HS2 decision will destroy precious wild places

Yesterday, the government gave the green light to the High Speed 2 rail project, without even acknowledging the devastating impact on the hundreds of precious wild places and the wildlife that depends on them – that lie in the path of the route. The Wildlife Trusts recently published a report evidencing 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’ assessed the broad range of impacts across all phases of HS2 on protected wildlife sites, species and landscape restoration projects.

Last week, The Wildlife Trusts delivered a letter to the Prime Minister calling for the project to be reappraised. The letter was signed by 66,000 people.

HS2 will impact over 10,000 acres of land across Staffordshire, destroying nearly 19 hectares of ancient woodland, and damaging over 50 designated Local Wildlife Sites, from flower-rich meadows to bird-filled wetlands. We are concerned that at least another 50 newly-discovered high-value habitats along the route have not been properly recognised.

The highest cost to wildlife, heritage and landscape will be the loss of irreplaceable habitats that cannot be recreated. We argue that many other habitats on the route in Staffordshire should be considered irreplaceable, such as centuries-old watermeadows, inland saltmarsh, and many ancient hedgerows lining old country lanes.

Around 1,900 people in Staffordshire were among the 66,000 people who signed The Wildlife Trust’s letter to Boris Johnson calling him to ‘Stop and Re-think’ the project.

The Trust will continue to work to mitigate the effects of HS2 and reduce the impact on wildlife.

Kate Dewey, Senior Planning Officer at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust:

“We are disappointed that the review leaves out loss of wildlife from the benefit-cost ratio, and dismisses many impacts as ‘unavoidable’, or mitigated by tree planting. Far from being an ‘exemplar project’, the loss of irreplaceable habitats means HS2 cannot ever balance its impacts to wildlife; the cost to nature is too great.

“The first priority must be avoidance through design, and this is where the review could make a difference. It recommends that speed not be the primary driver for the railway, and that better transport links and design changes could optimise benefits and reduce costs, such as removing the Handsacre connection to the West Coast Mainline, near Lichfield.

“This is an opportunity to re-think the route, and avoid our most precious wildlife areas. We urge HS2 to re-design HS2 to be truly sustainable, so that our unique local wildlife does not pay the price.”

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy, said:

“Nature is paying too high a price for HS2. We urged the Government to re-consider in the light of The Wildlife Trusts’ report which evidenced the serious risk that HS2 poses to nature – and to take notice of over 66,000 people who wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to review HS2. Today’s announcement means that it is more critical than ever that the whole project is redesigned – before HS2 creates a scar that can never heal.

“It is vital that HS2 does not devastate or destroy irreplaceable meadows, ancient woodlands and internationally important wetlands that are home to a huge range of wildlife, from barn owls to butterflies. Green and sustainable transport is vital, but the climate emergency will not be solved by making the nature crisis worse.

“As HS2 contractors get on with bulldozing and building, the public can help wildlife by being alert to works near them. Contact your local Wildlife Crime officer if you believe HS2 Ltd or contractors are undertaking works without permission. Wildlife Trusts along the route will continue to advise and engage with HS2 Ltd locally.”