Woodland Trust supporter and committed tree enthusiast, Michael Fabricant MP today led a passionate 90 minute adjournment debate in Parliament highlighting our concerns about the devastating impact the proposed HS2 route will have on our nation’s ancient woodland. Michael brought our key concerns to the fore, in what is only the second official Commons debate on this controversial scheme.
He began by outlining the extend of the damage inflicted across the scheme’s route, highlighting his own Litchfield Constituency where it will severely damage three cherished local ancient woods. He reminded the minister in attendance that
“Not only does the plan fly in the face of common sense and environmental progress; it transgresses the Government’s own policies on protection of ancient woodland”.
Summing up, Michael noted,
“It does not need to be this way. Done properly, HS2 would provide the Government with a golden opportunity to showcase the very best of British construction. However, if it is to be the world-class and truly green transport solution that it purports to be, far greater respect for the natural environment needs to be demonstrated, or the opportunity will sadly be lost.”
Michael was followed by Cheryl Gillan MP, a vocal opponent of the scheme who shares our passion for ancient woodland. Cheryl began by warmly paying tribute to the Trust and our longstanding role to protect woodland noting,
“Twenty years ago I found myself involved in the most amazing campaign to save Penn wood at Penn street. I believe that Penn wood was the first wood saved by the Woodland Trust. We collected donations from across the country to save the wood, which is still there to this day. I pay tribute to the Woodland Trust, which, among other conservation organisations, has briefed me for today’s debate. Saving Penn wood 20 years ago brought me much more closely in touch with our natural habitat in the Chilterns”.
She also outlined the damage in her constituency, noting,
“In Chesham and Amersham, we have the highest number of ancient woods within 500 metres of the line, 18 in total, and they will be severely damaged by the construction and ongoing operation of HS2; ironically, I am informed by the Woodland Trust that the Chancellors constituency of Tatton has the second highest number – 10 ancient woods will be devastated”.
Turning to the issue of mitigation for Ancient Woodland loss, Ms Gillan noted,
“If HS2 goes ahead, and goes ahead on a straight line, without the route being varied and without greater tunnelling, I ask the Minister to look at the mitigation ratios that I was discussing earlier, because 2:1 is not enough; 30:1 is more like it. What is more, I want the finance for that to be protected”.
Representing the opposition, Lilian Greenwood MP, the Shadow Transport Minister, also highlighted the importance of protecting Ancient Woodland, a position she enthusiastically shared during a recent constructive meeting we had with her on HS2. She also noted that
“High-speed rail can help to deliver carbon reduction, which is why the Woodland Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Greenpeace support it in principle”.
It’s important to reflect that the important principle for us is that it doesn’t destroy our Ancient Woodland. Lillian also noted the
“apparent contradiction between the Government’s national planning framework, which contains a provision against development on ancient woodland sites, and the proposed route”.
She positively reaffirmed Labour’s intention to return to this issue during discussions on the Hybrid Bill.
Responding to all the concerns raised on behalf of Government was Transport Minister, Simon Burns MP. He sought to reassure members that his department and HS2 Ltdhad done all they can to minimise environmental damage but noted that it is
“sadly not possible to build a railway without any effect on the environment. When designing the route, we must carefully weigh important considerations such as wildlife habitats against other concerns, such as protecting as many people’s homes as possible”.
He did leave the door open for further negotiation when he stated:
“Government will keep listening to those who are concerned about the impact of the scheme on the environment. We will endeavour to make the scheme as environmentally responsible as possible. It is in all our interests to get the scheme right. We are determined to work with organisations and agencies and in government to do the least damage possible”
Although he attempted to sell the idea that translocation of Ancient Woodland wasn’t as bad as total loss, which failed to impress any of the members in attendance, he was very clear that he wanted the dialogue to continue in terms of identifying appropriate mitigation measures. Responding to Cheryl Gillan’s concerns about proposed planting to mitigate carbon he indicated that
“I take on board my right hon. Friend’s point about the number of trees, but I am not 100% convinced that 4 million new trees along the line of route is not the right number”.
Furthermore, he also seemed to be aware of the need to plant the right trees in the right places, as well as the need to reflect the Lawton principles on supporting habitat networks.
Reflecting on today’s debate, it’s good to see parliamentarians standing up passionately for Ancient Woodland. Its positive that the door remains open to hopefully convince Government to put in appropriate mitigation measures, but its also very clear that we have a long fight ahead. We are in for the long haul on HS2 and will continue to support and build upon our political partnerships to be an effective voice for woods and trees in Parliament, as well as supporting communities along the route to fight for the Ancient Woods they, we and our members and supporters cherish.
The full transcript of today’s debate can be downloaded.
You can also take our latest campaign action where you have the opportunity to tell HS2 to recognise the importance and national significance of ancient woodland.