Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has called on a halt to the destruction of all ancient woodlands in the path of HS2 today, the Bucks Herald learns.
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has today ordered that removals of ancient woodlands for HS2 be stopped during the independent review into the project - unless they are shown to be absolutely necessary to avoid major cost and schedule impacts, should the scheme proceed as planned.
The Transport Secretary told HS2 Ltd to review its ancient woodlands clearance programme – and assess what removals can be halted until after the examination of HS2, led by Doug Oakervee, has reported in autumn.
He recognised the concerns of local residents and campaigners that clearing ancient woodland is irreversible.
The Transport Secretary told HS2 Ltd today that these removals will only be allowed during Oakervee’s work if they are shown to be absolutely necessary to prevent major cost and schedule impacts.
HS2 Ltd will continue with other important preparatory works which, if delayed, would have a damaging impact on cost and schedule if HS2 were to continue.
Grant Shapps said: "There is no sense in hiding the challenges HS2 faces, or masking the difficult decisions that need to be taken.
"So, as Douglas Oakervee’s review continues, we must take a sensible approach and recognise that some works simply cannot be undone later.
"Having listened to the concerns of affected residents and Parliamentary colleagues, I have ordered HS2 Ltd to consider what works affecting ancient woodland clearances can be delayed for the duration of the review.
"This ensures we avoid irreversible decisions without major impacts on cost and schedule. HS2 may be a complex project overall, but I think this request is just common sense."
Responding to today's announcement that ancient woodland removal will be paused on the first phase of HS2 pending the outcome of the current review, Woodland Trust ecologist Luci Ryan said:
"This is a welcome step in the right direction for our ancient woodlands, but unfortunately these woods remain threatened as HS2 can still decide for themselves whether works continue or not. Until the outcome of the review all ancient woodlands should be off limits full stop. Our welcome is therefore cautious.
"We thank all our supporters who have joined us in putting so much pressure on Government to affect this change of heart. The fact the Secretary of State recognises that clearing irreplaceable ancient woodland is irreversible is a huge step in the right direction. We hope HS2 Ltd use this time to consider engineering solutions that could save these irreplaceable habitats."
"Ancient woodland is one of our most precious natural habitats. It cannot be moved. It cannot be replaced. It accounts for just 2.4 per cent of land in the UK. Ancient woodlands are highly complex ecological communities that have developed over centuries.
"The needless loss of these ancient sites will be catastrophic for the environment. Not only will we lose the woods, but the many species of flora, fauna and fungi which rely on it for survival are at risk too. Rare birds such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, the willow tit and the wood warbler, bats, butterflies, dormice, otters, badgers and hedgehogs are all threatened."
At least 108 ancient woods will be affected by HS2 as a whole. There will be direct loss to at least 63 ancient woods totalling 57.99ha and damage due to noise, vibration, changes to lighting and dust to a further 47 woods lying on or near the construction boundaries .