Government rejects call for better biodiversity protection for HS2 line
- Transport ,
- Ecosystems ,
- Biodiversity ,
- Natural resources
A recommendation by the environmental audit committee (EAC) to increase protection for 500 wildlife habitats likely to be affected by the proposed new HS2 rail line has been rejected by the government.
The EAC’s report on HS2, released in April, called for a ring-fenced budget to pay environmental compensation for ancient woodlands destroyed by the rail line and for more ambitious objectives for enhancing biodiversity along the route, rather than a “no net biodiversity loss”, which is currently proposed by the government.
In its response (released on 18 June), the government says it does not believe that a ring-fenced budget for environmental protection would be appropriate and that a wider budget would enable the appropriate funds to be assigned as necessary. Using the HS2 biodiversity metrics to calculate how to replace damaged ancient woodland, the government is proposing to “mark down” those that are of “variable quality” and isolated woodlands that are not connected to other high quality habitats.
Chair of the committee, Joan Walley described the government’s response as “a wasted opportunity”, adding that the enormous budget for the scheme could provide more gains than losses for the environment. “If ancient woodlands and other critical habitats will be lost, they should at least be much more fully compensated for than currently planned by the government’s offsetting system,” said the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North.
HS2 will connect London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham and passes through some of the most important wildlife habitats and green corridors in the country. An analysis of the proposed HS2 route, carried out by the Wildlife Trusts, suggests that around 500 wildlife sites will be directly or indirectly affected by the project. This total includes 10 sites of special scientific interest, 150 local wildlife sites, 43 ancient woods and nine nature reserves.
According to he Wildlife Trusts, constructing the rail line will damage and destroy more wildlife habitat and populations of wild species than will be replaced, resulting in a net loss of biodiversity. “An opportunity to demonstrate real ambition to restore nature along the length of the route and help heal blighted communities and damaged countryside has been missed,” commented Stephen Trotter, director at the Wildlife Trusts.
The government has accepted EAC’s recommendation for an independent body to monitor the output from the biodiversity no net loss calculations and will decide whether to appoint Natural England or local authorities to take on the oversight role.
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