Nearly 100 of Britain’s precious ancient woods could be lost or damaged during the construction of the first phase of the High Speed Two (HS2) rail line, the Woodland Trust has warned.
Research by the charity has revealed that a total of 97 ancient woodlands lie in the path of the proposed HS2 line, which will connect London to the Midlands.
The list includes 14 woods that HS2 Ltd had missed in its original mapping of threatened sites, but which have now been recognised by Natural England as irreplaceable ancient woodland.
Various woods in Warwickshire have been found to be at risk, including Blackwaste Wood, which is referenced in the Domesday Book, as well as several sites in Buckinghamshire and Staffordshire. These woods, some of which have existed for over 1,000 years, provide vital habitats for rare species such as stag beetles, red kites and orange tip butterflies.
Austin Brady, Director of Conservation & External Affairs for the Woodland Trust, said: ‘That these woods have finally been registered as ancient is both welcome and cause for great concern. Their true value has been recognised and we can now push hard for damage to be avoided’
HS2 Ltd had previously stated that 32 hectares of ancient woodland would be damaged or destroyed along the route of phase one alone. However, the new findings put the figure at 44 hectares –equivalent to more than 70 football pitches.
‘Ancient woodland should be top of HS2’s list of habitats to protect, but in driving forward so quickly it is clearly failing to check the blind spots,’ added Mr Brady.
On a positive note, the HS2 Select Committee has suggested that three ancient woods could be saved through a tunnel extension at South Heath Green in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In a statement, Mr Robert Syms MP, Chair of the High Speed Rail Bill Select Committee, rejected the case for a long tunnel stretching through the Chilterns, but conceded that it may be possible to save three ancient woods through extending an existing tunnel in Buckinghamshire.
The move could save an area of ancient woodland the size of 25 football pitches (9.2 hectares).
Just 13% of the UK is covered with woodland, of which 2% is ancient. In comparison, the European average for woodland cover is 37%.