HS2 Was Never Going to Destroy 108 Ancient Woodlands

You may have heard about High-Speed Rail 2, and you may have heard that it was going to (or already had) destroyed 108 ancient woodlands. That is not true. It was never true, not even before the Tories slashed the plans for Hs2 to pieces.

HS2 Was Never Going to Destroy 108 Ancient Woodlands
The "108 ancient woodlands destroyed for HS2" line has never been true, but has become a common mantra for people concerned about HS2.

You may have heard about High-Speed Rail 2, and you may have heard that it was going to (or already had) destroyed 108 ancient woodlands. That is not true. It was never true, not even before the Tories slashed the plans for Hs2 to pieces.

I'd like to explain the history of this claim, because ever since the Sycamore Gap there has been an increase in this lie being repeated. As somebody who cares a lot about ancient woodland restoration I want to make sure people are armed with the facts, and focusing on the massive threats that are not being challeneged enough.

Tweet showing a aerial photo of HS2 passing through Cubbington Wood, and the Sycamore Gap tree that was cut down illegally. "One photo shows a single, solitary ancient sycamore tree destroyed in an act of eco vandalism that has rightly caused outrage. The other photo shows one of 108 ancient, native woodlands destroyed to make way for HS2. Can we get as angry about this too?"

It all started with a report the Wildlife Trust wrote in  which suggested 108 ancient woodlands would risk loss or significant impact.

The Woodland Trust reported this as "108 ancient woodlands threatened". Threatened is a term Woodland Trust use to mean a lot of different hings. It can mean "goes vaguely near" or "will be damaged by dust during construction phase" or "completely removed", which is a pretty wide scale.

People unaware of what "threatened" meant to the Woodland Trust read that to mean "destroyed", and that spread around the internet like wildfire.

Several times on Twitter I have seen Woodland Trust trying to explain, but the website still has 108 ancient woodlands threatened and it has said "recalculating" for years whilst confusion continues.

The Woodland Trust website still mentions 108 ancient woodlands, despite the route being redirected based on their own feedback, and getting bits chopped off it by the Conservative government.

Buried in various articles on the Guardian and left-leaning media the sublty of the different between threatened ("indirectly impacted") and destroyed is explained, but this statistic never seems to pick up. Who has heard anything about "63 ancient woodlands" in relation to HS2?

Shortly after this article, RSPB England got got mixed up between "threatened" as "destroyed", which as far as I can tell has never been corrected or retracted in any way, despite clearly never being true at all.

From then everyone was talking about 108 ancient woodlands "destroyed" by HS2. Even Caroline Lucas from the Green Party was talking about them being destroyed, taking that false claim even further into the mainstream.

Where is this confusion coming from. Was HS2 going to "impact", "threaten", or "destroy" 108 ancient woodlands?

If you look at the list of ancient woodlands "impacthreatenastroyed" then here's one.

It's 3.5km from HS2.

On the opposite side of the M6...

This map shows the distance between a small ancient woodland (that has a road running through it) to HS2, and about half way there's the M6, a massive noisy 4-lane "smart motorway".

Since the original plans, Woodland Trust and other campaigners got the ancient woodland impact of HS2 Phase 1 down from directly destroying 29 hectares of ancient woodland to 20.6 hectares, which is absolutely amazing work! This involved line redjustments and some more tunnels, which did increases costs substantially but had to be done.

HS2 site readied for tunnelling beneath ancient woodland | New Civil Engineer
Midlands-based construction firm Collins Earthworks has finished excavating the north portal site of Long Itchington Wood Tunnel, ready for the TBM’s

Saving 10 hectares of ancient woodland is brilliant, but whether you think that was enough or not depends. The UK has 609,990 hectares of ancient woodland, and I don't want to lose any of it uneccessarily, but 20.6 hectares is 0.003% of our ancient woodland being swapped for critical green infrastructure...

Whether you agree with me or not, I don't want to sound calous but... it's already gone.

The earthworks where a strip of Cubbington Wood used to stand.

How much anicent woodland have we lost?

The Ancient Woodland Summary Report of November 2022 states "As of 2022, approximately 20.4 hectares of ancient woodland has been felled and an addition 0.2 hectares of ancient woodland is still forecast to be felled during construction."

The ancient woodland felled for Phase 1 is spread over 25 ancient woodlands, but most of them are not being destroyed.

