United Kingdom

Leading ecologists warn moving ancient woodland for HS2 is a 'fundamentally flawed'

Ecologists have warned chopping down ancient woodland and moving it to a nearby fields to make way for HS2 is a fundamentally flawed idea without any strong evidence.

Owners of ancient woodland in Cubbington, Warwickshire are up in arms over the loss of 3.7acres of trees, warning the area means 'everything,' to the community, with the land often used to scatter people's ashes. Earlier this week one of Britain's oldest pear trees was cut to make way for the project.

Bosses at the railway line, which will link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, say they woodland are not being destroyed, because its soil is translocated to other spots, including a neighbouring field.

Once the soil is moved, saplings and bulbs are replanted while ponds, reptile banks and bat boxes are installed to support wildlife's return.  

Protester banners were raised near ancient woodland in Cubbington on Tuesday as a 250-year-old pear tree was felled to make way for HS2 - bosses at the project say wildlife can be moved effectively through a method known as translocation

Protests took place against HS2 are at woodlands along the developing railway line, including in Great Missenden, pictured, on October 9, as experts warn translocation is 'like tearing up a masterpiece and tossing bits of it into a new art installation'

Sam Whittall, an ecologist on the HS2 project, told the BBC: 'We are aiming to create the same habitat… the idea is to move that habitat from A to B.'

But the project excepts there is a lack of long term research proving how effective the method is.  

David Coomes, professor of forest ecology and conservation at the University of Cambridge, said the use of translocation 'is like tearing up a Turner masterpiece and tossing little bits of it in to a new art installation and hoping people don't notice the difference'.

The pear tree that was felled had stood for 250 years. While bosses support translocation, they accept there is little evidence to prove it is effective long term

The HS2 route would initially link London and Birmingham with the second phase of the project then heading north to Manchester and Leeds

He added: 'There are complicated networks and they take a long time to come together - hundreds of years - particularly the three-dimensional structure of the forest, the trees which have hollows for bats, the homes for lots of different fungi and lots of different insects.'

Experts Dr Mark Everard, from the University of the West of England and biologist Merlin Sheldrake, echoed Prof Coomes' concerns, as they warned it could disrupt local wildlife.

Just 2.5 per cent of UK land is covered by ancient woodland - which have to date back to at least 1600 to achieve the title.

More than 40 designated areas of ancient woodland will be impacted by the development of HS2, according to the BBC.

HS2 would allow trains to travel at speeds of up to 250mph. That would mean much faster journeys between key UK cities. The graphic shows times for HS2 passengers (in red) verses the current times (in blue)

Campaigners against HS2 were in Denham on October 9 to protest the line earlier this month. The Woodland Trust has voiced its own opposition to the high speed train service

A statement on Woodland Trust's website reads: 'While we are in favour of green transport and not against high speed rail projects in principle, we are strongly opposed to the HS2 route.

'We consider that the impact of the HS2 route on ancient woods and trees across the UK landscape is wholly unacceptable.

What is HS2 and how much will it cost

HS2 (High Speed 2) is a plan to construct a a new high-speed rail linking London, West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.

The line is to be built in a 'Y' configuration.  London will be on the bottom of the 'Y', Birmingham at the centre, Leeds at the top right and Manchester at the top left. 

Work on Phase One began in 2017 and the government plans envisage the line being operational by 2026. 

The HS2 project is being developed by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd. 

The project 's costs have risen sharply from an initial £32.7billion in 2010 to a projected cost of £56billion last year. A review recently estimated that the cost could hit £106billion, with some extreme projections suggesting it could hit £150billion.  However, the government's forecast is between £72billion and £98billion.

'Any transport system that destroys irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland can never be called "green".' 

Last week ministers were told Phase One of the controversial railway line could cost £800million more than planned.

It comes just six months after a budget increase saw total predicted costs for the first stage of the high-speed line soar by £20.6billion to £43billion.

In a written statement to Parliament, HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said half of this figure is due to preparation of the route for construction involving 'more significant challenges than anticipated'.

This includes the need to remove more asbestos than expected.

Another 'significant cost pressure' worth £400 million has also been identified during the development of designs for Euston station.

Mr Stephenson warned that further investigation is being carried out which 'could identify further pressure'. 

In November 2013, the estimated cost for the first stage of HS2 stood at £19.4billion, according to figures calculated in a parliamentary session.

In April, a full business case was approved which saw a target cost of £40billion in 2019 prices - a rise of £20.6billion.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said HS2 Ltd is still expected to deliver Phase One at the 'target cost' of £40.3 billion.

The project as a whole has seen spiralling costs - from the projected £36billion in 2012 to an estimated £106billion now.

The 'funding envelope' for Phase One is £44.6 billion, which includes a contingency of £4.3 billion retained by the Government.

The DfT spokesman added: 'As construction continues, this Government remains relentlessly focused on controlling costs, to ensure this ambitious new railway delivers its wealth of benefits at value for money for the taxpayer.'

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