10 November 2016
New controversy breaks out over HS2 ancient woodland destruction
Ancient woodland that sits in the path of the controversial HS2 high speed rail link is "irreplaceable", according to a report by a government conservation agency.
The destruction is sparking outrage after environmental body Natural England published its review, warning that ancient woodland should be removed from the net losses of a biodiversity metric, as its inclusion "gives the impression that it is tradable or replaceable".
The report says HS2 Ltd must create 30 hectares of new woodland for every hectare lost to effectively compensating for unavoidable losses of areas that have been continuously wooded since 1600.
The current metric uses a ratio of around five hectares created for each hectare lost.
However, the Department for Transport (DfT) has rejected the findings, saying that "given the evidential basis is lacking, this part of the report should be seen as a stimulus for debate".
The high-speed link between London, Birmingham and the North, will route approximately 60km through Buckinghamshire, from the Colne Valley to Turweston and Mixbury in the north of the county.
Welcoming the findings by Natural England, conservation charity The Woodland Trust has responded angrily to the DfT's statement.
Beccy Speight, the trust's chief executive, said: " Natural England are the expert advisers to the Government on the natural environment, so it seems inappropriate that DfT should question the expertise and experience of the Government's own statutory advisory body on matters of environmental protection."
The Woodland Trust estimates around 900 hectares (2,200 acres) of new woodland will need to be created to replace 30 hectares of ancient woodland (74 acres) lost in phase one of the scheme, from London to the West Midlands.
Ms Speight added: "You can't achieve 'no net loss of biodiversity' if you're destroying irreplaceable ancient woodland - it's impossible.
"This report is clarification that HS2 has failed on its key objective of 'no net loss of biodiversity' and that this project will be to the detriment of the natural environment."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We agree with the vast majority of the recommendations in the report.
"However, Natural England admit that there is very little evidence to support the recommendation to create 30 hectares of woodland for every one lost in building HS2, and we therefore cannot accept it."
He said the railway avoids ancient woodlands wherever possible and the Chiltern Tunnel extension would protect several more hectares of woods, while HS2 Ltd was providing 150 hectares of new woodland and establishing a £5 million fund for woodland schemes.