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Woodland Clearing Starts for HS2 Railway

Monica Hayford reports on the detrimental effect and ecological impact of the construction of the high-speed railway.

Photo by Erwin Voortman

Until recently, some may not have heard of the HS2: a brand new, hi-tech and high-speed railway which aims to make it easier to travel between London, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, in addition to serving 8 of the UK’s 10 largest cities.

The official HS2 website describes the railway as a state-of-the-art, high-speed line critical for the UK’s low carbon transport future”, claiming that “It will provide much-needed rail capacity across the country, and is integral to rail projects in the North and Midlands.”

However, a recent report from The Guardian reveals that the tree felling involved in construction might have a severe environmental impact.

A Threat to an Endangered Species

Leigh Day, a law firm acting on behalf of the vulnerable, has written to HS2 to request that they stop construction at Jones’ Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire. They suspect that they do not have the license to go ahead with work that could potentially disturb rare Barbastelle bat homes.

According to solicitor Tom Short:

"Although HS2 Ltd holds a ‘class licence’ from Natural England in respect of bats Natural England has confirmed that Jones’ Hill Wood has not been registered under the class licence and thus that licence does not authorise works at this site."

With only a few roosting sites in the UK, conservationists are concerned that the bats might become extinct if the HS2 work goes ahead as planned. Lawyers for Nature have spoken to HS2 and asked them to seek advice from an independent ecologist before they commence work.

Passionate Protest 

Josephine Cordero Sapién’s ‘Rant’ highlights how the project will have an effect on 693 local wildlife sites and many sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Wildlife Trust have, in addition, provided an in-depth look at the project’s predicted environmental impact.  

HS2 contractors will attempt to ‘translocate’ the woodland dug up to make way for the railway, a process which involves moving woodland soils to a new location in the hope that the habitat will regrow elsewhere, but there is very little evidence of the success of this technique, as Natural England states that “ancient woodland ecosystem cannot be moved”.

Protestors have asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider this project because it could damage ancient woodland and harm endangered species. For months, protestors have been camped in makeshift treehouses across the forests set to be targeted, including in Jones' Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire which inspired Roald Dahl while writing classics such as Fantastic Mr Fox, to oppose the scheduled destruction. Some even spent the entirety of lockdown in the woods.  

However, in early October, evictions of these activists began as the bulldozers rolled in. There have been reports of ‘chilling’ police strategies used against them during this process: one anti-HS2 activist describes how the ‘racist’ police forcefully knelt on his head and back while detaining him during a peaceful protest in Wendover, Buckinghamshire

Nevertheless, whilst there may be a huge environmental impact from the HS2 railway, defenders argue that it will continue to bring many jobs to London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The HS2 website promises that the project will help “rebalance the UK economy.” It remains to be seen if the innovative but controversial railway line will live up to these claims.

You may also like: A Quarter of UK Mammals at Risk of Extinction

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