may lead to significant impacts on the environment.

Loss of ancient woodland also represents loss of species that rely on this habitat for their homes and source of food. 13 of the 17 species of bat breeding in the UK have been recorded along the proposed route of Phase1.  This includes the incredibly rare Bechstein’s bat that has been found around Sheephouse Wood.  The proposal by HS2 Ltd to put a box shaped enclosure around the track at this point to mitigate the impact on foraging bats is unique and to our knowledge untested. Barn owls are also particularly vulnerable around train lines due to the way they hunt. Alarmingly the environmental statement predicts the “loss of all breeding populations of barn owls within 1.5km of the Proposed Scheme”, ( Volume 3 states that this is the equivalent of 1% of the UK population).  The ES accepts that this is significant, but the proposed mitigation for this impact is vague.

Overall, the environmental statement is raising more questions than it answers.  The length of time given to read, digest and respond to this document is ludicrously short.  Furthermore, the implication that there is other information that will be made available further on in the process (e.g. ground works, utilities works, survey results) means it is not possible for me to be sure that this information I have is accurate or complete.  So whilst Parliament breaks for its 18 day recess over the Christmas period spare a thought for those of us glued to a computer screen trying to make sense of the information contained within the behemoth that is the HS2 environmental statement.

Luci Ryan, Ecological Impact Assessor (Ancient Woodland)

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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24 Responses to 50,000 shades of grey

  1. Pingback: On and on it seems to go (and you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone) | Woodland Matters

  2. Kevin says:

    In case it helps with your map interpretation: I have surveyed two Local Wildlife Sites in East Cheshire this year that are also ancient woodlands and in the planned path of HS2. They are Leonard’s and Smoker Woods (SJ703760) and Hancock’s Bank South (SJ 755845).

    They are such rare and precious sites in this area. Their loss would be a great shame.

  3. Roderick Leslie says:

    50,000 pages is enough to put anyone off – so all credit to Luci and WT for making the effort – and realising that quantity doesn’t necessarily = quality.

    Whatever the arguments for and against HS2, there is another very big and fundamental issue here: how politicians/ big business deal with the rest of us who make up the population of the UK, and at the moment on big projects like this they are very clearly getting it wrong: trying to push development through, depending on sheer weight of numbers and the planning system to simply overide genuine and valid concerns and effectively trying to cast all opposition as ‘protest’ (see Owen Paterson’s views that people who oppose GM are ‘wicked’). Whatever the right answer, the clear message is that to have built up such a bow wave of opposition clearly is wrong and, quite apart from the distress it is causing many people – and ancient woods – in the pathway of HS2, for the nasty neoliberlists who care only about profit its actually threatening your project. As it has onshore wind, forest sales and no doubt fracking as well.

  4. Peter Kyte says:

    The government deliberately gave a short review date just to stifle proper debate and concerns, we all need to make sure that does not happen.

    • Oliver Newham says:

      We agree. We would encourage anybody who can to make a submission even if they feel they havent been able to get through all of the documentatiion.

  5. Maureen Hart says:

    Cannot see us winning the fight to stop HS2 though we must keep trying.
    Politicians seem to think that if they blind us with too much ‘science’ & fill hundreds of pages with waffle then we will give up.
    Here is one who will not give up the fight to see this stopped before the whole of our woodlands are the next to be threatened with concreting over for the good of’ Suits’ & no one else!
    Keep on fighting everyone!!!

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Thanks for the kind comments. It takes more than a 50,000 page document to stop us defending our ancient woods and trees.

  6. The ES appears to be deliberately obfuscating rather than informative – surprise, surprise.
    Please don’t be downhearted, Luci. There will be a significant number of us thinking about you & your colleagues’ heroic efforts during the capitalist consumer-fest that Christmas has become!

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Hi Beverley, thanks for your kind comments, Luci is sat next to me and says she is not downhearted, but ploughing on. Best wishes if you are working on this too.

  7. Pingback: Proposed environmental report on the routes of the new HS2 train route from Birmingham to London

  8. stevescays says:

    I thank you for the report, I have blogged a link on my site http://www.konstrukshon.com with links to the electronic report, however your right on the map quality, its appalling.

