How will HS2 affect wildlife? Ancient woodland said to have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox is set to be destroyed to make way for the High Speed 2 railway this autumn. Is the government’s high-speed train link merely progress that should be embraced or an environmental catastrophe?

How will HS2 affect wildlife?

Dahl was a regular visitor to Jones Hill Wood in Buckinghamshire. The wood is dominated by beech trees. Its unusually dense canopy allows moss and shade-tolerant plants to thrive in the open glades and it is home to bats, badgers, tawny owls and – of course – foxes.

Photo by Yuriy Chemerys on Unsplash

Now almost half this unique habitat will be lost.

Can you move a wood?

Jones Hill Wood is one of 20 ancient woodlands – spanning Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire and totalling 19.45 hectares – HS2 contractors will attempt to translocate from 1 October.

‘Translocation’ is the moving of woodland soil from one place to another in the hope the woodland will regrow.

However, there’s little evidence of its success. Natural England guidance clearly states an “ancient woodland ecosystem cannot be moved”.

‘Every inch of soil in an ancient woodland is precious. When you consider ancient woodland is irreplaceable, accounts for just 2.4% of land cover in the UK, and is probably the richest habitat we have, this will be devastating for the myriad species that rely on it for survival’

Luci Ryan, lead policy adviser for infrastructure at the Woodland Trust
A sign and banners are displayed at the entrance to Crackley Woods Protection Camp on 24th August 2020 in Kenilworth, United Kingdom. Anti-HS2 activists continue to protest against and attempt to prevent or delay works in connection with the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link from a series of camps along the Phase One route from Euston to north of Birmingham. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Stuff of memories

In addition to the loss of one of the UK’s rarest habitats, there’s an emotional loss. Many of us have grown up with Fantastic Mr Fox, hidden with him in his burrow, triumphed over those nasty farmers and feasted with his friends – the badgers, moles, rabbits and weasels. Our children are doing the same. The story, of course, will live on. The wood will not.

What are the arguments for and against HS2?

For

  • It will bridge the north-south divide, slashing journey times to the capital
  • It may boost the UK economy
  • It could be good for the environment, opening up space on the existing rail network for freight and taking hundreds of HGVs per hour off the roads

Against

  • Academics disagree over whether high-speed rail helps or hinders deprived regions, suggesting it may in fact suck more wealth to the capital
  • The demolition of homes and damage to rural England is costly and disruptive. More than 600 homes will be bulldozed and another 340 will be cut off from their wider neighbourhood. Infrastructure supporting the line will be built on 250 acres of greenbelt land. The line will slice through sites of special scientific interest
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