Technology

HS2's ideological war against trees

Increasingly British people are standing up against the needless destruction of precious woodland habitat

HS2 don’t need to be pulverising this biodiversity hotspot. In fact, they might be breaking the terms of their licence just to get here.

This wood is part of Denham park, an area of protected nature reserve. To clear this ancient woodland, HS2 require a special permit from Natural England. The permit allows HS2 to develop the land – but only if there is no less ecologically-damaging alternative for their construction work. Such an alternative exists – and HS2 have known about for half a year.

This new location, proposed by the Hillingdon Green Party, would “avoid the need for any tracked roadway or bridges in Denham Country Park” – according to local Green Party member, Graham Lee – which would keep works out of the nature reserve.

Graham first raised doubts with HS2 back in May 2019. But instead of engaging with him, HS2 sent him round the houses – they sat on emails, played dumb and even tried to trap him in a kafkaesque beaurocratic loop demanding emails be forwarded endlessly between him, HS2 and the national grid. “Basically they do the biggest fobbing off exercise they can” says Graham, “[HS2 say] ‘we’ve already explained why we’re doing it the way we are, so basically go away.’”

So Graham went away – and found an alternative. The current HS2 plan isn’t for new track on this site (it’s over a mile from any new trainline) – instead HS2 want the land for a new electricity pylon. To build it, they’re clearing woodland for an access road and a car-park. Graham found that there was a better location for that new pylon, that didn’t require razing the woods, bridging rivers or crossing canals.

This solution would be cheaper for the taxpayer and better for the environment, but HS2 still tried to shrug Graham off. They shifted their reasoning – now they claimed that in fact, they needed to get to the site to remove an old pylon that’s currently there. But that old pylon was built and serviced using roads and canals that already exist – and it could be removed the same way. So still no need for new works.

Yet HS2 ignored all complaints and carried on felling up until earlier this month. Two weeks back, the government’s chief of construction, Sir Mark Worthington, stepped in and forced HS2 to hear Graham out.

So why are HS2 fighting so hard, risking their permit, and pissing off the government just to bulldoze a beloved woodland site? Graham is pretty cynical.

“The original [HS2] plans… had a long straight of roadway going right through Denham country Park.” That route happened to be the same as the proposed Heathrow spur – a stretch of railway that would have joined Heathrow airport directly to HS2.

“A lot of people think that that was their design – to turn that strip of land from a greenfield site to a brownfield site. Then they would easily be able to replace that with a railway.” This road would have made reaching HS2’s troublesome new pylon easy. The Heathrow spur was removed from the plans after fierce campaigning – Graham thinks perhaps they didn’t bother to take the pylon with them.

But whether it’s connivance, intransigence or just brute stupidity – HS2’s actions have devastating consequences. Larch – a protestor at the site – has seen first-hand what’s happening to the environment and the species that live there.

“[The river Colne] has eels and crayfish and loads of rare species in it and also loads of bats – I see bats every night, you just look out on the river…and also above the trees where we’re sleeping.”Colne valley is home to 17 of the UK’s 18 species of bat.

to come through and trash it unnecessarily is just outrageous. It’s heart-breaking.

Destroying bat roosts is illegal – permit or no – but when I asked to talk to HS2’s site ecologist, they refused to talk to me – in fact they wouldn’t even identify themselves. The HS2 helpline say they’ll look into it – but as of publication they had not replied. Sarah Green, a local activist, suspects they’re trying to cover up the crime.

“They’re felling the trees, they’re chipping them, they’re putting everything in these sacks and they’re moving them off the site, because they don’t want anyone looking – in case there’s bats – in case there’s actual wildlife in there that’s shredded.”

Graham will meet with HS2 at the end of this month, to try to talk some sense into them. But until then, the carnage continues.

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