Nature and climate spared as Government cancels HS2 eastern leg to Leeds

Nature and climate spared as Government cancels HS2 eastern leg to Leeds

The Wildlife Trusts applaud the Government’s decision to “take a fresh look” and scrap the High Speed 2 Phase 2b eastern leg to Leeds.

Cancelling this section of the huge transport project will save vast swathes of natural wild places and spare the rare birds and carbon-storing habitats that were threatened by the proposed development.

A significant number of nationally and locally important designated nature areas now face a welcome reprieve although The Wildlife Trusts will watch the proposed upgrading of other routes carefully to see if new threats to nature emerge. We will push for the delivery of net gain for nature as part of any infrastructure upgrade works.

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director for Campaigning and Communities says:

“The Wildlife Trusts have long campaigned against HS2 – alongside thousands of others – because of the huge damage it will do to nature and communities along the route. Now the Integrated Rail Plan has made it clear that there are alternatives to HS2.

“We support the principle of sustainable transport, but along with other nature charities, we cannot back such an environmentally catastrophic project. The first phase of the route is already under construction and we’re witnessing the shocking reality for affected communities and the much-loved countryside that has been destroyed around them.

“We live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and HS2 is the cause of yet more loss of some of our most important wild places. As COP26 ends it’s time for HS2 Ltd to respond to the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss – the company must meet its own sustainability targets but so far there is no evidence this will be achieved.”

Rachael Bice, chief executive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust says:

“It is clear Yorkshire needs an improved public transport system to deliver a sustainable and prosperous future for communities in the region. However, we welcome, along with thousands of our members and supporters, the news that plans for HS2’s eastern leg has been cancelled and the subsequent harm to our wildlife and wild places will be avoided. HS2 certainly seems to have passed its point of relevance in terms of cost benefit and we are extremely glad the decision has been made to use the money in other ways. The proposed upgrading of other routes could have impacts on precious natural places, so we’ll need to look carefully at the new plans and we’ll be looking for the delivery of net gain for nature as part of the infrastructure upgrade works.

“Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has spent a huge amount of time and resources battling this threat to wildlife over the last 10 years and attempting to work with HS2 Ltd in order to lessen the impact of the scheme. The proposed route would have further fragmented our sensitive natural systems, significantly impacting on locally and nationally important wildlife sites, habitats and highly threatened species. This comes as a great relief to all who care about the future and protection of our natural world.”

Kieron Huston, biodiversity policy and planning manager, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust says:

“The cancellation of part of the HS2 eastern leg significantly reduces impacts on Derbyshire's wildlife and we certainly welcome that. We are very concerned at the level of impacts along the route and never saw measures that would avoid or minimise the impacts here in Derbyshire. The mitigation and compensation for the loss of up to 26 local wildlife sites was still lacking in detail and in some areas the development would have increased fragmentation of habitats and wildlife corridors. One of our own reserves near Bolsover would have been damaged, and the longer-term impact of having HS2 immediately adjacent to our fragile wetland site at Carr Vale was of great concern.

“The unresolved nature of these issues led us to oppose the route on the grounds of adverse impacts on biodiversity. We always felt that there were unnecessary and avoidable impacts on many sites and that HS2 had not engaged with many of our concerns and recommendations.”

Nicky Rivers of Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust says:

“We welcome the fact that the Government has not gone ahead with eastern leg of HS2 and we hope that both the nature and climate crisis are now at the forefront of any new thinking behind the northern transport developments. We will assess the details, but upgrading existing tracks where there is scope to do so is likely to be less ecologically damaging than creating new track and additional barriers for wildlife.”

In 2019 The Wildlife Trusts, along with the Woodland Trust, RSPB and Chilterns Society, published an evidenced report, ‘What’s the damage?  Why HS2 will cost nature too much. It was the first, and only, comprehensive, whole-route review of HS2’s impact to be published. It highlighted the lack of detailed assessment at the time and showed HS2 Ltd’s proposed mitigation and compensation for nature was wholly inadequate. 

The Wildlife Trusts continue to call on HS2 Ltd to publish clear and detailed plans on how the scheme will meet HS2 Ltd’s obligations to achieve ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity along the whole route, and further, a net gain for wildlife and nature.  We also continue to ask HS2 Ltd and the Government to address delivery of remaining works in order to ensure further catastrophic failings can be avoided.

Editor's Notes

HS2 damage assessment by The Wildlife Trusts, January 2020

A report published by The Wildlife Trusts in January 2020 revealed, for the first time, the vast scale of the destruction and impact that HS2 will cause to nature. What’s the damage?  Why HS2 will cost nature too much is the most comprehensive assessment of the environmental damage that HS2 will cause. It assessed the broad range of impacts across all phases of HS2 on protected wildlife sites, species and landscape restoration projects. See press release here and pdf of report here.

Drawing on data from 14 Wildlife Trusts affected by the current plans, other charities and landowners along the route, the report shows that HS2 will divide and destroy huge swathes of irreplaceable natural habitat and important protected wildlife sites up the length of England. This will cause permanent loss of nature, increased fragmentation of wild places, and the local extinction of endangered species.

The report found that HS2’s current proposals will risk the loss of, or significantly impact:

  • 5  Wildlife refuges of international importance, protected by UK law
  • 33  Sites of Special Scientific Interest which are protected by UK law
  • 693  Classified Local Wildlife Sites
  • 21  Designated Local Nature Reserves
  • 26  Large landscape-scale initiatives, including:
      • 4  Nature Improvement Areas awarded £1.7 million of public money
      • 22  Living Landscapes – partnership schemes to restore nature
  • 18  Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves – many are also designated wildlife sites
  • 108  Ancient woodlands, an irreplaceable habitat
  • Other irreplaceable habitats such as veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows
  • Extensive further areas of wider natural habitat
  • Barn owls and endangered wildlife such white-clawed crayfish, willow tit and lizard orchid. Rarities like dingy skipper may become locally extinct.

In Derbyshire alone, the impacts of HS2 Phase 2b would have been:

  • Damage to ancient woodland, flower rich grasslands, wetlands, scrubland, many miles of hedgerow and numerous trees.
  • Up to 26 local wildlife sites were threatened of which 13 looked likely to be completely destroyed and another 7 would have been reduced in size by between 10 and 50%. 
  • Around 20 other sites of wildlife value that are currently awaiting potential designation as Local Wildlife Sites would also have been adversely affected.