HS2 comes at an “exorbitant cost to nature,” according to new report

Cloud Wood, a site of special scientific interest. Photo courtesy of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.

HS2 have disputed claims made in a new report by The Wildlife Trusts on “the vast scale of the destruction and impact that HS2 will cause to nature.”

The report, What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much, assesses the broad range of impacts across all phases of HS2 on protected wildlife sites, species and landscape restoration projects, and claims to be “the most comprehensive assessment of the environmental damage that HS2 will cause.” 

The Wildlife Trusts believe that if HS2 has to go ahead a new approach is needed and are urging people to send a message to the prime minister to stop and rethink HS2 in its current form.

Drawing on data from 14 Wildlife Trusts affected by the current plans, other charities and landowners along the route, the report claims that HS2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it’s allowed to continue in its current form - destroying huge swathes of irreplaceable natural habitat and important protected wildlife sites up the length of England.

The report finds that HS2’s current proposals will risk the loss of, or significantly impact:

  • 5 wildlife refuges of international importance, protected by UK law;
  • 33 sites of special scientific interest which are protected by UK law;
  • 693 classified local wildlife sites;
  • 21 designated local nature reserves;
  • 26 large landscape-scale initiatives, including:
  • 4 nature improvement areas awarded £1.7m of public money;
  • 22 living landscapes – partnership schemes to restore nature;
  • 18 wildlife trust nature reserves – many are also designated wildlife sites;
  • 108 ancient woodlands; 
  • Other irreplaceable habitats such as veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows;
  • Extensive further areas of wider natural habitat;
  • Barn owls and endangered wildlife such white-clawed crayfish, willow tit and lizard orchid;
  • Rarities like dingy skipper may become locally extinct.

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy, said: “The figures are grim and the reality is worse. The potential loss of so many really important wild places and the wildlife that depends on them has never been revealed before – nor has the damage that will be done to taxpayer-funded, nature recovery projects. 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.

“The data also shows that HS2 Ltd’s proposed mitigation and compensation is inadequate and the small measures that they have suggested are inappropriate – amateurish suggestions of paltry measures in the wrong places. Nature and our climate are already in big trouble and we must not make a dire situation even worse – that’s why we are calling on the prime minister to stop and rethink the entire development.”

The Wildlife Trusts are also concerned at reports that HS2 has removed its intention to “minimise the combined effect of the project” on climate change and the environment from its policy, and says its new report has the full support of the National Trust, RSPB and Woodland Trust. 

Hilary McGrady, director general of the National Trust, welcomed the report and said: “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. 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. We are committed to playing our part to help with this but HS2 Ltd has a responsibility to step up and lead the charge.”

However, HS2 have disputed the figures in the report, saying the data was not new, and that the list of sites presented in the report appears to be simply a list of all wildlife sites within 500 metres of the line, regardless of how they were affected, and has not been accompanied by evidence of significant impact at the sites.

An HS2 spokesperson said: “All leading wildlife organisations agree that climate change is the biggest future threat to wildlife and habitats in the UK. By providing a cleaner, greener way to travel, HS2 will help cut the number of cars and lorries on our roads, cut demand for domestic flights, and help the country’s fight against climate change.

“The number of sites presented in this report as being ‘at risk of loss, or significant impact’ simply isn’t accurate. 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.”

Click here to download The Wildlife Trusts full report: What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much.

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