High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Written evidence from Woodland Trust (HSR 15)

1. Background

1.1 The Woodland Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. Although supportive in principle of the concept of high speed rail, the Trust has severe misgivings about the green credentials of a line that will destroy some of the UK’s finest and most irreplaceable natural habitats. We remain concerned that the Preparation Bill itself appears to provide a blank cheque to Government to spend high levels of public money on a project with an environmentally destructive current route.

2. Key Concerns and asks

2.1 Given the threat posed by climate change to the natural environment, not least to ancient woodland, the Woodland Trust fully supports moves to develop a low carbon economy. However, a transport solution which inflicts such serious damage on our natural heritage as the current route can never truly be green – the Government’s preferred routes [1] , for both phases of the scheme will cause loss or damage to at least 67 irreplaceable ancient woods.

2.2 We believe this is simply too high an environmental price to pay. It is also at odds with the Government’s policies around the protection of ancient woodland. Defra’s recent Forestry Policy Statement states: ‘England’s 340,000 hectares of ancient woodlands are exceptionally rich in wildlife, including many rare species and habitats. They are an integral part of England’s cultural heritage’. It states categorically that "Protection of our trees, woods and forests, especially our ancient woodland, is our top priority" [2] .

2.3 While our focus is upon the environmental impact it should be acknowledged that this loss comes against a backdrop where the National Audit Office has indicated that the economic benefits are unclear and where the Secretary of State himself has admitted last week that the Bill has risen by a further £10billion. We therefore remain unconvinced that the benefit of the chosen routes outweigh the severe environmental loss that will occur.

2.4 The High Speed Rail Preparation Bill presents an important opportunity for parliamentarians to demonstrate full recognition of the grave environmental impact of the scheme and the need to provide adequate measures to mitigated and compensate for this in the Bill. We propose the following amendment is considered by the Bill Committee.

Clause 1, page 1, line 22 – after ‘property’ insert ‘and impacts on the natural environment’

c) Mitigation and compensation

2.5 We firmly believe, should HS2 go ahead, that a world class project receiving such high levels of public financial support needs to showcase world class mitigation. Sadly, that is not in evidence from the draft Environmental Statement. Its proposals on compensation for habitat loss do not take sufficient account of the Lawton Principles [3] on the importance of habitat networks and landscape scale action to secure a more resilient national woodland resource. That is despite these being enshrined in the Government's own Natural Environment White Paper.

2.6 We did however, very much welcome the statement made by the Under Secretary of State for Transport, Simon Burns, during the recent debate on Ancient Woodland and HS2, where he noted "Many of our remaining ancient woodlands are small, and there is generally a patchwork of fragmented sites in an intensive agricultural landscape. One of our objectives, which is very much in line with the recommendations that emerged from the Lawton report, is to take this opportunity to link fragments of ancient woodland, when practicable, through the planting of new woodland links. Natural England and the nature conservation NGOs have welcomed that approach, and I hope that it will be welcomed by hon. Members in the Chamber and beyond".

2.7 To ensure the HS2 scheme is underpinned by this type of world class mitigation and compensation, and to ensure that any replanting to be located in areas where both local people and wildlife will most benefit, we would propose the following amendment for consideration by the Committee.

Clause 1, page 1, line 22 – after this line insert the following

‘d) on providing comprehensive and proportionate mitigation and compensation measures that take into account the local value of habitats impacted on by the lines construction based on the Lawton Principles.’

5. Conclusion

5.1 Parliament is being asked to endorse a scheme which, by following the present route, will leave environmental destruction in its wake. We urge committee members to ensure that the high levels of public investment being sought will actually facilitate a scheme which better respects our natural heritage This means making every effort to avoid such loss and providing comprehensive and proportionate compensation measures that take into account the local value of ancient woodland, fully based on the Lawton Principles. We therefore urge Committee members to fully support our amendments and to help deliver a scheme of which Britain can be proud that has environmental responsibility at its core.

July 2013

[1] High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future - Decisions and Next Steps (Cm 8 247) and High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future - Phase Two: The route to Leeds, Manchester and beyond (Cm 8508) .

[2] Department for Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, Government Forestry Policy Statement, January 2013

[3] Department for Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, Making Space for Nature: A review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network , Chaired by Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, September 2010

Prepared 16th July 2013