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Visitor weblog – HS2 and Jones Hill Wooden by Dominic Woodfield – Mark Avery

Dominic Woodfield is the Managing Director of Bioscan, a protracted established and well-respected consultancy specialising in utilized ecology.

He’s a life-long birder, a specialist in botany, habitat restoration and creation and in protected fauna together with bats, herpetofauna and different species. He’s additionally a extremely skilled practitioner in Environmental Influence Evaluation and Habitats Rules Evaluation. Most of his work is for the event sector, however he has additionally undertaken commissions for Pure England, the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and marketing campaign teams. He as soon as mounted an unbiased authorized problem in defence of an essential website for butterflies in Bicester, Oxfordshire, which resulted in planning permission for a five-hundred unit housing improvement being overturned. He lives in Oxford along with his associate and household.  

HS2 and Jones Hill Wooden – 14 months on

Readers of this weblog could keep in mind two contributions from me final yr (right here and right here) detailing the run as much as, and fall out from, a authorized problem to Pure England and HS2 Ltd. In between these bookend blogs, Mark additionally commented on the occasions and proceedings right here and right here. The authorized problem involved the felling of an historic woodland in Buckinghamshire referred to as Jones Hill Wooden, and the bats that previously lived there.

Jones Hill Wooden in October 2020. The left-hand half of the wooden as seen on this photograph has since been eliminated by HS2. Photograph: Dominic Woodfield

Woods comprise bats. Historical woodlands much more so. It’s not rocket science and the a part of Jones Hill Wooden recognized for felling was no exception. But HS2 Ltd claimed Jones Hill Wooden harboured no bat roosts, with out having finished something near correct surveys. On the finish of 2020 they geared as much as fell the wooden with none additional survey work or bat licences till the specter of authorized motion by the Woodland Belief precipitated them to suppose once more. Did they take pause to treatment the survey deficiencies? No – they merely utilized for a licence to permit them to destroy any bat roosts that could be there – a licence based mostly on little greater than guesswork. Absolutely this couldn’t fly? No. Pure England bent over backwards and in March 2021 granted a licence to HS2 Ltd allowing the destruction of a broad vary of bat roosts – a licence granted absent something near a correct understanding of the significance of the positioning for bats, together with the uncommon barbastelle.

Protestors, campaigners, NGOs and a set of professional ecologists alike felt that granting a licence on such flimsy pretexts and in such an data vacuum, did not accord with the spirit and letter of the laws that seeks to guard bats: principally the Conservation of Habitats and Species Rules 2017 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A type of protestors, Mark Keir, launched a crowdfunder and assembled a staff of authorized and ecology specialists to problem Pure England’s choice to award HS2 a licence in what it itself admitted was an ‘excessive’ software and interpretation of its personal licensing insurance policies. The problem was heard within the Excessive Courtroom in April 2021.

Showing as an ‘ Get together’, HS2 Ltd attended the listening to mob-handed, with a number one QC and witness statements from HS2 administrators and senior mission managers. They argued {that a} delay to permit the right survey work to be finished and regular industry-standard necessities to be met earlier than a licence may very well be granted, was unconscionable for dire and weighty financial causes. They mentioned the wooden needed to come down instantly so that an “important” haul highway may very well be constructed. They claimed the prices to the mission and to the general public purse of delaying building of this haul highway – even by a number of weeks or months – would run into the tens of hundreds of thousands.

Justice Holgate accepted HS2’s witnesses’ proof in regards to the financial implications of delay and positioned nice weight on it. In his judgment, he mentioned “I settle for the proof in Mr. Dineen’s witness assertion as to the impression which delay in felling the bushes would have on this a part of the HS2 mission. If the felling couldn’t happen till October 2021, earthworks couldn’t start till March or April 2022. Presently these works are scheduled to start in June 2021. In paragraph 5 of IP2’s submission to the courtroom dated 14 April 2021, a conservative estimate of the prices of the delay was given within the broad order of £25 to £50m. Mr. Dineen now says that these figures have been re-assessed as being within the vary of £60.7-£88.8m… I proceed on the idea that the continuation of the injunction would trigger further prices within the area of at the least £25m to £50m, and possibly considerably extra. I connect very appreciable weight to this issue”. 

Keir’s case was dismissed, the injunction on felling lifted, and the bushes got here down.

HS2 Ltd and Pure England would little question like that to be the tip of the story. However one query is value revisiting. What turned of this programme-critical haul highway? Was the catastrophic delay and price to the general public purse that HS2 Ltd warned the choose about duly averted by its building on-programme in June 2021?

The claimant within the Excessive Courtroom case, Mark Keir, despatched me a video the opposite day:

Fourteen months on from HS2 Ltd.’s pleas and dire warnings to Justice Holgate, it exhibits that this “crucial” haul highway is barely simply starting to be constructed. What’s extra, it seems to be on an alignment that doesn’t cross the footprint of the felled woodland.

What occurred, HS2? What intelligent worth engineering within the days after judgment was handed down instantly meant that this crucial piece of infrastructure was not crucial or pressing? God forbid anybody would recommend you may need informed the Excessive Courtroom and a senior choose a number of fibs, however the public may at the least be owed a proof as to why your pleadings and warnings appear in hindsight to have been, let’s say, considerably overstated?

The failures of NE and the judgment of the Excessive Courtroom imply that we’ll by no means know precisely what was misplaced to bat conservation at Jones Hill Wooden. However we will be fairly certain that no matter it was, is impossible to be now residing contentedly within the ‘mitigation space’ HS2 have supplied. To compensate for the lack of bat roosts in mature bushes in an historic woodland, the bats displaced from Jones Hill now have the luxurious of bins on the high of lengthy spindly poles in the course of a former crop discipline affected by drought-stricken saplings. In response to NE, this passes the take a look at of guaranteeing that the ‘beneficial conservation standing’ of any bats displaced from the wooden just isn’t adversely affected. Deafening applause all spherical.

Bat bins in compensatory ‘woodland’ habitat at Jones Hill Wooden. Photograph: Mark Keir
Compensation for lack of historic woodland at Jones Hill Wooden. Photograph: Mark Keir

I ponder what Pure England take into consideration how this has panned out. I ponder whether they really feel that of their position as publicly funded regulator, they’ve robustly upheld the pursuits of biodiversity conservation, have secured avoidance of web biodiversity loss and have adopted the spirit and the letter of the laws defending bats. And, within the context that Jones Hill Wooden is only one of innumerable areas alongside the HS2 route the place questions on compliance with wildlife legal guidelines cling closely within the air, I ponder whether any classes have been realized and put into follow about how a lot credence to connect to HS2 Ltd.’s claims that doing issues correctly just isn’t sensible or potential.




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