1. Why did the HS2 Select Committee reject the single tunnel option?
The committee believes that the single tunnel is too expensive at £176 million – based on costings supplied by HS2 Ltd. However, evidence provided by a tunnelling expert for Staffordshire County Council suggests those costs are an overestimation, and that the real additional cost would only be £60million. Whatever the cost, ancient woodland is irreplaceable and must be protected.
2. What will this mean for the ancient woodland?
6.7 hectares of ancient woodland will be lost, bringing the total for Phase 2a to 10.2 hectares. Adoption of the single tunnel would save over 6 hectares of Whitmore Wood, and 0.4 hectares of Barhill Woods.
3. What is special about the ancient woodland under threat in this area?
Whitmore Wood covers an area just over 19 hectares, with both ancient semi-natural woodland and plantation on ancient woodland. Bluebells flourish here, and it is a Site of Biological Importance for Staffordshire.
These woods may even link back to the original wild woodland that covered the UK around 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age. Since they have developed over such long timescales in a particular location, ancient woods have unique features that make them irreplaceable, such as relatively undisturbed soils and communities of plants and animals that depend on the stable conditions ancient woodland provides.
4. Apart from the ancient woodland, what were the other considerations that the Select Committee should have taken into account?
HS2 Ltd’s own report stated the single tunnel would also provide additional benefits such as:
- a reduction in the number of homes demolished;
- a reduction in traffic disruption;
- reduced engineering complexity in the area of the River Lea and the West Coast Mainline;
- decreased loss and severance of agricultural land and; decreased noise and vibration impacts.
5. Is the ancient woodland really worth the amount of money it would have cost to construct the tunnel?
Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and hence should be considered priceless. Assigning a monetary value for such an asset is subjective and arbitrary – ancient woodland is the natural equivalent of our cathedrals and castles. Would HS2 Ltd consider a route that went through Windsor Castle?
6. Can’t they just move the ancient woodland that would be lost?
You can’t move, or in scientific terms “translocate”, an ancient woodland ecosystem because it isn’t possible to replicate the same conditions at another site and it would no longer be an ancient woodland. Moving the soil would be an engineering operation, not a horticultural exercise, and would not create ancient woodland.
Soil translocation is best regarded as a salvage operation of last resort. It may help certain species, such as bluebells, colonise new woodland but it would never completely replicate ancient woodland conditions.
Natural England clearly states in its Standing Advice on ancient woodland (January 2018) “the irreplaceable nature of ancient woodland and veteran trees means that loss or damage cannot simply be rectified by mitigation and compensation measures.”
7. Is anyone else concerned about this?
The local community in Staffordshire, including local authorities, businesses, residents, farmers and MPs also petitioned the HS2 Committee.
The Government has committed to improving protection of ancient woodland and has declared intentions to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. The adoption of the single tunnel would be in accordance with this. In stark contrast, failing to avoid the loss of this large area of ancient woodland would leave this ambition in tatters.
8. Are there any other courses of action? What can be done?
The best course of action right now is to lobby the HS2 minister for action via our online message. It’s really simple and will only take a minute of your time. There will be other opportunities for us to officially lobby for the tunnel, such as when we appear before the House of Lord’s Phase 2a Bill Select Committee. Rest assured we’ll be doing everything we can to save Whitmore Wood and Barhill Woods, but your support will make a real difference.
9. Is Nusrat Ghani MP the right person to be contacting?
Nustrat Ghani MP is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, and so is responsible for a range of issues related to transport including High Speed Rail (HS2).