Ancient woodland clearance work put off to 2020 as HS2 scheme reviewed

Work affecting ancient woodlands in the path of HS2 has been put off until next year, the company building the high-speed railway has said.

Last month Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ordered HS2 Ltd to halt clearances of ancient woodland for the rail project while the scheme is reviewed, unless they were necessary to avoid major costs and delays.

But campaigners raised concerns woods were still in jeopardy, with protesters led by TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham setting up a “woodland” outside HS2 headquarters to campaign against the destruction of trees.

And the Woodland Trust accused the firm of acting with “reckless haste” to go ahead with work to translocate soil from South Cubbington Wood in Warwickshire, where locals set up a protest camp to protect the woodland.

But now HS2 has said work affecting 11 ancient woodlands in Warwickshire and Staffordshire which was due to go ahead this autumn has been deferred until 2020.

The scheme is being reviewed by the company’s former chairman Douglas Oakervee, who was commissioned by the Government to analyse whether and how the project should continue.

Work will take place in early 2020 at six sites, the company said, and at five further sites in autumn and winter next year.

An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said: “As highlighted by the Secretary of State, during the Oakervee Review we must strike a sensible balance between keeping the programme on track, and recognising that some works cannot be undone.

“We have assessed 11 ancient woodlands, parts of which were due to be affected by preparations to build Britain’s new high-speed railway this autumn, during the period of the Oakervee review.

“Work will now be deferred to autumn or winter 2020 on five of these sites, and to early 2020 on six of the sites, including South Cubbington Wood.

“We will also take measures to protect wildlife to ensure they are not affected when work begins in early 2020.”

Other preparatory works including “low-level vegetation clearance”, fencing and preparation of site access will continue, the company said.

The Woodland Trust welcomed the news that work in all ancient woods would be deferred until the completion of the HS2 review.

Director of conservation and external affairs at the Woodland Trust Abi Bunker said: “This is the right decision but it has come very late in the day and only after much pressure from the Woodland Trust and many other organisations and individuals.

“We remain concerned about the fact that HS2 will still be carrying out some work at these sites.

“The richness of ancient woodland isn’t just about trees. It’s also the vegetation, the soils and the wildlife that makes ancient woodland a special irreplaceable habitat.

“Work that permanently affects these habitats like clearing vegetation and evicting bats and mammals must be stopped too while the review is completed. We will be watching closely.”

Work is being deferred until autumn and winter 2020 at Roughknowles Wood, North Wood and Burnt Firs in Warwickshire and an unnamed copse off Drayton Lane and Rookery Wood in Staffordshire.

It is being deferred until early 2020 at Fulfen Wood in Staffordshire and at Broadwells Wood, Birches Wood, Crackley Wood, unnamed woodland south of Ashow Road and South Cubbington Wood in Warwickshire.

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