HS2: RSPB calls for probe into tree-felling for high-speed line

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Activists sleeping in a treeImage source, Chris J Ratcliffe
Image caption,
Activists had been sleeping in trees in Jones' Hill Wood, which is said to have inspired Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox

The RSPB has called for the felling of trees in the path of the HS2 rail link to be investigated.

The bird charity criticised government and HS2 as ecologists launched a legal challenge against licences issued to permit the felling of trees in Jones' Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire.

It said the felling risked "undermining every environmental commitment" the government had made about HS2.

HS2 said it took its "environmental responsibilities seriously".

The legal action is being brought by a member of Earth Protectors.

On Monday, the High Court was asked to consider a hearing for a judicial review of the licensing decision.

The plaintiff also requested the court put a block on licensing activities, such as site clearance, until the hearing had taken place and a judgement was handed down.

Image source, Chris Gorman
Image caption,
The construction site at the entrance to the HS2 Chiltern tunnel, beside the M25 in Denham, Buckinghamshire

Felling was delayed from last year after bats were discovered roosting at the site which is part of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and was reportedly the inspiration for local author Roald Dahl's story Fantastic Mr Fox.

On 30 March, Dave Slater, Natural England's director for wildlife licensing and enforcement cases, said the felling would "not be detrimental to the overall conservation status of the bat populations in this area."

On social media on Thursday, Tony Whitehead for the RSPB said: "HS2 has had many years to plan and deliver this scheme, to carry out standard surveys, and obtain the appropriate licences to carry out its work and safeguard protected species.

"We should not be having professional ecologists feeling the need to legally challenge the validity of licences issued by Natural England in advance of felling trees."

Image source, Mark Kerrison
Image caption,
Trees being felled to make way for phase one of the high speed rail link between London and the West Midlands

HS2 Ltd, which has been asked to comment on the challenges, plans to create a new woodland, planting 22,000 trees, which will link to the remains of Jones' Hill Wood, connecting it to another wood.

It told the BBC: "We do not remove trees without having the appropriate licences in place and extensive environmental surveys are carried out ahead of any removal works to ensure appropriate mitigations are in place to protect local wildlife."

The estimated final cost of the HS2 project is now more than £100bn.

Mr Slater said on Thursday that Natural England could not comment on the ongoing legal action.

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