HS2 – new report reveals exorbitant cost to nature

A new report published by The Wildlife Trusts today reveals, for the first time, the vast scale of the destruction and impact that HS2 will cause to nature.

A new report published by The Wildlife Trusts today reveals, for the first time, the vast scale of the destruction and impact that HS2 will cause to nature. 'What's the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much' is the most comprehensive assessment of the environmental damage that HS2 will cause. It assesses the broad range of impacts across all phases of HS2 on protected wildlife sites, species and landscape restoration projects.

Drawing on data from 14 Wildlife Trusts affected by the current plans, as well as other charities and landowners along the route (including RSPB, National Trust, Woodland Trust and Chilterns AONB), the report shows that HS2 will divide and destroy huge swathes of irreplaceable natural habitat and important protected wildlife sites up the length of England. This will cause permanent loss of nature, increased fragmentation of wild places, and the local extinction of endangered species.

Read the full report

Read the summary report

A rare willow tit standing on a tree branch

Willow tit by Adam Jones

The report finds that HS2’s current proposals will risk the loss of, or significantly impact:

Across the UK

  • 5  wildlife refuges of international importance, protected by UK law
  • 33  Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which are protected by UK law
  • 693  classified Local Wildlife Sites
  • 21  designated Local Nature Reserves
  • 26  large landscape-scale initiatives, including:
    • 4  Nature Improvement Areas awarded £1.7 million of public money
    • 22  Living Landscapes – partnership schemes to restore nature
  • 18  Wildlife Trust nature reserves – many are also designated wildlife sites
  • 108  ancient woodlands, an irreplaceable habitat
  • Other irreplaceable habitats such as veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows
  • Extensive further areas of wider natural habitat
  • Barn owls and endangered wildlife such as white-clawed crayfish, willow tit and lizard orchid. Rarities like the dingy skipper may become locally extinct.

In our region

The proposed high speed line would completely sever the east of the Great Manchester Wetlands Nature Improvement Area (NIA) from its west; and the Manchester Mosses Special Area of Conservation within it; further impeding nature’s recovery. The NIA is already severed north from south by the M62, the Liverpool to Manchester railway and the East Lancashire Road (A580); and east from west by the London to Glasgow railway, the M6, and the Liverpool to Manchester railway.

We've spent years restoring these precious remnants of ancient wild space to their former glory and healing the scars already wrought by human development. In fact, we're reintroducing a butterfly that has been extinct on the Manchester Mosses for more than 150 years. We don't want to see this work go to waste and the large heath disappear again amidst further fragmentation that will cut up the feeding, breeding and roaming grounds of truly unique creatures.

HS2 would also completely destroy a Local Wildlife Site: the ‘Ponds Near Lightshaw Lane’ Site of Biological Importance between Lowton and Abram. The large wetland is of county importance for large populations of breeding and overwintering wildfowl, while clusters of marl pit ponds support valuable populations of frogs, toads and newts, water-beetles, and breeding black darter dragonflies and emerald damselflies.

A spur proposed to run past Manchester Airport into a new terminus next to Manchester Piccadilly, would be tunnelled under the City of Manchester, so avoiding immediate impact on a chain of ancient and secondary woodlands stretching towards the city centre. However, this is assuming the tunnel ventilation shafts and temporary construction yards also avoid those woods. About a third of the ancient Davenport Green Wood, just across the boundary in Trafford Borough, is proposed to be destroyed to make way for the new Manchester Airport station, further degrading the already fragmented native woodland network.

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy says:

“The figures are grim and the reality is worse. The potential loss of so many really important wild places and the wildlife that depends on them has never been revealed before – nor has the damage that will be done to taxpayer-funded, nature recovery projects. HS2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it’s allowed to continue in its current form – it will damage the very ecosystems that provide a natural solution to the climate emergency.

HS2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it’s allowed to continue in its current form

“The data also shows that HS2 Ltd’s proposed mitigation and compensation is inadequate and the small measures that they have suggested are inappropriate – amateurish suggestions of paltry measures in the wrong places. Nature and our climate are already in big trouble and we must not make a dire situation even worse – that’s why we are calling on the Prime Minister to stop and rethink the entire development.”

The Wildlife Trusts believe that if HS2 has to go ahead, a new approach is needed – one that, in keeping with current government commitments, takes a greener approach which leaves the natural world in a better condition than it was before.

Nikki Williams adds:

The Government has pledged to create a Nature Recovery Network – a commitment to reverse wildlife’s decline by creating more habitat and green arteries that allow nature to spread and thrive once more. Developments like HS2 should not be a permanent barrier to wildlife – they should be designed to enhance, not harm, the environment. It’s not too late to stop and rethink now – before HS2 creates a scar that can never heal.”

Anne Selby, CEO of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, added: “We have had a huge leap of public awareness on climate change and ecology, declarations of climate change and ecological emergency across the country, strident demands that ‘we should do better’ from the next generation; and yet we are still failing to safeguard our natural assets and find a proper balance in decision making.

“HS2 is a fine example of Government failing to apply standards to its own projects that it expects others to comply with, such as no net loss to the environment. This plan will cause irreparable damage to 108 woods, peat bogs that are storing carbon, and hundreds of precious wildlife sites. This project is costing us the earth, quite literally. It is time to rethink HS2.”