1. What is HS2?
HS2 is a proposed high-speed railway that will stretch across much of England’s landscape. Phase 1 is scheduled to run from London to Birmingham; Phase 2a will run from the West Midlands to Crewe; and Phase 2b runs in two legs, from Crewe to Manchester (the eastern leg) and from the West Midlands to Leeds (the western leg).
2. Who is Douglas Oakervee and what will the review look like?
Douglas Oakervee is the person tasked by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to undertake a review of the HS2 project. Mr Oakervee is a former chairman of HS2 and also briefly chaired Crossrail. The PM has specifically asked him to look at the business case for the project to address spiralling costs and budget issues. The Department of Transport has yet to inform Parliament what the timeframe and terms of reference for the review will be.
3. Who are Grant Shapps and Paul Maynard?
As part of the PM's cabinet reshuffle, Grant Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Transport, and Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, has now been appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport and Minister for HS2.
4. What is the Woodland Trust's view on HS2?
While the Trust is in favour of green transport and not against high speed rail projects in principle, we are strongly opposed to the HS2 route. With at least 108 ancient woods being subject to damage and loss, we consider that the impact of the HS2 route on ancient woods and trees across the UK landscape is wholly unacceptable. Following the approval of Phase 1 of the HS2 route we now have confirmation that at least 34 ancient woods are facing imminent loss and a further 27 will be subject to indirect impacts.
The Phase 2a route, which is currently progressing through the House of Commons, will result in 17 ancient woods being threatened with damage or loss. The Phase 2b route will result in at least 30 ancient woods and a further 7 unmapped ancient woods likely being subjected to damage or loss.
5. Why is the Woodland Trust getting in the way if this project is going to improve the train network?
The impact of HS2 on irreplaceable ancient woods and trees is unacceptable. We are asking HS2 Ltd to give stronger consideration to ancient woods and trees, ensuring that these irreplaceable habitats are better protected. Alternative options should be considered such as bored tunnelling under threatened ancient woods and trees to avoid their loss. In addition temporary works should not impact on ancient woodland.
6. What is special about ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees?
Ancient woods have been continuously wooded since at least 1600AD and have taken centuries, even millennia, to develop and evolve into unique and valuable habitats. The undisturbed soils of ancient woodland lay the foundation on which some of the UK’s rarest and sensitive species thrive. Once the complex relationships between soil, fungi, fauna and flora are destroyed, there is no way to replace what has been lost. Ancient woods are, by definition, irreplaceable. This is not disputed by the Government.
Considering that just 2.6% of the UK’s land cover is ancient woodland it’s clear that we cannot afford to lose any more of this precious habitat.
The ancient and veteran trees that will be subject to damage and loss are most famed for the key wildlife habitat features they provide, such as hollowing trunks, cavities and decaying wood. These features are like their own microhabitats that support a wide range of invertebrates, lichen, fungi and other specialised plants and animals.
7. Which ancient woods will be affected?
We have produced a map of all the woods likely to be affected by the line, available to view on our website. Have a look to see if any of them are your local woods.
8. In a best case scenario, could there be no impact on ancient woodland?
Throughout our campaign against HS2’s damaging route proposals we have made clear the opportunities for HS2 Ltd to avoid and save ancient woods and veteran trees. In some areas, such as along the Phase 1 route we have been able to achieve just that, e.g. the successful battle for a tunnel under the Chilterns which saved over ten hectares of ancient woodland.
Unfortunately, our pleas to avoid all ancient woodland have too often fallen on deaf ears, such has been the situation so far with pushing for a tunnel under the ancient Whitmore Wood on Phase 2a of the scheme. Whilst we understand that there are limitations regarding the engineering aspects of the line we believe it is of the utmost importance to take every step possible to avoid ancient woodland.
We must keep pushing for avoidance of ancient woodland along the Phase 2a and 2b routes at every opportunity. If the current government is genuinely committed to leaving the environment in a better state then they need to be exploring alternatives to prevent so much damage and loss to ancient woods and trees.
9. I thought HS2 are planning to mitigate the loss of ancient woodland?
By definition, ancient woodland is irreplaceable; therefore it cannot be recreated and its loss cannot be mitigated for. HS2 Ltd has proposed measures to compensate for ancient woodland loss such as the translocation of ancient woodland soil and planting along the route corridor.
However, there is no evidence to indicate that the process of translocation actually works. It is impossible to retain the valuable characteristics of ancient woodland soils once they have been dug up, disturbed and stored. No amount of additional planting can replace a habitat as biodiverse as ancient woodland, and the trees that would be planted could take centuries to replicate the benefits of the trees to be lost.
10. What else can I do to influence the plans?
Bring the environmental destruction of HS2 to the attention of your MP and local councillors.
The more political attention surrounding HS2 and its impact on ancient woods and trees the better. Many MPs still support HS2 as they believe it is a good means of helping with rail capacity issues, however more and more are coming to the realisation that HS2 simply isn’t the answer considering the environmental impact and spiralling costs.
If you can get your MP and local councillors to lobby the PM, the leader of their own party and other influential colleagues to consider the environmental costs of the scheme then you can help keep the debate alive.