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 western leg) and from the West Midlands to Leeds (the eastern leg).
2. Who is Grant Shapps?
Grant Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, is the Secretary of State for Transport, which means he has the overall responsibility for the Department for Transport and all construction schemes that fall under the transport umbrella. This means that Mr Shapps is ultimately responsible for the HS2 project.
3. Which ancient woods are due to be felled starting this autumn?
At least 20 areas of ancient woodland are due to be felled and their soils moved (translocated). You can find out the details of these woods here. There are additional ancient woods (that won’t be subject to translocation due to the presence of invasive species) to be felled in the coming months, though we have not yet had confirmation from HS2 Ltd as to which woods fall into this bracket.
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 destroy woodland from at least 19 ancient woodlands and indirectly affect at least 11 more. This estimate is conservative as there are areas of unmapped ancient woodland that we are aware will be directly affected by this scheme and that we are waiting for Natural England to map.
5. 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. Government and HS2 Ltd acknowledge this fact. Therefore no amount of new planting can replace it and HS2 can never truly be green.
Considering that less than 3% 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 vital for the key wildlife habitat features they provide, such as hollowing trunks, cavities and decaying wood. These features are microhabitats that support a wide range of invertebrates, lichen, fungi and other specialised plants and animals, which in turn support other species.
6. 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 than they found it, then they need to be exploring alternatives to prevent so much damage and loss to ancient woods and trees.
7. Is HS2 planning to mitigate for 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.
Translocation is a salvage operation of absolute last resort; it does not recreate ancient woodland. 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, by which point many of the species that rely on the diverse aged structure of ancient woodland will have died out due to lack of available habitat.
8. Why is the Trust not taking direct action to stop HS2 from felling ancient woods?
We must assess each case individually when it comes to participating in or encouraging direct action. We have previously encouraged our supporters and staff to be involved in direct action where appropriate and legal, including mass lobby events and climate change-related marches and HS2 events that have taken place in London. However, we consider the current situation to be different in relation to the HS2 project and in the context of directly protesting against the felling of woods and trees by HS2 Ltd and its contractors.
Due to legal injunctions that HS2 Ltd has had imposed on ancient woods to be removed to make way for the project, just being present in these locations is a breach of the law. We cannot ask our staff or supporters to put themselves in a position where they may be arrested. As such, we do not encourage our staff or our supporters to take part in these direct acts of protest as a means of savings trees and woods from felling.
9. 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.