Report accuses HS2 of wildly underestimating its impact on Warwickshire's nature - The Leamington Observer

Report accuses HS2 of wildly underestimating its impact on Warwickshire's nature

Leamington Editorial 14th Feb, 2023   0

A DAMNING new report has revealed HS2 Ltd got its nature figures wildly wrong.

The report, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, shows “fundamental flaws” in the way HS2 Ltd – the organisation behind the controversial high speed rail link – assessed the ‘value of nature’, and the amount of natural habitats to be destroyed, along the construction path of HS2 in Warwickshire and beyond.

The report found that Phase 1 – which covers 140 miles of track between London and the West Midlands – will cause at least 7.9 times more nature loss than accounted for by HS2 Ltd. This amounts to 17 per cent less nature present after construction than there was before building started.

HS2 Ltd, the report states, used its own modified ‘accounting tool’ to assess nature loss on the route, despite a 2016 recommendation from Natural England to introduce a specific metric for nature compensation. As a result, existing habitats such as woodlands, watercourses and hedgerows were frequently recorded as lower quality than up-to-date data would suggest.

The report concludes that figures released by HS2 Ltd in 2017, 2019 and in 2021 are ‘wholly unreliable’ and do not reflect the full extent of nature loss along the route.

This period of construction included controversial works at South Cubbington and Crackley Woods in Warwickshire.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust said Phase 1 will cut a swathe across Warwickshire, and work has already had devastating effects on wildlife in the south of the county. The track and associated lineside fencing will severely damage connectivity across the landscape, meaning that wildlife including bats, deer, and many other mammals will have fewer natural corridors for movement and foraging.

The lack of provision of green bridges for crossing points over the line will exacerbate this loss of connectivity.

Bats and birds depend upon connected woodlands and hedgerows for food, shelter and nesting sites.

WWT is extremely concerned that losses of important wildlife habitats, such as woodlands, grasslands and hedgerows, will go unchallenged due to the undervaluing of nature uncovered in the report.

Ed Green, chief executive of WWT, said: “This new evidence is damning and reveals a host of inaccuracies that are built into HS2 Ltd’s current approach. Our report exposes the absurdity of allowing HS2 Ltd to self-regulate without proper transparency and independent oversight. The company needs to be held to account by the Government for its failings.

“HS2 Ltd must correct its mapping and errors in its figures and make all its new data publicly available. This vast infrastructure project is taking a wrecking-ball to wildlife and communities are in despair at losing the wild places – the woods, meadows and wetlands that they love – they will never get these back. So HS2 Ltd must repair nature in a way that’s commensurate with the magnitude of the damage being caused.

“The scale of errors means HS2 Ltd needs to provide far more nature compensation than it’s currently offering because it has seriously underestimated the impacts to biodiversity. We want to see a minimum of 10 per cent biodiversity net gain along every phase of the route. This is surely the absolute bare minimum that HS2 Ltd should be offering after all the destruction and heartbreak it has caused.”

An HS2 spokesperson said: ” Our data is based on extensive surveys by ecologists on huge areas of land. HS2 works with independent environmental organisations to verify our data but the Wildlife Trusts have refused to meet despite many requests. In doing so, they are opposing new zero carbon, public transport.

“HS2 will not only deliver the country’s largest environmental programme, planting seven million trees, it will get more cars and lorries off the road and reduce domestic flying which is critical in tackling climate change.”

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