The Woodland Trust has welcomed calls by more than 40 local councils to stop advance site clearance for HS2.
Buckinghamshire County Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council and Chiltern District Council as well as 41 town and parish councils along the route of the first phase of the project, from London to Birmingham, say the enabling works should be put on hold until Notices to Proceed are issued.
A Notice to Proceed is a letter to a contractor informing them of the date they can start work. The date mentioned will be the official start of the contract.
Woodland Trust ecologist Luci Ryan said:
“We fully understand the concerns of the councils as they mirror our own in respect of the ancient woodland due to be cleared later this year. While the enabling works are legal we question whether they are right given the project is under review.
“If huge swathes of ancient woodland are destroyed and HS2 is then scrapped then we will have lost a rare, irreplaceable habitat for nothing. “The fact we are losing ancient woodland at all is terrible. To lose it needlessly would be a travesty.”
Last month Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss MP confirmed the unpopular £60bn project will be part of a Government spending review due to report in November. Notices to proceed have already been delayed from June to December.
So far, site clearance has been undertaken in a number of areas including Ruislip, the Colne Valley and parts of Buckinghamshire with work earmarked for Warwickshire and Birmingham in the coming months.
Ancient woodland, which is earmarked for destruction in October, is our rarest habitat accounting for just two per cent of woodland cover in the UK. It has lay undisturbed for centuries, an eco-system in its own right. That makes it irreplaceable and no amount of new planting can make up for that loss.
The 149-mile route from London to Birmingham will cause loss or damage to a total of 61 ancient woods. Of those 32 will suffer direct loss totalling 31.09ha. The other 29 will suffer damage due to noise, vibration, changes to lighting and dust.
Mrs Ryan added:
“The loss of these centuries-old sites will be catastrophic for the environment. Not only will we lose the woods but the many species of flora and fauna which rely on it for survival are at risk too. Rare birds such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, the willow tit and the wood warbler, bats, butterflies, dormice, badgers and hedgehogs are all threatened.
“The government needs to ask itself if it is prepared to allow such significant environmental destruction before the outcome of the review is known.”