The construction of the high speed rail link, which is continuing even during the coronavirus lockdown, requires many buildings and woodlands to be destroyed across the country, inevitably colliding with potential, and some would say existing, bat habitats.
A campaigner from the Anti-HS2 SOC (Save Our Countryside) group in Steeple Claydon said: “Between May and September there shouldn't be any felling of trees or disturbance of buildings where bats are raising their young.”
The Bucks Herald understands that HS2 has a licence to fell trees during May following risk assessments but many still insist that bats are being disturbed.
The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) said to The Bucks Herald: “Reports we have been receiving about potential disturbance and damage to bat roosts in trees during the maternity season is a cause for concern for BCT. We are investigating the matter as protecting maternity roosts from disturbance at this sensitive time of the year is particularly important.”
Though mitigation measures are in place, including planting new hedgerows and constructing man-made 'bat houses', some experts believe these are not fit-for-purpose.
In March this year the RSPB weighed in on the matter, writing to Secretary of State Grant Shapps and CEO of HS2 Mark Thurston. Emma Marsh, Director of RSPB England, wrote: “Much of the mitigation for bats in Buckinghamshire has been challenged by independent academic experts as inadequate and ineffective. For example, Bechstein’s bats are one of the UK’s rarest mammals and prefer mature woodland - newly planted hedgerows and woodlands will not help these animals.”
A spokesperson for the protesters in Wendover said: “The mitigation is that they provide alternate man-made roosts to replace what they will be destroying. Included in this are supposedly two and three storey bat houses that so far there's no evidence of.”
A HS2 spokesperson said to The Bucks Herald: “No trees supporting any bat maternity roosts are being felled in the maternity season. HS2 take its legal obligations seriously, and all our ecology work is carried out in accordance with the law. Licenses from Natural England ensure that we have the right safeguarding in place to protect wildlife species, including bats, and that all protections are met.
“All leading wildlife organisations agree that climate change is the biggest future threat to wildlife and habitats in the UK. By providing a cleaner, greener way to travel, HS2 will help cut the number of cars and lorries on our roads, cut demand for domestic flights, and help the country’s fight against climate change. We’d urge environmental groups to help us in getting people out of their cars, off planes and onto low-carbon, high speed rail.”
Campaigners in Buckinghamshire say that they plan on monitoring bat activity themselves going forward with newly acquired bat detectors.