The Wildlife Trusts today cautiously welcomed the findings of a Natural England report on HS2 Ltd’s approach to wildlife. However, we are very disappointed with the Government’s immediate rejection of key findings from their own advisors.
The Government and HS2 Ltd have previously told MPs and members of the House of Lords that there will be no overall loss of wildlife as a result of the new railway – because compensation will be provided for its impacts. The new report from Natural England says that to achieve ‘no net loss’ significant changes should be made to both HS2 Ltd’s assessment of their impact on the natural environment, and to the levels of compensation that are required to meet HS2 Ltd’s own environmental targets.
Earlier this year The Wildlife Trusts spotted that HS2 Ltd had quietly changed the way that Government has previously worked out how much damage was being caused by development and we challenged the approach before the House of Commons Select Committee. This is a vital calculation for making sure that full and adequate compensation is provided for any damage caused by construction of the railway. The calculation used will make a huge difference to the amount of habitat created. The Wildlife Trusts are extremely concerned that as a result, there is a major shortfall in the level of compensation being provided by HS2 Ltd for the loss of wildlife and habitats.
Stephen Trotter, Director for The Wildlife Trusts in England said: “It is great that Natural England has rightly recognised the importance of protecting these precious places. But it is unacceptable that HS2 Ltd has ignored this advice and is downplaying the importance of ancient woodlands and other irreplaceable places for wildlife. If these unique places absolutely cannot be avoided by HS2 then it is essential that a much greater expanse of new woodland is created. From the outset the environmental impacts of HS2 have not been properly taken into account and now the additional funds being allocated by HS2 Ltd for compensation are wholly inadequate.”
The Wildlife Trusts also welcome Natural England’s proposal that in Phase 2 of HS2, yet to be announced in detail, the ambition should be to achieve an overall improvement for wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts have called for HS2 to be built in a way that enhances wildlife ever since it was first proposed. Our vision is for a ribbon of wildlife-rich landscape either side of the line – planned, established and run by a partnership of residents, landowners and local and expert groups. Recreated and naturally regenerated habitats would buffer, link and provide ‘stepping stones’ between wildlife sites. In time there would be new meadows, woodlands and wetland expanses to explore, alongside existing farmland, communities and housing. Green bridges, pathways and cycle tracks would reconnect communities cut through by the proposed line. This would spread the benefits of HS2 to many along the route, rather than just those near its few stations. Read more in our Greener Vision for HS2 report here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/HS2reports
However, we are extremely disappointed by the Government’s response to the report. The failure to agree to implement the recommendations in full reveals a lack of ambition to make HS2 a truly world class and innovative railway that provides wider benefits for people and the environment.
Stephen Trotter added: “The Government is currently preparing its 25 Year Plan for the Environment which will set out its vision to leave the natural environment in a better state for future generations. The way HS2 is developed will be the acid test of the Government’s intentions.”
Wildlife Trusts call on Government to ensure that:
• HS2 Ltd should use and apply the Government methodology developed by Defra for calculating impact, instead of creating its own
• There is no net loss of wildlife as a result of Phase 1 of HS2 – Government must ensure that environmental measures are fully funded as a relatively small but critical proportion of the cost of HS2
• All losses of ancient woodland losses are fully compensated at a 30:1 ratio (for every acre lost, 30 are created) – this should not be open to debate or further dilution
• Phase 2 of HS2 is developed with the aim of achieving an overall wildlife gain.
• Provision must be made to address any further impacts on wildlife that emerge during the construction of the railway – along with the original shortfall.
The Wildlife Trusts are keen to help and work with HS2 Ltd to identify sites where habitat creation or improvement can be achieved.
A review by the government’s advisors on nature recommends significant improvements to HS2 Ltd’s approach, but some key recommendations are being ducked by the government owned developers.
A review carried out into the HS2 proposals by Natural England, the government’s advisors on nature conservation, should result in some significant improvements to phase 1 of the project. It also sets out principles that will help guide future projects, however HS2 Ltd, which is government owned, has rejected some of the key recommendations of the report.
Some recommendations from the report have been accepted (by the Government). They have asked HS2 Ltd to increase the amount of land they intend to plant as woodland themselves, and to provide an extra fund of £5 Million pounds to support new woodland planting. However, key elements of the report have been rejected by the Government and HS2 Ltd
This includes rejecting Natural England’s recommendation that there should higher levels of compensation for irreplaceable Ancient Woodland. The Department of Transport says that the recommendations should only be “seen as a stimulus for debate”2
HS2 Ltd has also rejected a recommendation that would bring future phases of the project in line with government policy on the natural environment, which state that projects should improve the natural environment.