HS2 massive climbdown (or up?) and chance for NE to do its job properly.

Here is a press release from the Woodland Trust:

In November, the Woodland Trust and a group of independent ecologists raised concerns about the potential for unlawful felling of ancient woodlands by HS2 Ltd. This was because there are a number of ancient woodlands on the Phase Route 1 of HS2 (between London and Birmingham) that are due for imminent felling and where no application had been made by HS2 Ltd for licences to legally disturb bats or destroy their roosts.

All bat species are protected by law. Where development could affect bat roosts an application for a licence needs to be made to Natural England before work can take place. The license, if granted, is to ensure that the impact of the work is fully assessed and mitigation measures will ensure the favourable conservation status of the resident bats.

Ancient woodlands are often home to bats because the undisturbed environment and old trees provide ideal habitat. HS2 Ltd’s own Environmental Statement states the presence of bats and bat roosts in and around a number of woods where felling will take place to construct the railway, including woods where so far no licence application has been made.

We have now received confirmation from HS2 Ltd that they will be applying for the required licences for all ancient woods, including those where concerns have been raised by the Woodland Trust. HS2 Ltd have also confirmed that no woodland clearance will take place at these woods until the required ecological surveys have been undertaken and Natural England have reviewed these and granted the required licence. The Trust will be writing to Natural England regarding procedures being fully followed for bats and other protected species.


Mark writes: well done Woodland Trust and others – although you aren’t exactly shouting your success from the rooftops are you? This looks to me like a significant climbdown by HS2 who, it seems, were preparing to fell these very trees which now they are planning to survey for bats.

When I say climbdown, what I actually mean is climb up to a position of inadequacy from the former HS2 position of complete and utter inadequacy.

HS2 is now surveying bats (at the wrong time of year) when before they weren’t going to bother and will apply for licences to fell trees from Natural England.

Natural England you will have the chance to redeem yourselves a little if you are asked to licence tree felling on the basis of poor or completely hopeless bat surveys… We’ll be watching.

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16 Replies to “HS2 massive climbdown (or up?) and chance for NE to do its job properly.”

  1. The juggernaut rolls on still, though there is honour in fight it even if we don’t win.

    How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
    Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

  2. I suspect the large fine issued to Bovis Homes for destroying a bat roost may have concentrated minds at HS2 Ltd. But, nevertheless, well done Woodland Trust.

  3. I’d like to add my congratulations to the Woodland Trust. They are doing the environment a huge service in their fight to protect trees, not just here but on a much wider canvas.

    I’ve commented before that my experience suggests the civil engineering industry has a systemic problem with ignoring wildlife and public opinion in the way they operate – onshore wind farms and the Railtrack assault on lineside vegetation are two examples where ignoring anything other than their own interest has led in the end to controversy and much greater costs. HS2 should have started with a plan for a landscape scale approach and a visible, public plan to safeguard wildlife and minimise impact as far as possible. They are now starting to reap the penalties for not doing so.

    Putting paths through high value woodland, in FC we developed a method using mini diggers where there was no damage outside the width of the path itself. One major project in the early 2000s built 70Km of these wheelchair quality paths.

    HS2 should be doing the same – though i fear it won’t even have occurred to them – going through ancient woodland no wider than the width required by the actual tracks, not creating a sea of devastation either side. Trees will have to be taken back from the tracks but there is an opportunity there for managed early succession – the sort of coppice many of these woods are likely to have been traditionally managed for – and there would be an added bonus if the coppice is behind a deer proof fence.

    1. I was watching a video of a canal restoration project the other day where those involved were genuinely interested in wildlife conservation as well as industrial heritage and the engineers involved came up with a novel idea to help eels negotiate the gates on a refurbished lock. I’m positive you’re right Roderick and if they’d put their mind to it the damage done could be greatly reduced, but not only are too many in the civil engineering sector indifferent to conservation they actually resent it as a barrier to spreading concrete anywhere they want. There’s a horrible feeling way down in my gut that unnecessary damage has sometimes been done just to piss off conservationists – based on the attitude of too many civil engineers I’ve crossed paths with.

