Helmdon - home of the rare small blue butterfly - by Matt Johnson
High speed rail route threatens Northamptonshire wildlife sites and the county's only population of the nationally scarce small blue butterfly
“Minimising the environmental impact of HS2 is essential. Done badly, it runs the risk of creating a considerable north-south barrier to species movement with the potential loss of fragile habitats and threatened species on the ground. The Trust will continue to work closely with the other Wildlife Trusts impacted by the route and the HS2 ecological team to ensure the best outcome for wildlife.
High Speed 2 (HS2) is the proposed new High Speed rail network for the UK - connecting London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham. The Wildlife Trusts are concerned about the impact HS2 will have on the landscapes and habitats and the damage it will cause to wildlife and ecosystems along the proposed route.
The HS2 route cuts a swathe through the tranquil and wildlife-rich countryside of southern Northamptonshire (near Brackley) and will result in the loss of ponds, field margins, ditches and considerable lengths of hedgerow, that all combine to create wildlife habitat networks. Overall there will be increased fragmentation and loss of connection within the landscape and of large areas of grassland. The last known site in Northamptonshire for the rare small blue butterfly – a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Helmdon - will be destroyed. This is one of only a handful of these protected wildlife hotspots that will suffer this fate.
HS2 Phase 1 from London to the West Midlands is currently planned to be in operation by 2026. The government has committed to continue HS2 northwards, connecting Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds via two high speed lines running either side of the Pennines.
The Wildlife Trusts own research shows that investment in green infrastructure, habitat restoration and creation as part of HS2 is both affordable (within the scale of the overall budget for the project) and cost-effective. To demonstrate this the Wildlife Trusts affected by Phase 1 and 2 of HS2 have identified and mapped habitat creation opportunities along the route. These areas were subsequently refined to identify the areas where the opportunity for nature restoration is greatest and most cost-effective to devise a strategic corridor (or stepping stones) of habitat that would reconnect fragmented habitats and strengthen local ecological networks.
This work has been published in summary form and as a longer Reference report, which are both below.
Read more about the UK Wildlife Trusts’ position on HS2 at www.wildlifetrusts.org/hs2.
Last year, HS2 Ltd consulted on their 55,000 page Environmental Statement for Phase 1. Read a summary of our response to this consultation. The Wildlife Trusts believe that this does not reflect the route-wide environmental impacts and is so seriously deficient as to be inadequate. Despite the stated intent of HS2 Ltd that the development should result in ‘no net loss to biodiversity’, based on the incomplete evidence presented in the Environmental Statement, we believe the consequence of building HS2 Phase 1 will be a net loss of biodiversity. It will fragment populations of butterflies, bats and birds, and compromise the natural movements of large mammals such as badgers that cannot cross the concrete and steel barrier of railway infrastructure.
Seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest (the very best of our wild places), three Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 66 Local Wildlife Sites and 25 proposed Local Wildlife Sites are all directly affected and will be damaged or destroyed by the line for Phase 1. A further 92 wildlife sites are indirectly affected.
We welcomed the Environmental Audit Select Committee report 'HS2 and the environment' published in April 2014. It's headline findings were:
- The Government should aim higher than the objective of no net biodiversity loss.
- HS2 Ltd must carry out environmental surveys as much as possible of the 40% of the route yet to be examined.
- Government should reconsider its requirement for biodiversity compensation to be provided directly alongside the HS2 route, to take opportunities for better offsetting measures further afield.
There should be a ring-fenced environmental budget
The Phase 1 Hybrid Bill was introduced to Parliament on 25 November 2013. The Second Reading of the Phase 1 Hybrid Bill was in the House of Commons on Monday 28 April 2014. Following the Second Reading, all those directly or specially affected by the first phase of HS2 will be able to submit petitions against the Bill but only on issues agreed during the Second Reading.
Oliver Burke, Director for Living Landscapes, said, “Some landowners who are understandably angry about the HS2 scheme have not given permission for ecological surveys to be carried out on their land. However this means that there are huge gaps in the Government’s understanding of the environmental impacts of HS2.
“We are also disappointed that rather than setting the bar high and demanding compensatory land for habitat creation that exceeds that which will be lost the Government is fixated on the outdated principle of no net loss of biodiversity. Given the scale of the operation and the uncertainty of some of the overall impacts, this will be insufficient."
Other sites in Northamptonshire directly affected
Halse Copse North and South
Halse Copse is an ancient woodland. It supports a range of flowers including bluebells and orchids. HS2 would cut right through the southern copse and run very close to the northern copse which would cause major disturbance to wildlife.
Fox Covert (Whitfield)
The proposed route would cut through this precious fragment of ancient woodland. In the spring it is full of bluebells and many other wildflowers and is also home to a variety of birds and insects that live in oak woodlands.
Aston le Walls Railway Line
A neutral grassland site with scrub and hedgerows providing sheltered conditions for many wildflowers, butterflies and other insects.
Sites where HS2 will run within a 500m buffer
Although HS2 does not directly impact these sites, we are concerned that the associated construction works and disturbance from trains running on the line could have a major impact on wildlife.
Trafford Bridge Marsh
This swamp grassland along the banks of the River Cherwell is home to many scarce wetland plants thanks to its unusual variety of habitats.
Greatworth Hall Cutting
A species-rich neutral and wet grassland with scrub and hedgerows providing sheltered conditions for many wildflowers, butterflies and other insects
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