A number of conservation groups have responded to the government’s environmental statement for the HS2 high-speed rail project, saying it would cause the destruction of 49 ancient woodlands, some of which could be avoided.
The hybrid bill, containing a detailed environmental assessment of the impact of HS2, was published in November last year. It received criticism because conservation groups said they had little time to scrutinise the long document. They claimed it was inaccurate and showed “shocking disregard for nature”.
After reviewing the document, a coalition of the Woodland Trust, the Ramblers Association, Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, the Chilterns Conservation Board, Buckinghamshire county council and MP Cheryl Gillan has prepared a document to hand to David Cameron.
They say that during phase one of the construction, which will link London to Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and the East Midlands, 49 ancient woodlands will be threatened with loss or damage.
Hilary Allison, policy director at the Woodland Trust, said that ancient woodlands were “a unique and irreplaceable habitat, widely recognised as having national importance”.
She said that some of the damage could be easily avoided, by reviewing plans to extend a tunnel.
She explained, “Just one example of this is the fact that HS2 Ltd see fit to place a tunnel portal in the middle of ancient Mantle’s Wood in Buckinghamshire. No amount of new planting would ever compensate for the loss of ancient woodland so this is indefensible, especially when you consider that extending the tunnel by less than 1km would save the whole wood.”
Meanwhile Steve Rodrick, CEO of the Chilterns Conservation Board, added, “As both ancient woodland and the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty have been given national protection, how can it make sense to destroy them? A full-length tunnel bored under the Chilterns to save these national treasures is both desirable and practical.”
However, conservationists said that the extent of damage to woods and wildlife was difficult to establish, as the government gave little information on mitigation measures.
Alison added, “Given the scale of environmental impact revealed by our detailed analysis, as well as the document’s omissions and inaccuracies, we hope to see government give the next stage of this crucial process the proper time and attention it now requires.”