    2. Roderick, you have very accurately identified where the focus should have been with HS2. Not blindly opposing a project which will bring a modern fast, non polluting, carbon neutral mode of transport that will eventually improve connectivity throughout the country, increase capacity on the three main existing rail routes to the north from London and reduce if not remove the need for domestic air travel.

      But working with and the government and HS2 to ensure that any ecological impact was minimised wherever possible, that the work was undertaken in accordance with best practice and holding them to account when this isn’t the case.

      There also needs to be pressure to ensure that the shift of freight from road to rail is encouraged, as the capacity freed up on those 3 main rail routes will provide many more freight paths.

      One does ahve to remember that the route actually affects less than 0.01% of ancient woodlands in the UK, numerous road schemes will if actually progressed with destroy far more and have a wider negative effect on the environment.

      HS2 was never about shaving 20 minutes off the travel time between London and Birmingham, when complete and connected up it will drastically reduce travel time between northern cities and Scotland.

      Those who argue the Covid-19 pandemic will change travel patterns may well be right with regard to commuting, but HS2 isn’t a commuter railway. People will still travel for business, for leisure, for education, meeting relatives a mode of transport that encourages people to leave their cars at home has to be a good thing.

  4. This is good news, the WT really does mean business when it comes to protecting ancient woodland, when contractors for an energy company had permission to work on WT land it went absolutely ballistic when it discovered several ancient trees had been needlessly felled – they were not shy at shouting out this vandalism from the roof tops, a pointing to and shaming off that was unusual.

    A few weeks ago I watched someone on a video arguing the economic case for HS2 – namely getting high speed passenger services on to a separate new line would allow the existing rail network to accommodate far more ‘ordinary’ passenger services and freight. I felt the whole story wasn’t being told and personally would have preferred priority being given to reopen old stations and lines which in Scotland at least has been incredibly successful. Maybe we should be at a stage where high speed rail is taken off its pedestal – with the internet (and thereby the ability to work on trains if you have to) and zoom etc making actual face to face meetings less important is getting to London, Birmingham etc an hour or so earlier such a big deal?

    Another thing worth mentioning is that I was very pleasantly surprised a few months ago at how many canal restoration projects are going on across the country (I lived in Gloucester for six years and never knew there used to be a canal across the Cotswolds and one to Hereford – both now being restored) and how the vast majority of these volunteer led efforts are making a big effort to enhance the wildlife conservation value of their ‘new’ canals (Scottish Canals on the other hand doesn’t give a shit). It’s a really positive development and county wildlife trusts are partnered up with many. Canals are linear so guess what’s going to slice through a lot of the proposed restorations and impact on existing waterways? The situation is so bad the Inland Waterways Association has a special campaign for tackling HS2 – https://www.waterways.org.uk/campaigns/listing/hs2-waterways-campaign.

    Many of these restoration projects have been going for decades and have done wonders, but are still many years away from completion – unless funds are made available to speed things up and allow more communities to benefit from a wonderful facility that can even act as a catalyst to redevelop brownfield sites and create local jobs. Its galling to think what could be done with a fraction of what’s being spent on HS2, but a shiny high speed train is clearly far sexier to people in certain quarters than boring old trees and bats, and those fuddy duddy canals.

    1. For someone who seems to be very concerned about the environment, I don’t see you getting up in arms about all the current road building projects (cough, Lower Thames Crossing, cough)… These are far more devastating than HS2 for the environment!
      As for the economic case for it, whoever you were watching was completely right in that it is a step change in capacity on the existing network, with each additional freight train on the network taking up to 70-something HGVs off the roads. And each new passenger train will take who-knows how many cars off the road.
      You are right to care for ancient woodlands, but we need to be caring about more than just ancient woodlands, and that is why HS2 is the best project for the environment in the long-run. The entire carbon emissions of the construction and operation of HS2 is roughly equal to a single month’s worth of UK road travel. It is massively less carbon costly, and if we want to protect all nature from the effects of climate change (or, at least, start to), we need to build HS2.
      Also, you mentioned priority should be given to re-opening old lines… You know what, there’s a reason lines closed. People always blame Beeching, but the truth is, he was just the tip of the iceberg. Railways had been closing all over the country for at least 30-40 years prior to Beeching, and hardly any railways have closed since. Without Beeching, we’d still be seeing useless railways being closed today, which isn’t a pretty sight. We mustn’t be thinking about re-opening old lines, we need to be thinking about opening new lines where they are needed, and if an old alignment can be used, then hooray. But the fact that a railway used to exist is no justification for re-opening railways.
      Once more, HS2 is not about getting between London and Birmingham in less than an hour. It is about driving modal shift from roads and planes to railways.