For starters, the family who continue to manage Cubbington Wood - the third largest woodland directly impacted - take great offense to being told their woodland has been destroyed.

Secondly, they've tried to cut the bare minimum to get the line through even when there is a direct impact.

Where an ancient woodland is described as affected, in many cases this means a small section of an overall woodland is affected. On Phase One, 88% of the total area of the 25 ancient woodlands will remain intact and untouched by HS2

There's more than just ancient woodland to discuss, but hopefully we can all agree that it's time to put the "108 ancient woodlands destroyed" thing to bed, right?

Next Steps

Losing that ancient woodland, impacting all these habitats, doing all the earthworks, tunnels, building bridges, etc then scrapping everything but London to Birmingham is the current plan, and that's absolutely ridiculous. It won't deliver the nationwide benefits of increasing capacity on existing lines by moving intercitiy services to dedicated tracks, so there was no point dong any of this.

Now, whatever you previously thought about HS2, the only sensible green/Green position can be to support HS2 in Full. Birmingham to Manchester. Birmingham to Leeds. The Golborne Link to enable services up to Scotland. We need to be building all of it.

I hope that we can at least get The Green Party to agree to change their stance of HS2 and switch from oppose to support when it comes up for debate at Green Party Conference this weekend. The Green Party support a north-south high-speed line in princple, just not this one specifically due to the impact to habitats along the route... Well at this point I think it's far too late to get any other routes designed, planned, purchased, and start clearing the woodlands, so seeing as the damage has already been done, it seems like we should be able to get Greens to push to complete the whole thing.

A modified version of the chart showing carbon emissions and carbon avoidance/reduction/sequestration of HS2 if we just bail out part way through. https://hs2.green/120-years-to-carbon-neutrality/

Let's Focus on Bigger Threats

RIS2, the Road Investment Strategy #2, is trying to build a bunch of really stupid expensive roads, and now that Rish Sunak is on a "cars good, trains bad" crusade he's shoving even more money into it.

The Woodland Trust compile a list of threats to ancient woodlands, and housing and roads are some of the biggest threats.

RIS2 makes up a large chunk of those roads, with schemes like the Lower Thames Crossing dubbed "the UK's biggest roads project since the M25."  Not only have Highways England refused to release the data on carbon emissions, they're dodging requests to detail exactly how much ancient woodland will be impacted. Educated guesswork from the Woodland Trust suggests "the Lower Thames Crossing would see approximately seven hectares lost." For yet another road.

Lower Thames Crossing is also bloody expensive. For context, HS2 Phase 2a Birmingham to Manchester would cost £8 billion (which is an investment, repaid by ticket sales), but what is essentially a Dartford Crossing bypass is going to cost £9 billion of the taxpayers money. If you read Freedom from Car Dependency you'll know that that just leads to more induced demand (more traffic as more people end up driving), and means we cannot ever hit our climate targets.

Beyond RIS2 there are other road schemes like Shropshires North West Relief Road, which passes within 40m of Alkmond Park Coppice (Ancient Woodland) and 80m of Hencott Pool (SSSI and RAMSAR site). The noise constant noise, air pollution, and fine particulate matter from the disk brakes and tyres of cars and trucks will have an unacceptable impact on those sites.

  1. Follow @StopRIS2 as I'm about to get that campaign going again, keeping up with all the latest in the fight against polluting roads.
  2. Demand a Roads Review, through Transportation Action Network.
  3. Support the Crowdfunder for legal action against the Norwich Western Link.

Other than roads, this one quarry expansion in Kent is set to destroy fifty hectares of ancient woodland. Please join the fight to make sure this does not happen.

Finally, keep an eye out for pointless stupid developments happening near you, like this "ecovillage" being smashed into an ancient woodland in Cornwall. Somebody brought this to my attention and I'm going to try and rescue it, but this one stupid luxory resort destroys about as much ancient woodland as HS2, and it's clearly not anywhere near as useful.

Woodland with plans for treetop holiday villas is being sold
Two empty hotels in the coastal resort are also being sold off by administrators

Let's keep our eyes on the prize, take pride in being evidence based, and change our opinions as we learn more information. Let's do everything we can to get HS2 built in full, and stop as much of this other nonsense as we possibly can to save our ancient woodlands and other critical habitats.