High Speed 2 (HS2) is the proposed new High Speed rail network for the UK - connecting London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham. The Wildlife Trusts are concerned about the impact HS2 will have on the landscapes and habitats and the damage it will cause to wildlife and ecosystems along the proposed route.
HS2 Phase 1 from London to the West Midlands is currently planned to be in operation by 2026. The government has committed to continue HS2 northwards, connecting Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds via two high speed lines running either side of the Pennines. This is known as 'HS2 Phase 2' and commonly referred to as the ‘Y-route’. Hybrid Bills will be required to secure the powers required to construct and operate HS2.
Although The Wildlife Trusts are generally supportive of sustainable transport schemes - they are an important part of our necessary transition to a low carbon economy - we believe this must not be achieved at the expense of the natural environment. So, alongside others, we have been campaigning to ensure that any scheme that goes ahead avoids further erosion of England’s much depleted wildlife and ecosystems.
Phase 1: London to Birmingham
Last year, HS2 Ltd consulted on their 55,000 page Environmental Statement for Phase 1. The Wildlife Trusts believe that this does not reflect the route-wide environmental impacts and is so seriously deficient as to be inadequate. Despite the stated intent of HS2 Ltd that the development should result in ‘no net loss to biodiversity’, based on the incomplete evidence presented in the Environmental Statement, we believe the consequence of building HS2 Phase 1 will be a net loss of biodiversity. It will fragment populations of butterflies, bats and birds, and compromise the natural movements of large mammals such as badgers that cannot cross the concrete and steel barrier of railway infrastructure. Read more on the impact of HS2 on wildlife.
Seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest (the very best of our wild places), three Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 66 Local Wildlife Sites and 25 proposed Local Wildlife Sites are all directly affected and will be damaged or destroyed by the line for Phase 1. A further 92 wildlife sites are indirectly affected.
We welcomed the Environmental Audit Select Committee report 'HS2 and the environment' published in April 2014. It's headline findings were:
• The Government should aim higher than the objective of no net biodiversity loss.
• HS2 Ltd must carry out environmental surveys as much as possible of the 40% of the route yet to be examined.
• Government should reconsider its requirement for biodiversity compensation to be provided directly alongside the HS2 route, to take opportunities for better offsetting measures further afield.
• There should be a ring-fenced environmental budget
The Phase 1 Hybrid Bill was introduced to Parliament on 25 November 2013 and had the Second Reading on Monday 28 April 2014. The purpose of the Second Reading is for the Commons to approve (or reject) the principle of the Bill. Following the Second Reading, all those directly or specially affected by the first phase of HS2 were able to submit petitions against the Bill on issues agreed during the Second Reading. The Wildlife Trusts submitted a petition against the Bill. Since then a specifically formed Select Committee of six MPs have been hearing from petitioners. So far, they have heard from Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. The Wildlife Trusts are appearing before the Select Committee on Monday 16 March 2015.
Phase 2: Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds
Three SSSIs, six Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 87 Local Wildlife Sites and 17 proposed Local Wildlife Sites are all directly affected and will be damaged or destroyed by the proposed route for Phase 2. A further 245 sites are indirectly affected. The consultation on the preferred route closed at the end of January 2014. The Wildlife Trusts believe that the approach adopted by the Department for Transport / HS2 Ltd:
• Will result in an unacceptable level of loss or damage to existing wildlife assets by constructing the ‘preferred’ route
• Compromises existing initiatives and future options to safeguard our natural heritage
We are expecting a Government announcement about the final route later this year.
A greener vision for HS2
The Wildlife Trusts own research shows that investment in green infrastructure, habitat restoration and creation as part of HS2 is both affordable (within the scale of the overall budget for the project) and cost-effective. To demonstrate this the Wildlife Trusts affected by Phase 1 and 2 of HS2 have identified and mapped habitat creation opportunities along the route. These areas were subsequently refined to identify the areas where the opportunity for nature restoration is greatest and most cost-effective to devise a strategic corridor (or stepping stones) of habitat that would reconnect fragmented habitats and strengthen local ecological networks.
This work has been published in summary form and as a longer Reference report. You can read a copy of the report here. It shows how a ribbon of natural areas, wild havens, green bridges and cycle ways could be created along the corridor of the HS2 route. Initial costings suggest that environmental restoration on this scale could be achieved with less than 1% of HS2’s overall budget of £42bn and a Cost Benefit Analysis undertaken by researchers at Newcastle University show that the benefits of restoring nature and providing access will outweigh the costs.
Wildlife Trusts affected by HS2 - links
There are 14 Wildlife Trusts along the route of HS2.
Below: Doddershall Meadow, a wildflower meadow in the Bernwood Forest area of Buckinghamshire – this will have a direct impact from HS2 (photo: Matt Jackson)