Slicing through the north west peatlands: A spotlight on HS2

Current plans for HS2 will slice a line through the north west peatlands, creating a barrier to a recovery network. Alan Wright, from the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, discusses, the impact that this would have on the landscape.

The north west peatlands are a magical place. To quote Countryfile's Tom Heap, Chat Moss peatlands are "our rainforest". 

Standing on our mosses, at any time of year, is a stirring experience. Huge carpets of sphagnum moss, seas of flowing cotton grass and patches of brightly coloured sundew lie beneath big blue skies and fluffy clouds, taking your breath away.

Swifts swoop over the water, rare willow tits inhabit local woods, lapwings and ringed plovers dip their beaks into the peaty mud and buzzards fly up above. Hares bolt across the open land and, in summer, every inch is alive with butterflies, bees and dragonflies.

Yet, we have a problem. Current plans for HS2 slice through our work on the north west peatlands, between Liverpool and Manchester, creating a barrier to our recovery network.

Green sandpiper

Green sandpiper ©John Bridges

Failure to address the impact on wildlife

The Wildlife Trust have been working for decades to protect these peatlands. The rare plants and creatures that inhabit that moss would be badly affected by the disruption caused by building and running this railway line.

In all of our limited conversations, so far HS2 Ltd has failed to address what will happen to wildlife when the line effectively cuts this huge wilderness in two. Perhaps the area's isolation is the reason for the lack of engagement, and lack of recognition of its national and global importance

In the words of our Chief Executive, Anne Selby: “If Stephenson could run his first Manchester to Liverpool railway on top of the peat, without destroying it, I would hope the modern day engineers could aspire to do as well and the Government could ensure it practices what it preaches for mitigation and net gain.”

Before any phase two of HS2 is agreed, we need assurances that the parties involved are serious when it comes to protecting these wilderness areas and the wildlife that lives there.

The current environmental mitigation proposed is unambitious, unimaginative and potentially inappropriate. If plans for the HS2 line do go ahead, we need proper and ambitious mitigation, and the promise of biodiversity net gain must be realised.

Working for a better solution

The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham is supporting the delivery of HS2 in the North, confident that the high-speed rail link to London will be a boost for Greater Manchester business. Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotherham is also backing HS2 in the hope of bringing business to Merseyside.

We count Andy and Steve as our great friends at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, and we would not disagree with their economic assessment of the benefits of this multi-billion scheme. But this cannot be at the expense of our wild places, particularly as we are in the middle of a nature and climate emergency. 

Andy Burnham paid a visit to Little Woolden Moss in Salford recently - an area he knew well from his childhood, and one he showed much love for. We demonstrated the benefits of restoring this area, from improvements in biodiversity and water retention, to creating a fantastic carbon sink that is a natural solution to climate change.  

He understands the damage that HS2 will do here and we are confident he will support us as we seek proper mitigation and the application of biodiversity net gain if current plans for the HS2 line go ahead.

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