Even with calls on the Government to ‘consider and clarify’ various matters before committing to a decision, a new report on High Speed Rail has done little to allay our environmental concerns.
The Transport Select Committee’s Tenth report skims over much of our fears around the substantial negative effects we believe High Speed Two (HS2) will have on irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland. The Trust strongly supports moves towards greener transport – in our view climate change represents the greatest threat to our woodland heritage and applications for new or extended roads make up a huge part of Woods under Threat team’s caseload. But green transport should be efficient, of benefit to the majority and not represent a threat to the nation’s most valuable wildlife habitats. We’re not the only ones to believe that, as it stands, HS2 can’t be classed as ‘green transport’, and we don’t agree that proposals to plant up to two million trees will make up for the loss of at least 21 ancient woods along the route.
We remain sceptical too about Government claims around the possibilities of habitat translocation, a term used to describe a mitigation strategy which involves the physical removal of habitats from one location to another in an attempt to offset the impact of development on the wildlife interest of a site. The reality is that the conditions found in ancient woodland are unique – centuries worth of undisturbed soils and tree cover make this our richest terrestrial habitat, one which is completely irreplaceable. Soils and vegetation are the product of geology, climate and biotic influences which in combination are unique to a single place and they cannot function in the same way in isolation from that place. The beauty, structure and full biodiversity of an ancient woodland can’t be moved from place to place by a bulldozer.
It is encouraging though to see that the Select Committee report highlights concerns over the Government’s intention to decide on whether to proceed with Phase I of HS2 before information on Phase 2 is published, and before environmental impacts of either phase are clear. The report also notes the recommendation that the revised business plan for HS2 should take account of the Government’s new approach to economic appraisal, which places a monetary value on natural capital, and encourages the Government to ‘place greater emphasis on following existing transport corridors’.
You can read our reaction to the Report and our colleagues at the Right Lines Charter have also made comments, found in their latest newsletter. In the meantime, we’re all still watching the progress of the HS2 Hybrid Bill and keeping an eye on the new Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening MP, who said recently that “high-performing transport systems.. matter to our economy, our society and our environment. They matter to our collective well-being and our individual quality of life. And they matter because they make a difference not just today, but for generations to come.”
Christina Byrne, National Case Officer – Woods under Threat