Woodland Trust: HS2 shows 'disregard' for environment
The Woodland Trust says a report on the environmental impact of the HS2 rail project reveals a "shocking disregard" for wildlife and ancient woodland.
The Trust has examined the 46,000-page High Speed Two Environmental Statement which was published last month.
It accompanied the legislation needed for the construction of HS2 - due to be discussed by Parliament next year.
The Trust found that the environmental report contained miscalculations and inconsistent or missing data.Woodland threat
According to the Trust, it also reveals more than double the number of ancient woods are under threat than first thought.
"The document raises more questions than it answers and betrays a shocking disregard for ancient woodland and the rare and protected species," said Luci Ryan, who examined the report and is an ecologist at the Woodland Trust.
For the past few weeks, her sole job has been to plough through the report.
"Some of the proposed mitigation measures make no sense, are untested, and could even cause further damage," she said.
The Trust criticises a plan to move ancient woodlands by "picking up ancient woodland soil, putting it in the back of a lorry and moving it elsewhere", calling the idea a "salvage operation at best" and "unproven".
The charity has tried and so far failed to get the records of how well a similar plan worked when building HS1, the Channel Tunnel rail link.
The Trust also calculates that 43 ancient woodlands are threatened with loss or damage, which is more than double the original estimate of 21.
But because of missing figures, the Trust says it is impossible to calculate exactly how much ancient woodland will be lost.
The Trust complains that there is no definitive list of woodland affected.
In addition, it says that HS2 Ltd admits it could not get on to all of the land to check, because some owners refused them permission.
Responding to the Woodland Trust's report, Ben Ruse, lead spokesman of HS2 Ltd, said: "HS2 Ltd does not accept the claim that 43 ancient woodlands will be faced with loss or damage. The truth is less than half that figure.
"Nineteen ancient woodlands will be affected - a figure we have shared and previously agreed with the Woodland Trust."
The Trust has denied that figure was shared or agreed.
Mr Ruse went on to say: "The 24 additional ancient woodlands referred to in this report are not recognised as such by Natural England. Moreover, we will be planting over two million new trees, resulting in there being more woodland when HS2 is completed than there is now."Bats
The Trust heavily criticises the proposed treatment of animals, in particular the rare Bechstein's bat that has been found around ancient Sheephouse Wood, in Buckinghamshire.
The bats have the highest level legal conservation status.
HS2 Ltd wants to build an 800m long and 10m high boxed enclosure, with lights to discourage the bats from flying too near to the line.
But the Trust says this technique is "untested" and points out that some bat experts believe lights will limit the animals' movement.
The line will "alarmingly" affect barn owls too, the Trust says.
The environmental statement predicts the loss of all breeding populations of barn owls within 1.5km of the proposed scheme, but is "vague" about the plan to limit the damage.'Misleading information'
The 46,000 page document is hard to navigate and does not yet contain a complete map of the route, according to the Trust.
It had to spend a large amount of time electronically pasting together all the different, localised maps to make one big one.
Mr Ruse says that HS2 wants to maintain a "meaningful dialogue" with all parties affected by HS2, but says the Woodland Trust's report contains "misleading information".
"HS2 is not being built at the expense of the environment. The plans set out in the environmental statement accommodate extensive environmental mitigation and are the results of the largest public consultation and engagement scheme ever undertaken in the UK," Mr Ruse said.
MPs will start to debate HS2 in earnest next year and the government is hoping to get the bill passed before the next election in 2015.