£40m HS2 bat tunnel 'will come too late' for rare mammal colony in Aylesbury Vale

Plans for a £40 million ‘bat tunnel’ to protect a population of rare bats in woodland near Buckingham from HS2 trains hurtling past their habitat were announced last week.

By Hannah Richardson
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 11:21 am
Updated Thursday, 21st April 2022, 11:45 am

But Buckinghamshire’s wildlife trust says the tunnel will come too late for the colony of Bechstein’s bats in Sheephouse Wood, near Calvert.

Construction of the high-speed rail line is set to take place alongside the ancient woodland, a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest where the rare species reside.

Bechstein’s bats are one of Britain’s rarest resident mammals, classified as near threatened on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

A Bechstein's Bat at Finem Woods near Calvert. Picture by Toby Thorne of the North Bucks Bat Group

Last week, it was announced that plans for a ‘bat tunnel’ for the stretch of HS2 line near Sheephouse Wood had gone out to tender.

Trade publication Construction Enquirer reported: “Procurement has started for a £40m-plus bat protection tunnel structure on a stretch of the HS2 route in Buckinghamshire.

“The arched structure will span four tracks – two HS2 lines as well as two East West Rail lines – and will be the first of its kind in the world over a railway.”

But the Bucks, Berks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) said the expensive mitigation measures would come too late for the bats.

Matthew Stanton, head of planning and advocacy at BBOWT, said: “Bechstein’s Bats are one of the rarest species of UK bat, found in the ancient woodlands of the Bernwood Forest area.

"The HS2 line severs key routes used by the bats for foraging and commuting which will have an impact on the health of the population.

"Whilst mitigation has been proposed, it will not be in place until after significant damage will have already been done to the area and bat populations potentially affected.”

An HS2 spokesperson said: “The protection structure at Sheephouse Wood – which was designed following extensive consultation with leading bat experts – will keep bats away from passing trains and allows HS2 to meet the strict environmental legislation protecting Bechstein bats and avoid harming them and other bat species, both during construction and operation.

“A number of different options were looked at for this structure during the design process and, working closely with Natural England, this one was judged to provide the required protection and at the best value. ”