The HS2 high-speed rail project will destroy ‘huge swathes’ of ‘irreplaceable’ natural habitats, including 39 nature reserves and 108 ancient woodlands, a new report reveals.
HS2, which is estimated to cost £88 billion overall, aims to provide a high-speed rail service linking London and northern England.
But according to a new report by Wildlife Trusts, the current proposals risk the loss of ancient woodlands, nature reserves, wildlife refuges and more.
The organisation claims its new report is the ‘most comprehensive’ assessment yet of the environmental damage that HS2 could cause.
The organisation is now urging the government to rethink the rail project before it causes irreparable damage to the UK’s wildlife.
Eighteen Wildlife Trust nature reserves will be affected, including London’s Frays Farm Meadows, Holcroft Moss in Cheshire and Park Hall in Birmingham, as well as a further 21 local nature reserves.
HS2 will affect 26 large landscape-scale conservation initiatives in total, including four Nature Improvement Areas awarded £1.7 million of public money.
The Trust said ‘rarities’ such as the dingy skipper butterfly could also be made extinct locally, while barn owls and endangered wildlife such as white-clawed crayfish could be impacted.
The Wildlife Trusts comprises 46 local UK trusts that look after around 2,300 nature reserves covering more than 98,000 hectares.
‘The figures are grim and the reality is worse,’ said Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy.
‘HS2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it’s allowed to continue in its current form.
‘It will damage the very ecosystems that provide a natural solution to the climate emergency.’
HS2 Ltd’s proposed mitigation for the environmental impact was ‘inadequate’, she said, labelling the measures they have already suggested as ‘amateurish’ and in ‘the wrong place’.
‘This threat is not only contrary to government’s biodiversity policies and international obligations, but also to European Law,’ says the report, which uses data from 14 local Trusts affected by the plans.
The Wildlife Trusts said if the project was to go ahead, a new and ‘greener’ approach was needed.
It has now called on the government to ‘stop and rethink’ the project before HS2 creates ‘a scar that will never heal,’ according to Williams.
‘As Europe’s largest project of its kind, HS2 Ltd has a vital responsibility to lead by example and get this right by delivering a net gain for nature,’ Hilary McGrady, director general of National Trust.
‘We recognise that designing the railway is a long process but plans for HS2 must not end up cutting corners at the expense of the environment.’
HS2 Ltd argued that it will deliver a railway that ‘respects’ the natural environment through the creation of a ‘green corridor’ along the route.
According to the company’s website, 3.4 square miles of new woodlands – made up of seven million trees and shrubs – will be created.
It claims the figure is more than double the amount affected by the project.
A further 1.5 square miles of wildlife habitat will be established along the route, it says.
‘The number of sites presented in this report as being ‘at risk of loss, or significant impact’ simply isn’t accurate,’ said an HS2 spokesman.
‘HS2 take the environmental cost of construction very seriously.
‘That is why we’re delivering an unprecedented programme of tree planting and habitat creation alongside the new railway – with seven million new trees and shrubs set to be planted between London and Birmingham alone – new native woodland planted to link up ancient woodland, and tailored mitigation plans in place for protected species.’
The news comes after a report from the Woodland Trust on Tuesday claimed that more than 1,000 ancient woodlands in the UK are at risk of being wiped out by housing projects and new infrastructure developments.
Of these, 801 woods are being actively threatened by live planning applications – not just the HS2 but also housing projects and other infrastructure developments.
HS2 would connect 21 major destinations, including London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
On HS2, a trip from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street would take 45 minutes, 37 minutes than today’s fastest time.
The cost of the project, which will support a ‘transition to net-zero carbon’ emissions, rose to £88 billion as of estimates in November and will likely rise again.