Chris Packham says Government have 'failed at the first hurdle' to stop HS2 ancient woodlands destruction
Wildlife enthusiast Chris Packham revealed today the government have failed to reassure him that ancient woodlands will be protected in the wake of HS2 works.
In September, the Government said that clearances of ancient woodlands for HS2 must be paused until an independent review of the £88bn high speed line is delivered.
However HS2 appeared to have ignored that advice, and were preparing to clear the South Cubbington Wood until they were intercepted by protesters.
Chris Packham tweeted yesterday: "I've sought to get assurance through legal means that no unnecessary felling of our ancient woodlands will take place before the decision is made.
"However, I've failed to get that assurance.
"But what they did say, last Friday was I would be told in advance of any potential felling of ancient woodland.
"I'm afraid they fell at the first hurdle.
"Yesterday contractors at South Cubbington woods (Leamington Spa) with the intention of felling ancient woodlands
"I've sent more letters today demanding a reply and at 4 o'clock this afternoon contractors returned.
"However thankfully, demonstrators were there to thwart any attempts to damage our treasured ancient woodlands.
Yesterday evening the Government legal department gave protesters a stay of execution.
Chris added: "They said if we back off for 24 hours they will communicate with contractors and no felling will take place.
"I have to salute the brave demonstrators out their in the cold and wet, braving the conditions.
"I'm doing everything I can through legal means, to give you every support I possibly can.
"However, at some stage in the future we might need wider public support to fight this on a legal basis.
"At this point at least out their in the dark the woodlands and those people protesting are safe and secure."
In Steeple Claydon, work is set to begin on a 500 acre de-vegetation project, the largest on Phase 1 of the line.
It has been estimated that 150-200 mature trees, mainly oaks with an average age of over 100 years old are set to be destroyed.
HS2 have said that this site does not have the density to constitute a woodland.
Councillor Angela Macpherson has been campaigning for the work to stop, and wrote a letter to Grant Shapps.
She wrote: "You will be aware of the 500 acres at Steeple Claydon that HS2 plans to de-veg in the coming weeks. It is the largest de-veg site on Phase 1 of the line and this huge site stands to be dug up to bare mud, in its entirety, by the end of the year. Work will start in October.
"I imagine that you hoped that your statement on Ancient Woodlands would protect the mature and significant trees on the site. Sadly, your statement has had no affect on HS2’s plans at all. HS2 point out that the 150-200 mature trees, mainly oaks and with an average age over 100 years old, do not have the density to constitute a Woodland. (Although there are patches of clear Ancient Woodland, they would make up less than 10% of the trees effected.)
"We believe that your statement was designed to protect natural and environmental features that would take generations to replace. This 500 acre site is just such a landscape and the most drastic de-veg scheme that HS2 have in the Enabling Works programme.
"We would like to add that we are also appalled that this work is due to start before there is any sign of the landowners being paid. Several landowners are affected by this work yet - although they have all been promised that they will receive payment time and time again - there is absolutely no sign of it coming.
"To destroy 500 acres, leaving permanent scars, when the review is ongoing and before the landowners have been paid, will we fear, cause such damage to the trust in HS2 that there will never be a chance of future successful community engagement relationship.
"Mr Shapps, we do not want to get over excited by the potential conclusions of the review, but we would guess that right now, many options are in play, some of which might well save this enormous area of countryside.
"We do not ask you to make a public statement. We are not trying to make political or environmental points. However, if there is any doubt at all as to the future of the countryside at Steeple Claydon, please can you ensure that HS2 do not make irreversible environmental damage when they cannot be sure that it is required."
The letter was cosigned by councillors Charlie Clare and John Chilver.