HS2 has been accused of ‘developing its own version of what ‘green’ looks like’ by wildlife chiefs.
The firm building the controversial high speed rail line has set out plans to deliver a ‘green corridor’ – consisting of new wildlife habitats, native woodlands and community spaces with the aim of helping integrate the line into the surrounding landscape and environment.
The London to Birmingham line will stretch for 216km – of which 54km will cut through the heart of Warwickshire – but the firm’s eco plans have been criticised by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust (WWT).
A trust spokesman said: “This marks another missed opportunity to secure a real legacy for wildlife from HS2. HS2 Ltd aims to secure ‘no net loss of biodiversity’, which means if the route destroys important wildlife sites then HS2 will look to recreate equivalent sites elsewhere.
“However, along the entire route there are 40 hectares of ancient woodland that will be destroyed by the scheme. This type of woodland, which has existed for over 400 years, is unique and irreplaceable.
“HS2’s commitment to plant seven million new trees cannot replicate this habitat. In fact, in some areas it is not appropriate to plant trees as the habitat being destroyed is not woodland.
“Where the route is destroying grassland, HS2 would be better placed to create wild flower meadows and benefit pollinators rather than creating new areas of plantation woodland. A large proportion of what is described in the ‘green corridor’ vision is mitigation required by law rather than going beyond that to create a lasting positive impact for wildlife.
“Despite widespread engagement from organisations such as The Wildlife Trusts, HS2 is operating in isolation, not listening to consultation, and developing its own version of what ‘green’ looks like. Advice from specialist organisations based on scientific evidence is being overlooked and the resulting ‘green corridor’ which is proposed will miss a once in a lifetime opportunity to leave wildlife in a better position than before the project started.”
WWT is also concerned at the future management of any wildlife habitat created.
The spokesman added: “One of the key reasons for the decline in UK wildlife is lack of appropriate management of wildlife sites. Without a long term commitment to managing the new habitat HS2 looks set to provide a short term PR story, which, as the years pass will leave wildlife along the ‘green corridor’ hanging on for survival.
“Much of the land where the new ‘green corridor’ is being created is on farm land and HS2 has not been able to provide answers as to who will manage it once the work is complete, or how that management work will be funded.
“Farmers cannot be expected to pick up the cost for this ongoing maintenance and HS2 doesn’t seem to have factored the cost of this into its own plans.”
But HS2 Minister Nusrat Ghani defended the firm’s ‘green corridor’ plan.
She said: “Our unique and beautiful countryside is one of our nation’s greatest assets. As we deliver the new high speed railway our country needs, for economic growth and better journeys for passengers, it is imperative we set a new standard for preserving, protecting and enhancing our diverse woodlands and wildlife.
“HS2’s green corridor is one of the most significant tree-planting and habitat creation projects ever undertaken in this country. To support that vision, the government is providing an additional £2million for the Woodland Fund, to support native species and help more people enjoy more new green spaces than before.”