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Thanks Steve, Luci found your blog post really interesting and informative. Delighted to see that someone else that knows about maps has the same opinion of the HS2 maps as we do.

  9. Rwth Hunt says:

    The benefits are minimal in relation to its cost. The only advantage the politicians gain is the ability to ignore their constituents and disregard their concerns and reduce the effective voting population. People are saying all around “Why should I vote or make representations? Nobody listens. What’s the use?”

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Thanks Rwth, we understand that people do often feel overwhelmed by the size and complexity of the Environmental Statement for Phase 1, but really every submission does count. The more people that take the time to comment and stand up for our ancient woods, the louder our voice will be.

  10. can we have a comparative study of the channel tunnel railway through Kent as it has matured now and a “post build” survey would be relevant as a longer term view, Kent Wildlife Trust would be a good information point. As a long term resident of kent the M20 has had far more impact on Kent than the railway with regard to 24/7 noise, pollution and disfigurement of the environment.

    • michael barton says:

      what a good idea, let’s look at Kent – HS1 certainly has,nt affected Ashenbank and as you say no noise there as compared with M2 AND we , after over 100 years have a decent rail connect with London

      • We invented railways and yet we have the most antiquated systems in Europe, I think we should catch up with HS2 but we must not destroy our wonderful countryside in the process, the construction programme is the most noisy, disruptive and damaging part of the project but if we cut and cover rather than bulldoze through this may protect valuable sites, see the National Trusts review of important buildings on the proposed route. A rational approach to the project for one.
        If it is built from Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester as well as from London to Birmingham it will remove many people from flying or driving between these points surely a reduction in carbon footprints?

        There was incredible resistance to the building of the first railways and development went ahead piece meal now we should have better regulation in place I think it will go ahead so we should try to impress how important it is that we take good care of our precious environment and ancient woodlands.

        We also need a major freight line that would carry containers up the country removing many of the national and European trucks from our roads which are so destructive of roads, buildings and peoples living standards.

        Thanet Earth is an excellent project which grows enormous amounts of salad food all year round cutting out trucking it from Murcia, British Sugar grow vine tomatoes as a byproduct of sugar beet which supply thousands of tons of home grown tomatoes we should all support these excellent efforts..

        • michael barton says:

          great to hear some balanced and thoughtful comments. The Pro lobby has not been very good so far but we are hearing “capacity” as opposed to “speed” recently. Thank you Richard – I am a WT and NT member and associated with Ashenbank and the Cobham and Ashenbank management group of which Union railways are a member.

        • Richard HS2 is a waste of money a 15 mins saving in time off a journey between London and Manchester and yet if you improved and electrified the present line it would save you 10 mins the difference runs into the 10’s of billions of pounds which could then be used to improve lines in the east so that the whole country gains you will then be improving the freight transportation ability of the railroad because the whole of the system would be able to cope, so no need to build new pointless lines that few would use and many would end up suffering through, not just because of the millions of pounds of lost investment in the east but also because of the green belt land in the west that would end up being bulldozed just to save the estates of the rich for the new factories that will move so HS2 will bring loads of lovely CO2 to the west killing off plants and animals and all so that some rich git can get to London 5 mins faster than if the lines were electrified

        • Oliver Newham says:

          Thanks Richard, as mentioned before, we are all for green transport solutions, just not at any cost. Our ancient woods and trees are irreplacable and their loss cannot be mitigated.

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Thanks for the comment Richard, as far as we are aware there is no comparative study for us to refer to. Certainly we are supportive of efforts to see greener transport solutions, but the current proposed route for HS2 destroys irreplacable habitats and the significance of this is repeatedly understated by those proposing the scheme.

  11. HS2 is pure folly by the time they build it it will cost over 60 billion, it will destroy 100’s of square miles of the environment and those politicians who keep telling us how good it is don’t seem to have grasped the basic premise that the few who would make money doesn’t make up for all that would be lost including forests and jobs so keep fighting and maybe just maybe one of two politicians might be able to work out that there are more against than for HS2

  12. frog says:

    Luci you’re doing something heroic here. Please keep going!

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