HS2 and environmentalists face off at Jones Hill Wood over rare Barbastelle bats

Campaigners could face off with HS2 in the high court this week over rare bats in Jones Hill Woods.
The bats are protected by lawThe bats are protected by law
The bats are protected by law

HS2 said they had been unable to do any wildlife surveys in the area because of what they refer to as “illegal trespassing” on HS2 land at Jones Hill Wood.

They added that they had not confirmed any bat roosts (breeding, resting or sheltering places) present within the trees in Jones Hill Wood within HS2 land and illegal trespassers have interfered with our surveys over the last six months or so, adding: “now that trespassers have been evicted, we can carry out further bat surveys, and these have now started.”

However, The Barbastelle is a very special bat; it is on the widely respected International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List and has a very high level of legal protection in the UK.

Jones Hill WoodJones Hill Wood
Jones Hill Wood

An HS2 spokesperson said: “HS2 takes its legal obligations seriously, and all our ecology work is carried out in accordance with the law.

“It is designed to minimise disturbance to wildlife, including bats, in accordance with the HS2 Phase One Code of Construction Practice and all relevant wildlife legislation. If bat roosts are identified, licenses from Natural England will be sought to ensure that we have the right safeguarding in place.

“Professionally qualified environmental staff are on site during operations and all works are overlooked by an Ecological Clerk of Works.”

HS2 also lamented ‘reckless and violent protests’, saying they were dangerous to staff and a ‘total waste of police time and resources’.

However, campaigners say that their protests and resistance has been peaceful, and accused enforcement teams of being heavy handed.

Ecological consultants have been working with protesters to ensure that the rare bats stay protected and unharmed.

Rob Mileto, a specialist in protected species with 30 years’ experience in ecological consultancy, said: “The team were eager to share their findings with HS2 and wrote to them last Friday to prevent unnecessary harm. This was followed up with an official report, which was also distributed widely through Natural England.

“Natural England had already confirmed that day that HS2 Ltd had no licence in place to legally disturb Barbastelle bats or to damage or destroy their roosts. Indeed, Natural

England have now also confirmed that HS2 Ltd do not have a valid licence relating to any bat species at Jones’ Hill Wood, because they have not fulfilled the required registration of any licensed works there”.

During this time HS2 claim that trespassers have thrown urine, faeces, paint pots, tins of soup, smoke grenades, bird scaring rockets and stones at the High Court Enforcement team and HS2 workers, along with using physical and verbal abuse on many occasions. Anti-HS2 campaigners dispute this.

They added that “One officer was injured and treated by paramedics.”

24 people have been arrested since HS2 and the National Enforcement Team moved in to the woods.

Lawyers for Nature supported legal firm Leigh Day in writing and sending an official legal letter, on behalf of their client, to HS2 on Wednesday, stating that HS2 should “immediately halt works pending further investigation.”

Ecologist Kevin Hand MSC, MCIEEM, Course Director for educational charity the ACE Foundation, said: “I was delighted when my colleagues and I found the Barbastelle roost, but also apprehensive and well aware that tree felling and other disturbance would be very damaging to the bats.

“Since then HS2 have surrounded the trees with fences and there is 24 hour activity by security guards around them.

“They have positioned a powerful spotlight shining directly into the trees. Felling could start any day now”

Clare Walters, Woodland Ecologist told us: “The environmental protectors have been saying that there are Barbastelles here for a long time, as you can see in their video ‘Habitat not HS2’.

“They found seven species of bat present in the wood, including rare and protected roosts, at least three families of badgers, hazel dormice, one active fox den, 43 species of moth and countless species of insects and pollinators essential to the survival of an already dwindling countryside.

“Unfortunately, their findings have not been listened to until now. All ancient natural woodland should be seen as a national treasure and should be preserved.”

When asked to describe HS2’s impact on the ancient woodland, she replied: “Devastation, it’s like the Somme. They have destroyed the ancient woodland flora, the soil structure, the microbiome, and the drainage. Any hazel dormice going into hibernation will have been disturbed.

“It is not acceptable practice to use heavy machinery in wet conditions like this. There is clear government guidance on how to undertake work in an ancient woodland and every measure should be taken to avoid and reduce impact.”