See no evil, hear no evil

Noise and vibration from the trains that could one day inhabit the HS2 rail line are a major concern for the Woodland Trust. 34 ancient woods lie between 26-200m of the track’s centre line and remain at ‘indirect’ risk. By ‘risk’ we mean noise and disturbance – first from construction and later as high speed trains pass at speeds of up to 250mph several times a day.

My awareness for how people impact upon natural habitats was heightened further when I watched a recent talk by Bernie Krause. He has been recording ‘the voice of the natural world’ for many decades. He has gathered a huge amount of evidence on how people negatively impact upon some of our most valuable and irreplaceable habitats on earth – despite some well-meaning promises of low impact or compensation.

He records a forest called Lincoln Meadow near San Francisco, where a logging company developed a ‘selective logging’ approach that was declared environmentally responsible. With the permissions in place and the community on board the company set to work. Bernie was allowed to record the soundcapes (as he calls them) before and after logging. In the year before the work began an amazing dawn chorus greeted the world each day, but just one year on and the sound of the babbling brook is louder than the wildlife that once lived there. 15 years on….it still isn’t restored. Visually, this wood looks perfect! But your ears will tell you a very different story.

With Oaken Wood we were informed that the plans for woods that will replace the ancient woodland to be destroyed will bring a ‘better’ habitat in the future. On this point we will continue to disagree, despite recent decisions. And evidence like this presented by Bernie Krause simply convinces me more and more that our valuable havens cannot be recreated – no matter how well meaning the theories behind the mitigation or compensation proposals may be.

This is why we have produced a factsheet on noise and vibration for HS2.

And please, take just 10 minutes and listen for yourself to these magnificent soundscapes. In particular wait till the end and listen to the sounds of a beaver in mourning. If ever there was a story to break your heart and demonstrate the horrid ways in which people interfere with nature, this is it.

About Nikki Williams

Head of Campaigning for the Woodland Trust
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13 Responses to See no evil, hear no evil

  1. Christine McSweeney says:

    I wonder how many of us, given the chance would leap at the opportunity to own a piece of ancient woodland? And I wonder whether we would prefer it to be next to a railway (even high speed) than next to a road.

    Nature does adapt to new situations, in fact much of the nature we fight to maintain is as it is because it has adapted to fit round mans’ use of the land. Meadows and woodlands to name but two.

    As a regular, and grateful user of HS1 and a woodland owner I do not find the prospect of HS2 as aweful as many and agree with the view that we should look to damage limitation and mitigation rather than outright condemnation.

  2. edithkl says:

    Thanks so much – I did hear Bernie Krause on the Today programme on Radio 4 a few weeks ago, but was half asleep and had forgotten about him and his stunning work. Of course no-one will listen to him either, but he is inspiring for those who already know he is right.

    There is no longer any such thing as Sustainable Development, not since the Industrial Revolution, its power tools, and its improved human health resulting in a human population of 7 billion set to double by the end of this century, barring a mega disaster.

    Those who know that Dark Greens and Deep Ecologists are right include some unlikely people these days.
    Since the mid 2000s the military top brass have been attending UN Climate Change Conferences. This is because a sudden and catastrophic increase in global warming is on the cards, due to the self-reinforcing effects of melting Arctic permafrost under the sea and under the Siberian tundra. (A vicious circle, in other words.)

    The main organisation combining military security and climate change is the IES – the Institute for Environmental Security – in The Hague.

    Under its umbrella is the CCTM – Climate Change and the Military.

    This website is more chatty and informal, though still high-powered:
    Here is an extract from a recent article on Syria:

    “Syria’s political dissolution is, like almost all conflicts, the result of complex and inter-related factors, in this case an especially repressive and unresponsive political regime, the erosion of the economic health of the country, and a wave of political reform sweeping over the entire Middle East and North Africa region.
    But in a detailed assessment, Femia and Werrell noted that factors related to drought, agricultural failure, water shortages, and water mismanagement have also played an important role in nurturing Syria’s “seeds of social unrest” and contributing to violence.”

    The military seem to think most of the world could end up like Syria eventually, for environmental reasons

  3. Unfortunately we need progress. Should we not have built canals, railways roads and motorways?
    Just let them get on with it with suitable compensatory works. The need is to preserve the environment for the future not just today. Well intentioned negative campaigning costs us all money which could be spent on more positive things. HS2 etc will happen, the sooner the better as the cost will be less and the benefits arrive sooner. If it is not profitable then the case against future expansion is made. Ensure losses are made good with new planting that we won’t see mature but our children will, and let them get on with it. Fight winnable causes such as the Cambridge green belt losses.
    Allow necessary destruction but fight for more new, protected plantings.

