According to the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and The Woodland Trust 129 ancient woodlands will be impacted along the HS2 route, with irreplaceable habitats being destroyed. Of these woodlands, 60 will be impacted through direct loss and 69 will be destroyed through indirect impact which suggests close proximity to the tracks.
The organisations argued that the sum of compensation must be larger than what has been proposed due to the fact that the habitats are considered to be irreplaceable.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Sean Hawkins Nature Reserve is the habitat of water voles which are a nationally endangered mammal. According to the trust, HS2 does not plan to trap and relocate the water voles.
In addition, there are concerns that due to the length of the track river corridors will be fragmented. For this reason, organisations are questioning HS2’s commitment to delivering a net-gain in biodiversity on its northern leg.
According to Kathleen Covill, Principal Specialist for Land Use (HS2), the direct impact for phase 1 was 24 hectares, 10 hectares for phase 2a and six for phase 2b. However, due to detailed design at least 3.4 hectares were avoided.
The HS2 Woodland Fund opened in February 2018, with a budget of £1m. However, a further £4mbudget was made available for projects until 2022/2023. The fund aims to create native woodland and restore plantations on ancient woodland sites near the HS2 route.
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Over £1.1mhas been spent on new habit planting and restoration. There has been 130 hectares of new habitat planting and 90 hectares of restored ancient woodland habitat planting.
Environmental organisations are calling on HS2 to adjust their environmental data. Dr Rachel Giles, evidence and planning programme manager at Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: “They are using their own tool to measure biodiversity which is out of date and untested, it is not peer reviewed.”
A review led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta resulted in a final report called The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review in 2021. The report discusses how to protect and enhance the natural world and addresses ecosystem processes and how they are impacted by economic activity.
Essentially, the report suggests the way that nature should be considered in economics and decision-making. It is a key piece of research which has empowered organisations to demand environmental change.
Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2, said: “All of our contractors work to the code of practice. We have got teams on the ground who are there to hold contractors to account, support the contractors and act as liaison with local communities.”
He added: “It’s not just about how we minimise the impact of construction but how we can give back to the community and create opportunities for employment, work with local schools. We have talked about The Community and Environment Fund and the Business and Local Economy Fund which bring local community projects to the fore.”
According to HS2, there are various environmental projects along the route which aim to protect, preserve and enhance the natural environment.
HS2 provides various examples of how it is responding to the environmental impact of the project through ecological and landscape investments in categories such as ancient woodland strategy, ancient woodland compensation measures, creation of new wildlife habitats, protecting wildlife and wildlife licenses.
An example of this is HS2’s ‘Green Corridor’ which is expected to run alongside the railway, connecting habitats and greener spaces. New woodlands, new ponds, grasslands and meadows have also been put in place.