High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill

Written evidence from Chris Damant (HSR 32)

Draft Environmental Statement

Ecological Comments (1st Draft)

The current Draft Environmental Statement (May 2013) is unsupported by any substantive ecological survey data that would normally be expected under EU and UK legislation and published guidance and therefore renders the current statement as no more than a token gesture, consequently under valuing the potential direct and cumulative impacts of the scheme on the environment including protected sites, habitats and species.

With specific regard to the sections of the proposed scheme covered by Bernwood Forest (CFA12 Waddesdon and Quainton & CFA13 Calvert, Steeple Claydon, Twyford and Chetwode)

The proposed scheme, in the absence of detailed design information fails to recognise the serious engineering constraints in this area, whether simple geology or hydrology, through to designated sites (heritage and ecology), existing landuse use including the Calvert tip site, Calvert Jubilee lake, roads, public rights of way and railway line, through to pre existing proposals for an incinerator plant (approved), East West rail link and Aylesbury extension. These constraints, compounded by the inflexibility of the proposed HS2 line to vary its alignment both horizontally and vertically, mean that in the absence of detailed surveys the true impacts of the scheme cannot be fully or adequately assessed. This remains particularly significant with regard to the Governments responsibility for the strict interpretation of the Conservation (Habitats and Species) Regulations 2010 (as amended) including derogation tests (overriding public interest, no satisfactory alternative and favourable conservation status), together with the requirements for Strategic Environmental Assessment.

The draft EIA fails to address cumulative impacts of the HS2 project and other proposed developments in the area which will have significant potential for increased impacts through additional severance, fragmentation and overall lighting, noise and disturbance impacts.

The impact assessment equally fails to qualify the time scales of the assessment in terms of temporary impacts for which compensation may take considerable time to be allowed to develop. The creation of new broadleaved woodland cannot adequately replace ancient semi-natural woodland or be expected to deliver for a considerable (not temporary) period of time the characteristics of "old growth woodland" that key species such as Bechstein’s bat or key invertebrate species rely upon.

Mitigation and compensation

The proposals for bat mitigation and compensation remain weak and unjustified when considered against current published research. This combined with the wider impacts on biodiversity and the landscape of Bernwood Forest need to be more fully addressed and set out with clear and unambiguous statements of what will be delivered, how, and by when including provision for long term management.

The reliance on a limited number of green bridges and underpasses, focused on the existing access/crossings network is at best opportunist and without reliable evidence to indicate the appropriateness to mitigate for impacts. The proposed green bridges remain conservative in size and scale to the potential impact, without detailed design appear to function as both access and wildlife corridors which further reduces their mitigation purpose. No consideration appears to be given to the overall impacts (land take) resulting from the provision of green bridges including potential impacts on existing ancient woodland sites including SSSI’s and species.

The reliance on barriers to direct the movement of bats and other wildlife (?) remains speculative and without detailed design proposals including long term maintenance (in perpetuity) is insufficiently robust to address the potentially significant impacts of mortality caused by impacts or disruption through air turbulence.

The scale of the proposed new planting within the area is also insufficient in size and scale to mitigate for the impacts of severance and fragmentation between habitats for all wildlife in an area that is not only notable for bats, but includes significant invertebrate, amphibian, reptile, mammal and avian interest. The proposals also fail to address the impacts of the scheme on the SSSI network in the area which will further sever important links between the network of ancient semi-natural woodlands, disused and very low use railways lines and semi-natural grasslands. Significantly this will impact on notable important network of sites for species in the area including nationally important populations of bats including Bechstein’s and invertebrates including black hairstreak, leading to the high risk of genetic isolation of populations.

The proposed planting scheme also partially duplicates the proposed incinerator scheme already subject to approved planning consent suggesting that either insufficient research has been carried out or that planting is being double accounted.

The attention on woodlands and bats equally underplays the other significant habitat and species losses in the area for which there is little substantive evidence due to inadequate survey data.

Monitoring of the impacts of the scheme is unstated. No indication of what habitats or species will be monitored or thresholds for measuring effectiveness are provided. Given the potential impacts on UK and EU designated sites and species for which there is an ongoing obligation/commitment to maintain the Favourable Conservation Status this not acceptable. Where impacts are shown to have a negative impact or result in the significant ability of EU species to survive and breed it must be anticipated that further mitigation or removal of these impacts maybe anticipated under EU regulations.

HS2 Ltd stated in June 2011 "we would certainly make sure we avoid any negative impact on the Bechstein’s bat", further that they will "carry out a full Environmental Impact Assessment, alongside detailed design work". The current draft statement and shallow design specifications neither represent a full EIA or detailed design work, with little evidence of how any negative impacts on Bechstein’s bat will be avoided.

The draft EIA remains premature and incomplete and fails to meet the standard expected under UK and EU law, setting a poor example for the Government. It therefore remains open to legal challenge.

July 2013

Prepared 19th July 2013