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World HS2 ancient woodland habitat move 'a smokescreen'

07:15  23 october  2020
07:15  23 october  2020 Source:   bbc.com

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Moving ancient woodlands cut down to make way for HS 2 is a fundamentally flawed idea, leading ecologists say. The company behind the new rapid rail Dr Mark Everard, from the University of the West of England, said translocation was "essentially a smokescreen for destruction and recreation".

As HS 2 prepares to fell ancient woodlands in the bird breeding season, Natural England’s response to using hawks to deter nesting birds is “lame and The practice was first reported by Channel 4 News two weeks ago. However, following a request from Byline Times, HS 2 could not provide any evidence

Moving ancient woodlands cut down to make way for HS2 is a fundamentally flawed idea, leading ecologists say.

a group of men on a field: The site of a new 'ancient wood' © Phil Coomes/BBC The site of a new 'ancient wood'

The company behind the new rapid rail connection between London and the north of England is cutting down trees in the course of the construction.

HS2 say the woods are not being destroyed because their soils are being "translocated" to other places.

Experts have told the BBC there is no strong evidence this method works and say it is a "smokescreen".

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HS2 acknowledges the evidence for the plan is "limited".

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Despite not having notice to proceed, HS 2 plan to start felling trees in Crackley Wood, Warwiclshire during nesting season. Hundreds protest in Crackley

Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, has a novel solution for campaigners fighting to save ancient woodland threatened by the controversial HS 2 rail-link – move it.

'It's madness'

a man standing next to a forest: Penny McGregor said South Cubbington Wood in Warwickshire meant © Phil Coomes/BBC Penny McGregor said South Cubbington Wood in Warwickshire meant "everything to the community"

Penny McGregor's family own part of ancient South Cubbington Wood in Warwickshire, of which 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) is currently being cut down.

"This means everything to the community," said Mrs McGregor.

"There are ashes scattered here of people's loved ones. It's always been a place where people go. It's de-stressing, it's good for you.

"I have tried to show [prime minister] Boris Johnson and [transport secretary] Grant Shapps, but no matter how important a place seems to be to locals, this high-speed line trumps everything.

"It's becoming less and less important as we go forward with what's happening with Covid. It's madness."

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" Ancient woodland is special because over millennia it has evolved its own ecosystem including soils, root fungi which are lost when disturbed," he said. A spokesman for HS 2 Ltd, which is owned by the Department for Transport, said: "We recognise the importance of ancient woodlands and as a result

The Woodland Trust says the early felling in Staffordshire could increase damage to eco-systems. "[ HS 2 ] has carried out these works at the wrong time of year, not only earlier than they should but also earlier than they said they would, which will only serve to increase the damage they have done and

a train parked at a park: Soil being scraped from the donor site as part of the © Phil Coomes/BBC Soil being scraped from the donor site as part of the "translocation" process a train is parked on the side of a fence: A large tree is moved to the new site © Phil Coomes/BBC A large tree is moved to the new site

Elements of the ancient woodland are being translocated to a field next door.

Translocation was originally described as moving a specific plant, animal, or insect for the purposes of conservation.

But it has since controversially been used to define moving entire ecosystems that are in the way of human development.

a man that is standing in the grass: HS2 ecologist Sam Whittall said the company was aiming to © Phil Coomes/BBC HS2 ecologist Sam Whittall said the company was aiming to "create the same habitat"

First, the ancient woodland - the "donor site" - is analysed and mapped. Then the vast majority of the trees are cut down. The soils are dug up and moved in trucks straight to a nearby "receiver" site.

'From A to B'

Coppice stools, saplings and bulbs are replanted. Bat boxes, reptile banks and ponds may be installed.

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The clearing of ancient woodland to make way for the HS 2 high-speed rail line is to be delayed while the project is reviewed, the government says. It said at least 108 ancient woods would be affected by HS 2 as a whole, with 63 suffering "direct loss" and damage due to noise, vibration, changes to lighting

It cannot be moved . Preparation work for HS 2 is happening right now, destroying swathes of England’s ancient woodlands as the controversial route forces its way through our countryside. Write to the government to tell them to halt any work on HS 2 whilst its future is still uncertain, and that

HS2 ecologist Sam Whittall said: "We are aiming to create the same habitat… the idea is to move that habitat from A to B."

