HS2 announcement marks another missed opportunity to secure a legacy for wildlife

Adrian Royston Wildnet

HS2 Ltd aims to secure ‘no net loss of biodiversity’, which means if the route destroys important wildlife sites then HS2 will look to recreate equivalent sites elsewhere. However, along the entire route there are 40 hectares of ancient woodland that will be destroyed by the scheme. This type of woodland, which has existed for over 400 years, is unique and irreplaceable.

HS2’s commitment to plant 7 million new tress cannot replicate this habitat. In fact, in some areas it is not appropriate to plant trees as the habitat being destroyed is not woodland. Where the route is destroying grassland, HS2 would be better placed to create wild flower meadows and benefit pollinators rather than creating new areas of plantation woodland. A large proportion of what is described in the ‘green corridor’ vision is mitigation required by law rather than going beyond that to create a lasting positive impact for wildlife.

Despite widespread engagement from organisations such as the Wildlife Trust, HS2 is operating in isolation, not listening to consultation, and developing its own version of what ‘green’ looks like. Advice from specialist organisations based on scientific evidence is being overlooked and the resulting ‘green corridor’ which is proposed will miss a once in a life time opportunity to leave wildlife in a better position than before the project started. The project is designed to put the UK at the forefront of modern transportation technology and HS2’s vision for a ‘green corridor’ falls significantly short of being at the forefront of modern environmental thinking. There are countless examples of where HS2 has ‘consulted’ on different elements of the scheme, from everything from the creation of green bridges to the destruction of 80 barn owl nesting sites – a nationally significant impact. This consultation has received input from specialists with expert knowledge on the subject matter, but sadly HS2 has chosen to ignore that advice, inventing its own version of what ‘green’ looks like.

Another key concern for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is the future management of any wildlife habitat created. One of the key reasons for the decline in UK wildlife is lack of appropriate management of wildlife sites. Without a long term commitment to managing the new habitat HS2 looks set to provide a short term PR story, which, as the years pass will leave wildlife along the ‘green corridor’ hanging on for survival. Much of the land where the new ‘green corridor’ is being created is on farm land and HS2 has not been able to provide answers as to who will manage it once the work is complete, or how that management work will be funded. Farmers cannot be expected to pick up the cost for this ongoing maintenance and HS2 doesn’t seem to have factored the cost of this into its own plans.

Nationally, the Wildlife Trusts are urging HS2 to be much more ambitious and do more to restore the natural heritage that they are fragmenting and destroying. Back in 2014, we developed our own Greener Vision for HS2. Our suggestion was to increase natural areas, green bridges and cycle ways along the route. The green corridor proposal from HS2 is a start, but we will continue to ask them for a better deal for people and wildlife. We want to bring people closer to wildlife and create a land rich in nature.