      1. Thomas – thank you for your fiest comment here.

        Your first para is simple whataboutery – it says nothing other than ‘there are other bad thngs too’.

        You say we need to care baout more than just ancient woodlands – agreed. But you then completely igniore the cares about ancienct woodlands so you have not demonstrated your engagement with that issue.

        You say that each new passenger train will take who knows how many cars off the road – I don’t know but it wmight help your argument if you knew – do you? One car? 1o? 100? 1000000?

        You say, I don’t know whether you are right, that construction and operating of HS2 will be equivalent to a month of UK road travel. Really? that’s a huge cost. Did you really mean that? So, how much road transport will leave the UK roads thanks to HS2? There are 40million cars in the UK. Will 3 million or so of them stop completely once HS2 exists (plus equivalent lorry traffic too)? How long will it take before that equivalent in road traffic reduction is reached thanks to HS2 please?

        And then there are the ancient woodlands…

        1. “if we want to protect all nature from the effects of climate change (or, at least, start to), we need to build HS2.”

          No we don’t. By all sensible/official estimates, HS2 won’t be carbon neutral by 2050. It quite probably won’t be by 2100 and by some other estimates not at any point in its planned 120 year lifespan. New faster, capacity creating roads are similarly retrograde, but that doesn’t of itself make HS2 good. The 2050 target is there for good reason. HS2 doesn’t help it get achieved, it works against that goal.

          Increasing existing rail network capacity is of course a good idea in principle, but with HS2, irreplaceable habitats have been sacrificed at the altar of high speed and now the need for that high speed has fallen away. HS2 is a project that might have made more sense in the 1980s or 1990s. But the world has changed. Clumsy attempts to retrofit carbon arguments to the project doesn’t change that. Nor does being cross that environmentalists challenge the supposed green credentials of a rail project. Not all rail is good.

  5. I would like to extend a thank you to my friend Kevin Hand, an ecologist but a campaigner, who spent time with the protesters in their camps in the rain this autumn, teaching them to survey for bats, so that they could gather the evidence needed. some of his efforts are described int he blog below. I had hoped to go and join him in enthusing and teaching the recording skills necessary but other issues got in the way…..

    1. Jones Hill Wood is very close to me and I watched with horror how HS2, and in particular their security, conducted themselves when it came to engaging with the community. Their arrogance was breathtaking. The lighting at night to discourage the bats another monstrous act. Please NE make them behave!

  6. This is a great win for the Woodland Trust ( where was the Wildlife Trust?). What a b**** up by HS2. Any reasonable person knows these days that old woodland should be surveyed for bats if work is to be done within it , To do a meaningful bat survey one must consider both winter roosts/ hibinacula and summer activity/ roosts and they are usually different. So one is looking at a year’s work to properly identify the value of old woodland, and the location of bat activity to accurately assess the situation. All this has to be done without disturbing the bats and mitigating measures put forward . Therefore one is looking at least a year before any destructive work can proceed.
    As you say Mark it should be down to Natural England to ensure these assessments are properly followed by HS2. and that proper mitigating measures are put in place. NE will be under a lot of pressure from this rotten Government to short cut the processes, which must not happen. We need to watch them like a hawk.
    I think Wild Justice might be called upon before too long!!!

    1. And on a HS2 promotional video they made a big deal about building an actual bat house at one site. Looked like a one off piece of window dressing for the punters not bats, this verifies that.

  7. HS2 know what they are doing, most of these bats will be away from the damp woodland either migrated or hibernating in dryer conditions.
    But the things they eat are not going to be so lucky when the trees are cut.

    Pretty dammed clever move by HS2, but I still call it sneaky.

  8. What a great quote from Shakespeare. Thank you. I shall send the sonnet to my local MP Jeremy Hunt, with a paraphrase in modern English he may better understand and some comment of my own on the vanity of the HS2 endeavour.

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