The theory is the wood will live on, just in a different form and place.

However, there is no robust evidence this will work, or established method of measuring success.

Questioned about the strategy, HS2 said it "recognises" there is "currently a lack of long-term detailed research into the post-translocation success of habitat translocation and there is limited robust published evidence of the effectiveness of ancient woodland soils translocation".

a close up of a nest: Bees have made a hive in an old stump on the new site © Phil Coomes Bees have made a hive in an old stump on the new site a tree next to a wire fence: South Cubbington wood before the work began © Penny McGregor South Cubbington wood before the work began

'Tearing up a Turner masterpiece'

David Coomes, professor of forest ecology and conservation at the University of Cambridge, said translocation in this sense "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".

He said: "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."

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It is one of 20 ancient woodlands across Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire totalling 19.45 hectares that HS 2 Natural England guidance clearly states that an ‘ ancient woodland ecosystem cannot be moved ’. It is therefore not an appropriate alternative to

More than 100 ancient woodlands and vast swathes of “irreplaceable” natural habitat will be destroyed if HS 2 goes ahead in its current “ HS 2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it's allowed to continue in its current form. It will damage the very ecosystems that provide a natural

Dr Mark Everard, from the University of the West of England, said translocation was "essentially a smokescreen for destruction and recreation".

"You can't create ancient, you can't instantly create ecosystems.

"It hasn't got the same microbiology or hydrology. It is treated as a panacea and it is most definitely not. At best it is gardening."

a tree in front of a fence: A marked tree in the donor area © Phil Coomes/BBC A marked tree in the donor area

Merlin Sheldrake, biologist and author of Entangled Life, a book about the study of fungi, said: "Given that there is little or no evidence of this working I think we should be concerned.

"Different communities of organisms, whether animal, fungus, bacteria, or protist, live at different depths, or around the roots of different species of tree.

"If you dig up, transport, and deposit the soil somewhere else you will inevitably disrupt and destroy most of the intricate food webs that you are trying to preserve."

What counts as an ancient woodland?

a close up of a tree branch: Moss hangs on a tree in part of Cubbington Wood that will remain © Phil Coomes/BBC Moss hangs on a tree in part of Cubbington Wood that will remain
  • For a wood to be formally listed as "ancient" it needs to have been present since at least 1600 (1750 in Scotland)
  • There are only isolated fragments left, covering just 2.5% of land in the UK
  • Ancient woodland is described as "irreplaceable" in the government's keepers of time policy paper.
  • The Woodland Trust says the London to Crewe HS2 line directly affects 44 ancient woodlands, with the loss of approximately 40 hectares - equivalent to around 75 football pitches
  • HS2 says 43 woods will be affected - 39 hectares

HS2 said seven million new trees and shrubs will be planted along a "green corridor" along the first stage of the route.

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And with respect to translocation, it hopes to "inform research and future ecological approaches".

50 year commitment

The company took the BBC to see its project in Broadwells Wood in Warwickshire.

To the outrage of wildlife charities, a large part of the wood was felled in April - against its own guidance for translocation to be carried out in "late autumn or early winter".

It is now the so-called SK130 donor site.

Mr Whittall said it had been divided in to "cells" - layers of leaf litter and topsoil split, scraped up with a digger, transported in a dumper, and replaced.

A "feature" like a "dead wood monolith" or a coppice stool was placed every 120 square metres.

Six months on, the stump of a sweet chestnut has sent up a single shoot, there are several dozen living saplings and some bluebell bulbs have started to grow roots.

Bees have moved into a hole in a dead tree.

a close up of a tree: New growth from a sweet chestnut which has been moved to its new home © Phil Coomes/BBC New growth from a sweet chestnut which has been moved to its new home a close up of a flower garden © Phil Coomes/BBC

"You can see it's been a great success," said Mr Whittall.

He said they would assess SK130, documenting the flora and fauna and have committed to do this for the next 50 years.

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  HS2 ancient woodland habitat move 'a smokescreen' © BBC
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  HS2 ancient woodland habitat move 'a smokescreen' © BBC

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