An impassioned defence of Ancient Woodland in the face of HS2

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.”

Micheal Fabricant

On 3 July 2013, Conservative MP Michael Fabricant led a debate on the impact that the High Speed 2 rail project is likely to have on woodland along the route

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.

About Nikki Williams

Head of Campaigning for the Woodland Trust
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12 Responses to An impassioned defence of Ancient Woodland in the face of HS2

  1. jimmyking76@hotmail.co.uk says:

    I own a small woodland in Chesham that will be affected and to be honest I am pro HS2, during the short time of owning this land I’m shocked how the surrounding properties abuse my land. they have all made their own access from their gardens and dispose of their green waste on my land and seem to treat it as their own, some have fires and during a recent visit found a elderly lady dumping her old hanging baskets, upon confronting her she said that I didn’t own the land and proceeded to dump her wheel barrow of waste where she insisted my boundary stopped. Because of these narrow minded people I hope the HS2 goes through and takes away the beautiful surroundings they take for granted,

    Owner of Sibleys Coppice

  2. Carol Hulme says:

    The clue is in the word ANCIENT you cannot replace ancient woodlands.
    It is disgraceful that CPRE, The Woodland Trust and Greenpeace are supporting this scheme on the basis of it being a “green” . How can ripping up acres of farmland, woodlands, diverting rivers, ruining villages, towns, AOB’s ., peoples lives ( not even wanting to pay those affected a proper market price for their properties))and businesses be “green”.
    Running at low speeds HS2 will be more economical than current trains,however when it runs at high speeds, and that is the whole basis for it to be buillt it will use at least twice the power of a conventional train, not very environmentally friendly. Also the years of construction work will cause havoc up and down the the route, and beyond Lastly the cost, who knows, maybe a 100 billion …I can already get to London in approx one hour and a quarter, and WORK on the train if I wish. What is the point of HS2., other than vested interests.

    • Nikki Williams says:

      Hello Carol and thank you for your comments. The Woodland Trust have invested heavily in its campaign to stop this current route for High Speed 2 and continue to state that we are unhappy at the planned destruction of ancient woodland. We are also fighting for appropriate mitigation and compensation to be put in place by Govt. if they choose to continue with this chosen route. We are in support of green transport solutions – which this planned approach to HS2 is not. I hope this clarifies our position for you.

  3. sue thorne says:

    Hs2 NO NO NO. As other posts have said Ancient Woodland is just that and can never ever be replaced. We do not need HS2 it will be yet another massive white elephant and costs will escalate all in the name of so called progress. We already have enough railways what should be happening is an improvement to our existing network. Cameron stated that his would be the greenest Government ever, so far I have seen not evidence of this, just the wish to wreck planning laws and ruin green spaces and sell off woodlands

  4. we do not need HS2 and we have so much green belt under threat from urban sprawl that I say “Nah to the bloody rotten offer”. Slightly worrying that am on the same side as Mandelson today!

    • we need HS2 but not the london bit. Good links “up north” ie N of Watford, could help take some focus away from London. As long as trees are replaced is it really that bad?
      We evolve and new, planned woodland to replace lost space could be a positive move so lets say yes but replace what is lost, perhaps plus a bit for the carbon balance.

      • I disagree about the necessity for HS2. I live in rural Yorkshire and travel regularly by train, either up north to Scotland or down to London and the Midlands, and the trains are perfectly adequate ( a recent trip to the Woodland Trust offices in Grantham took just over an hour from Leeds, for example, with trains running every half an hour). Even if we accept the economic arguments (and I certainly don’t), that does not negate the devastating impact that HS2 will have on our landscape. Monetary calculations are not the be all and end all. To quote John Maynard Keynes (as I have before): “Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of an accountant’s profit, we have begun to change our civilisation.”

        The past history of the development of our landscape is not a blueprint for what happens now and in the future. We have less ancient woodland left in this country than any other European country and we are eroding it faster than ever. How can you compensate for the hundreds or thousands of years that it takes for an ancient woodland to develop or for the unique compostion that nature alone can create? In ‘The History of the Countryside’, Oliver Rackham talks about the four kinds of loss of our countryside and says: “There is the loss of historic vegetation and wildlife, most of which once lost is gone forever: to recreate an ancient wood is beyond human knowledge…the landscape is a record of our roots and the growth of civilisation. Each individual historic wood, heath, etc. is uniquely different from every other, and each has something to tell us.” Until we take this on board, our countryside will be under an ever-increasing threat. To give up the fight will ultimately, lead to its total loss.

  5. i think the woodland trust should support the HS2 but insist that woodland be replaced with an equivalent area of new planting adjacent to the ancient areas affected.
    To waste money, ultimately mine as a taxpayer, with long and protracted arguments is irresponsible. HS2 will happen. Don’t be greedy, fair compensation and equivalent planting is the best way forward for all of us as a nation.
    Selfish people wanting to milk the system for stupid sums are the worst form of capitalists and ultimately hit their own pockets as well as mine. Why pay the lawyers when more trees could be planted?

    • Exaclty Randall – fair compensation for loss of an irreplacable habitat is exactly what we are calling for. And equivalent planting as you have called it – or apporpriate planting for mitigation as the science shows it, is minimum 30:1. Our fact sheets are great for helping you understand why that conclusion is drawn from the Government’s own matrix. We are calling for best practice, plain and simple, which is referred to by ecologists as mitigation hierarchy. Firstly, avoid loss of irreplacable habitats like ancient woodland. As HS2 Ltd and the Government have clearly stated they cannot do this, they should move to the next stage of best practice and demonstrate effective action against damage and destruction through innovative design e.g. tunnels, finally moving to compensation and mitigation if all else fails. As we have not seen productive use of this best practice by HS2 Ltd & Government despite consultations and meetings, we must publicly hold to account. Hence yesterdays debate. They need to put there money into better mitigation – or as you put it, planting more trees. Lets just make sure they are the right trees in the right place so that this is exemplar infrastructure

    • I disagree with you, Randall and I think you’re entirely missingthe point. I believe HS2 should be opposed at every opportunity and I, as a taxpayer, do not want my money wasted on this scheme. Ancient woodlands cannot be replaced at any cost, no matter how many new trees are planted. It’s like dismantling Sonehenge to build a bypass and then building a concrete replica somewhere else. Why is it selfish to want to protect our irreplaceable heritage so that it can be enjoyed by future generations – god knows, we have little enough ancient woodland left in this country?

      • HS2 will happen so it is important to make up for any losses incurred. Some ancient woodland will be lost as it was when towns and cities were built. Nothing is gained by fighting lost causes so the battle should be for reinstatement of anything lost with the nearest equivalent. HS2 will change the landscape but will cause less damage to trees and forests than steam trains did! We have the worst infrastructure of any comparable European country and need to improve it quickly if we are to be competitive.
        I don’t use trains, except the steam type on holiday, but use the A14 round Cambridge and see so much money that could have been used to improve it years ago being spent on enquiries, surveys etc. It was needed 5+ years ago and it is important that any natural assets are replaced appropriately and in a timely way but more critically the project needs to be started as soon as possible. No doubt some trees will be lost but this give an opportunity for more appropriate plantings if argued positively. Negativity just drags us backwards and employs lawyers at silly prices.

  6. Peter Kyte says:

    I think that something that is supposed to be of National importance, can afford to pay massive compensation where environmental damage cannot or will not be implemented.

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