    • We do not necessarily always need ‘progress’ especially when the project in mind has a significant number of demerits to its name and a questionable number of positives. To oppose a bad project is not to oppose all progress but to try and apply a more thoughtful – and environmentally sound – rationale. I am a firm supporter of railways – and indeed their expansion – having grown up in a Buckinghamshire village blighted by Beeching’s cuts I would be far keener to see either some restoration of the original network where this is possible or the proper refurbishment of the existing network rather than this vanity project. It is not about trying to turn back the clock but trying to ensure the most appropriate use is made of resources so that the maximum number of people benefit along with the environment.

      • edithkl says:

        The problem is that railways create ribbon development alongside them, new roads, more people, less biodiversity – all illegal since 1992 (Biological Diversity Convention) and 1996 (Climate Change Convention). Trains also consume masses of fossil fuels in their manufacture and running. How does electricity arrive to them – from solar power? I think not.

        The whole thing is a nonsense – an illegal nonsense. We need to row back, or at least apply the brakes, not keep forging ahead. And people need to decide which they are for – braking or accelerating. There is no in-between position any longer.

        • During the war there was a policy of asking ‘is your journey is really necessary’ and that attitude is required again to help reduce passenger miles but of the 63 million people in the UK a large number will still desire or require to move around at any one time. The task therefore is to find the way this can be done with the lowest impact. Individual car use and aviation don’t exactly fit the bill which leaves railways and possibly bus use. Unless you are proposing authoritarian style restrictions on people’s mobility or possibly imposing some form of Zerzanian anarcho-primitivism there needs to be some form of maintained and sustainable railway infrastructure. – and if you succeed in moving people from cars and planes then this will result in increased demand on the railway which may in turn require some expansion or increase in capacity. To borrow your simile the position between braking and acceleration is actually maintaining the same speed – and a steady state approach would, if possible, be the best approach. What obviously remains unacceptable is the type of project like HS2 and similar vanity projects.

          • OK – thanks. Am off to look up Zerzanian! I am all for a wartime approach – as we are in reality at war with Mother Nature, and also there are about 70 “normal” wars going on over resources at this moment, around the world.

            When I have found out exactly what Zerzanian anarcho-primitivism means, I wonder if it might not be something that is rather attractive in some ways (though not in others) – and therefore might not have to be imposed, but be adopted voluntarily?

          • Zerzinian relates to the works of US philosopher and ‘anarcho-primitivist’ John Zerzan who proposes an anti-civilisational and anti-technological approach rejecting most developments from early agriculture onwards. There is obviously something wrong with imposing an anarchist version of society but I suspect that very few people would voluntarily want to return to a hunter-gatherer society.

  4. Peter Kyte says:

    I think HS2 is not only environmentally bad, but also economically unsound, which makes the destruction it will cause even worse. It is all so pointless, just more political sound-bites for arrogant politicians.

    • You have put it absolutely in a nut shell, Peter. This Government is no more green than a landfill site.It pays lip service to ideas and the public’s wishes,and grinds ahead like the behemoth it is. Fracking or extraction ofr shale gas being one of its “babies”.
      Annette Hawkins

      • Randall Evans says:

        Realistically it will go ahead so the campaign should be for damage limitation and appropriate,but not excessive, compensation.
        Wasting time and resources fighting lost causes is, obviously, a losing strategy.
        Welcome HS2 and an appraisal, 10 yrs on, before further HS’s.
        Win more by supporting the inevitable, ensuring correct trade offs and fighting winnable causes.
        HS2 will go ahead so look at how many new areas it will free for woodland development that would otherwise be uneconomic to farm etc.
        Fighting lost causes destroys credibility. Wouldn’t it be nice to find some positives?

  5. Thank you for introducing Bernie Krause’s fascinating soundscapes – he is right – a soundscape can be worth a thousand pictures and the stories they tell we disregard at our peril – and at the cost of ruining our natural world. When no birds sing and the lilac doesn’t bloom will the commuter ensconced in the artificial world of the train still be glad that their journey is a few minutes shorter?

  6. Maureen Hart says:

    One day this planet of ours will have had enough of mans destruction & the uncaring attitude of those who hold the power to destroy anything that they consider unnecessary & inconvenient to their continued quest for more power.
    We, humanity, will be wiped from the face of the earth & deservedly so!!

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