hs2 train

HS2 Ltd underestimating the project’s impact on biodiversity, report claims

HS2 Ltd is “undervaluing” the amount of damage it is doing to natural habitats while overvaluing the benefits of its compensation measures, according to a report.

The Wildlife Trusts, which represents 46 local trusts that look after more than 2,300 nature reserves between them, claims there were “fundamental flaws” in the way that HS2 Ltd has assessed the value of nature.

Phase 1, which covers 140 miles of track between London and the West Midlands, will cause at least 7.9 times more nature loss than accounted for by the firm, the report claims.

Phase 2a of HS2 is also more damaging than calculated, with around 3.6 times more biodiversity loss than claimed.

HS2 Ltd has committed to no net biodiversity loss for replaceable habitats along Phase 1 and 2a of the route, as well as a net gain for biodiversity along Phase 2b.

Compensating for nature losses relies on accurate baseline assessments of the value of wildlife habitats along the route. For example, by looking to see how species-rich the grasslands are or how diverse woodlands are in terms of the mix of native tree species and complexity of woodland structure, the quality of the understorey and woodland plants.

The report found watercourses, ponds and trees which have been missed out of the data and problems with the way in which nature is being valued.

For example, many well-established tree-lined and species-rich hedgerows, which provide berries, shelter and nesting places for wildlife, have been given a lower nature value than the new hedgerows that HS2 Ltd is going to plant.

The report claims that HS2 Ltd’s ‘No Net Loss’ metric is “untested, out of date and fundamentally flawed”.  It also suggests that there are “alarming errors” in its figures and mapping which could be indicative of a larger-scale problem.

The report’s Phase 1 calculations show that there will be at least 17 per cent less nature present after construction than there was before building started. HS2 Ltd’s figures say there will only be a 2.6 per cent nature loss.

For Phase 2a, it found there will be at least 42 per cent less nature present after construction than there was before building started. HS2 Ltd’s figures say there will only be a 17.01 per cent nature loss.

Dr Rachel Giles, evidence and planning manager at Cheshire Wildlife Trust and author of the report, said: “We’ve been shocked by the errors and discrepancies that our audit revealed. HS2 Ltd must stop using a deeply flawed method to calculate the value of nature affected by the construction of the route. It is astonishing that a flagship infrastructure project is able to use a metric which is untested and not fit for purpose.

“HS2 Ltd should urgently recalculate the total loss to nature, by re-evaluating existing biodiversity along the entire route whilst there is still time to change the scheme’s design and delivery.”

Responding to the report, an HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “We don’t recognise the figures from the report nor do we believe them to be reliable. The Wildlife Trusts have undertaken limited desk research and have not accessed huge areas of land for undertaking ecological survey, in contrast to the ecologists who have compiled HS2’s data.

“Independent experts from Natural England have consulted on our methodology and it has been rigorously assessed by a team of professional ecologists, with the data shared with the independent Ecological Review Group.

“We’re committed to reviewing our assessment methodology on an ongoing basis and intend to align more closely with the government’s biodiversity metric once it is published in the coming months.

“As well as delivering the country’s largest environmental programme, planting seven million trees and creating over 33 square kilometre of new habitats on Phase 1 alone, we continue to minimise loss through design refinements, such as our recent 30 per cent reduction of the impact on ancient woodlands on Phase 1.”

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