This Tuesday Richard Barnes, the Woodland Trust’s Senior Conservation Advisor, presented oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee as part of their very welcome Inquiry into the environmental impact of High Speed Two (HS2). This is examining the extent to which specific route-wide environmental impacts are adequately reflected/addressed in the Environmental Statement (ES); the systems which will guide how environmental considerations are taken into account; the arrangements for funding measures to limit environmental impacts; and how and where biodiversity offsetting will operate.
During his appearance Richard outlined our core concerns about the quality of the Environmental Statement, which he noted is sadly plagued with multiple inaccuracies and discrepancies, giving us little confidence in the accuracy of its analysis. Richard’s views on the poor quality of the ES were also strongly supported by other the members of the panel, Henry Robinson of the Country Land & Business Association and Ralph Smyth from the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Richard highlighted that we dispute the ES conclusion that 32ha of ancient woodland from 19 woods will be lost as a result of the scheme. Our analysis demonstrated that 27 ancient woods are directly affected by the scheme, with a further 21 ancient woods likely to suffer damage from noise, vibration, changes to lighting and dust. In addition, we have found a further 23 woods which will be impacted, which we believe to be ancient but are not listed on the Ancient Woodland Inventory. Peter Aldous MP, appeared shocked at the level of inaccuracies and asked how this could have happened as this “should be a fairly straightforward exercise”? – a concern we fully share.
In the panel which followed our concerns about the treatment of ancient woodland in the ES were supported by Rob Cooke, the representative from Natural England, the Government’s own statutory advisor on the natural environment. When asked about any concerns he had with the ES he stated “Some areas need further work, ancient woodland in particular. There is some discrepancy with the figures on ancient woodland, as we have heard from the Woodland Trust”. He also noted the need to examine the woods we have found which aren’t yet listed on the Ancient Woodland Inventory.
EAC Chair, Joan Walley MP asked what could be done to remedy the situation. Richard proposed that surveying is completed and discrepancies between the limited information available in the ES and draft Code of Construction practice is corrected and that a detailed addendum to the Environmental Statement is published which takes account of these concerns. We hope this proposal will find its way into the Committee’s recommendations.
The Committee were also very interested in the HS2’s Biodiversity Offsetting proposals, and some very thoughtful questions were raised by both Peter Aldous MP and Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP. Richard highlighted our concerns that the HS2 proposals were rushed out in advance of the Government’s official response to their own Biodiversity Offsetting consultation, which we believe is now due to report in June. He noted that the proposed method is completely inadequate for ancient woodland – an irreplaceable habitat – and clearly outside the Government’s own proposals for offsetting. He also raised concerns about HS2 not sharing the metrics with consultees. Richard also talked about the restriction of keeping offsetting proposals within the construction boundary, limiting the ability of this compensation measure to fully benefit the wider environment and follow the landscape scale principles recommended by the Lawton Review and endorsed by the Natural Environment White Paper. In response to the very negative comments from each of the witnesses on Biodiversity Offsetting, Joan Walley MP noted “it’s quite damning”.
Caroline Spelman asked about the confusion between the terms ‘compensation’ and ‘mitigation’, which Richard noted is inconsistent even within individual Community Forum Area reports. He extended this point to note that compensation must be appropriate and “like for like” and must take note of the time taken to replace habitats damaged, concerns which members appeared to share.
Peter Aldous MP asked about lessons which can be learned from HS1, including proposals for translocation of ancient woodland. Richard noted that, despite requesting this evidence in four separate FOI requests, we have not yet seen this evidence, which concerned the committee members. Richard likened translocation of ancient woodland to demolishing St Paul’s Cathedral and piling the bricks, copper and glass into a field, which seemed to resonate with the committee.
Caroline Spelman talked about the need to take a hierarchy approach to ensure greater protection of ancient woodland for all types of infrastructure development, which we fully support.
As Richard highlighted in our evidence, ancient woodland is not adequately protected and HS2 is a prime example. Even if you are not directly affected by HS2, you can still give a voice to precious ancient woodland by taking action and joining us in telling David Cameron “enough is enough!” – ancient woodland must be given the protection it deserves.
Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer