HS2 bosses have been slammed by conservationists for clearing ancient woodland during wildlife breeding season.
Last month the Government said construction work could begin despite fears over the spread of coronavirus on building sites.
The decision was granted despite a legal challenge from the broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham who is concerned that building the line will destroy almost 700 wildlife sites, including more than 100 ancient woodlands.
Campaigners also say HS2 will not be carbon neutral for 120 years.
Contractors have now started work on the high-speed line between London and Birmingham, set to cost around £106billion.
But images taken last week showing the extent of work carried out so far at Crackley Woods near Kenilworth, Warwickshire, have angered campaigners who say the “devastation” has taken place during a time when the woodlands should be “bursting into life” and at a critical time for nesting birds.
They also criticised the decision to move ancient woodland soils to a new site, attempting it at the wrong time of the year and using a contractor with no experience.
The Woodland Trust said the move was “like getting a bike mechanic to service a Boeing.”
Trust ecologist, Luci Ryan, said: “The heart has been ripped out of these irreplaceable woods in prime breeding season.”
The RSPB has urged HS2 not to clear woods during the April–September nesting season.
Destruction of active birds’
nests is illegal and the charity has asked locals to report any incidents they see to the police.
The RSPB said: “HS2 isn’t earning our trust and sadly we’ve seen evidence that nest site exclusion zone concerns from local residents are going ignored.”
Five ancient woodlands are the focus of HS2 works – Crackley Woods, Broadwells Wood, Birches Wood and Ashow Road Wood in Warks and Fulfen Wood, Staffs.
Since permission was granted to push on with the project as the nation was told to stay home, dozens of defiant protesters have chosen to self-isolate at makeshift camps in under-threat forests.
An HS2 spokesperson said: “Our works programme needs to proceed as planned in order to avoid further delays and additional
costs to the taxpayer.
“During nesting season an ecologist is present during all habitat clearance to spot nesting birds and stop work where necessary.”