HS2 will cut through wildlife habitats

Plans for HS2, a multi-billion pound, high speed railway line from London to Manchester, are creating huge concerns for conservationists in the North West.

As a local draft environmental consultation closes today, rare peat bogs in the region appear to be under threat.

The route of the 225mph HS2 line cuts across vitally important mosslands, affecting wildlife networks that have taken decades to create.

HS2 Ltd’s own figures for the latest phase of the route, 2b, show, nationally, it will have a devastating impact on important places for wild plants and animals. 12 highly protected areas for nature conservation (known as SSSIs), 111 Local Wildlife Sites and 19 ancient woodlands will be seriously damaged.

The Wildlife Trusts are challenging HS2 to create and restore more wild places than are being destroyed and damaged by the construction of the route, and to save irreplaceable habitats like wetlands and ancient woodlands from destruction. And the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside believes that developers must come up with answers, as the line is planned to cut deep into peat bogs that are homes for wildlife and a store for carbon, keeping an important check on global warming.

Living Landscapes Development Manager, Jo Kennedy, said: “The Great Manchester Wetlands Nature Improvement Area (NIA) covers some 48,000 hectares between Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

“It has objectives to improve species mobility through restoring rare wetland habitats, increasing connectivity by creating stepping stones and corridors between habitats and populations, and optimising the ecosystem services provided by all habitats. The route of HS2 Phase 2b runs roughly north to south through this landscape, directly impacting on our ability to achieve these objectives.  

“HS2 will fragment the NIA, reducing the size of habitats and species populations by the permanent creation of a physical barrier that reduces the ability of species to move across the landscape to escape the pressures of climate change and development, or to expand population sizes.

“There will also be temporary and permanent adverse impacts on habitats and species - loss of Sites of Biological Importance and Local Wildlife Sites -  during construction and operation.

“At a time when the Great Manchester Wetlands partnership has just started a species reintroduction programme to restore plants and animals to the area, HS2 is a major impact that could adversely affect the success of this project.”

A reintroduced large heath butterfly after release

The large heath butterfly is one of the species we're reintroducing in the Great Manchester Wetlands. Photo: Steve Rawlins - Chester Zoo

The Manchester Mosses Special Area of Conservation is designated for its importance in being the last remnants of the former extensive Chat Moss lowland raised bog complex.

Jo said: “While most of the bog in this area has been converted to agriculture or lost to development, several examples have survived as degraded raised bog; the largest and best preserved examples, Risley Moss, Astley and Bedford Mosses and Holcroft Moss, make up the component Site of Special Scientific Interest of the Manchester Mosses SAC.

“The route of HS2 Phase 2b bisects the connection between Risley Moss and Holcroft Moss. If the line is set on an embankment, this will create a physical barrier to species movement, resulting in habitat fragmentation and a threat to the integrity of the entire SAC. We advocate for a viaduct to be the preferred means of carrying the route across the SAC.”

The Wildlife Trusts Senior Living Landscapes Officer, Katherine Hawkins, said: “It is unacceptable that HS2 has only committed to ‘no net loss’ for biodiversity. That’s not good enough, nature needs a net gain from HS2. “ 

“Wildlife is in serious trouble: more than half of the UK's species are in decline. This huge and expensive £56bn project will do yet more damage. We want to get the best deal for nature and we’re urging HS2 to take more action to help wildlife recover by creating and restoring wild places on a landscape scale; establishing a wide ribbon of wildlife-rich spaces either side of the line, with new natural space for people and wildlife, alongside farming and other land uses. This would support the Government’s own policies aimed at reversing decades of decline.

 “HS2’s draft environment statement for this latest phase of the route is incomplete; there isn’t enough detail, there are significant omissions, it lacks sufficient proposals to compensate for nature's loss and there is very little information about the impact on species. On the evidence we’ve been given, this phase will result in an unacceptable level of damage to wildlife along the route.

“We want to see landscape scale plans for nature’s recovery, and we’ve shown in our Greener Vision report how this could be achieved for much less than 1% of HS2’s original budget; creating and restoring large areas of habitat and providing new access to nature for people. HS2 are proposing a green corridor alongside the track, but this is far from adequate. By taking a more strategic approach to identifying where to restore the natural environment, HS2 could make a real contribution towards securing nature’s recovery. “