The environmental impact of the forthcoming UK high speed rail network may be reduced with careful planning and compensatory measures, according to the head of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.
While proponents of the HS2 project insist that it aims to create 100,000 jobs, it has met with challenges from local communities concerned about its encroachment and from groups concerned about its ecological impact.
Stephen Trotter, Chief Executive of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, believes Phase One of the project was enacted with little care for the environment. He is concerned about the important habitats such as South Cubbington Wood near Leamington Spa and indirect impacts such as barriers to the movement of species. However, he suggests there are ways to limit the impact of Phase Two with careful planning.
“The wildlife trusts are refraining from necessarily opposing High Speed rail in principle yet we are strongly opposed to the current route, which we feel has too large an impact on wildlife sites,” Trotter tells The Positive. “The best way to limit the ecological impacts is therefore to carefully ‘thread’ the route to bypass important sites, including local wildlife sites as well as those with greater protection like sites of special scientific interest.”
As details on Phase Two unfold, Trotter sees an opportune moment to propose solutions.
“If important sites are unable be steered clear of then effective steps to mitigate and compensate for the impacts should be taken,” he says. “The government has an opportunity to use HS2 as an exemplar of how a major infrastructural project can be delivered to the highest possible natural environmental standards. It’s a real test of whether they really want to be the ‘greenest government ever’”
Britain is trailing other countries to introduce a high-speed rail network, a cross-border high-speed train route runs through Europe, taking in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium and The Netherlands.
“Other countries seem to value their natural assets much more than we do in the UK,” Trotter explains. Trotter also explains that mitigation involves alleviating some of the impacts by softening the design and implementation with the involvement of the wildlife trusts. “Features such as the use of green bridges, tunnels, ‘buffering’ habitats and green boundary features such as hedges and trees could help make the design more environmentally and wildlife friendly,” he adds.
The residual environmental challenges may need to be addressed with ‘ecological compensation,’ including habitat creation and restoration projects. “There is an opportunity to create a natural green corridor along the route,” Trotter says. “This could become a new connected ‘highway’ for species moving in response to climate change.”
The HS2 network aims to link 18 cities. Its first phase, London to Birmingham, is set for completion in 2026. When the line opens, it may reduce the journey between the two cities to just 49 minutes; a reduction of more than half an hour on the current quickest time.
How might cooperation between wildlife groups and the government support the protection of local wildlife without interjecting on plans to improve rail services?