(… continued from Transplant operation, part 1, posted on 15 Jan 2017).
When he appeared before the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee, the witness for the Woodland Trust, its Senior Conservation Advisor Richard Barnes, was asked two direct questions about his attitude to the use of the translocation of ancient woodland soils to sites of newly created woodland.
The Chairman of the Committee, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, asked him: “Are you saying that translocation is basically a waste of time?” His reply was: “It seems that way” (see footnote 1). Subsequent the Promoter’s Lead Counsel, Tim Mould QC, asked Mr Barnes to confirm that he thought that it was right that the HS2 project “should have translocation as part of its armoury in seeking to address losses of ancient woodland” and he responded with the single word “yes” (see footnote 2).
I suggest that these two responses are not as inconsistent as they might seem. In the absence of any strong evidence that translocation can bring long-lasting improvements to the biodiversity of woodland created to compensate for damage to ancient woodland, the Trust is following the recommendation of Natural England in regarding translocation as a course to be followed when there are “no other options available” (see footnote 3). As the process of seeking better biodiversity protection for HS2 Phase 1 through changes in the hybrid Bill has now been exhausted, and more than thirty hectares of ancient woodland soil is still to be disturbed by the construction of the project, then it is a no-loss strategy to use that “waste” soil to inoculate newly planted woodland.
However, it was apparent that what the Trust was seeking from its appearance before the Lords Select Committee was to ensure that, whatever the chances were of the translocation technique improving the ecological value of the woodland that would be created for the project, those odds should be maximised by employing the best possible practice when carrying out the operation and securing the appropriate level of aftercare for as long as necessary. It is sad to reflect that the Trust appeared to receive no assistance from the Committee in this respect – testimony to this being the total lack of any mention of these aspirations in the Committee’s final report, and a description of the Trust’s comments on translocation as “disparagement” (see footnote 4).
Whilst the Trust was not asking that translocation techniques should not be employed in the HS2 project, Mr Barnes did express concern that translocation should not be “seen as a panacea” and that developers employing the technique should not be able to say “It’s okay to destroy ancient woodland, because we’re going to move the soil, we’re going to move some of the tree stools”. He opined that the use of habitat translocation did not make it “more palatable to destroy an ancient woodland” (see footnote 5). I would go further than this: since no incontrovertible proof appears to be on offer that translocation offers any long-term biodiversity benefits, then the use of the technique should be ignored in any assessment of the biodiversity impacts of the HS2 project.
The other concern that Mr Barnes expressed to the Committee is that concentrating on translocation within a compensation strategy may be diverting resources from possibly more efficient means: as Mr Barnes put it, “if you did other things with the time, effort and resource that goes into translocation it would provide [greater] benefit” (see footnote 6). Although it was not something that Mr Barnes mentioned, a prime candidate for an alternative compensation strategy is the restoration of existing ancient woodland to prime condition, by, for example, felling plantation species, such as conifers planted as commercial timber, and replanting with native broadleaved species.
Restoration is mentioned in the report by Natural England (NE) of the outcome of its inquiry into the HS2 Phase 1 no net loss calculation: NE concludes “that enhancement of ancient woodland is a good lower risk option consistent with good practice” (see footnote 7). A discussion in the NE report indicates that, provided appropriate continuing care is applied, “condition enhancement is effectively instantaneous” with ancient woodland enhancement (see footnote 8).
The NE report indicates that the HS2 Ltd “approach to compensation for unavoidable losses of ancient woodland … includes enhancement of existing ancient woodland elsewhere” (see footnote 9) and this was confirmed to the Committee by Mr Mould (see footnote 10). However, I have to say that, in all the ferreting in HS2 documentation that my self-imposed research regime has dictated, I have not come across any examples where this is being proposed. Perhaps we can expect more clarity on this when the “ancient woodland strategy” document, that Mr Mould referred to (see footnote 11), is published.
The opportunity that the HS2 project could offer to improve some of our ancient woodland is one that I have discussed in the past (see footnote 12) and I promoted one particular example of a wood near to the route of HS2 that appears to be crying out for such treatment (see footnote 13). Unfortunately, HS2 Ltd has displayed not the slightest interest in this proposal, so I very much fear than we can expect a similar indifference to any other opportunities for the restoration of ancient woodland that present themselves.
- See paragraphs 335 and 336 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
- See paragraphs 475 and 476 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
- See paragraph 324 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016. The view of Natural England on translocation is recorded in paragraph 6.5.5 of the publication Standing Advice for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees, Forestry Commission and Natural England, April 2014. This paragraph, in turn, derives its “measure of last resort” view of translocation from paragraph 7.2 of the paper A Habitats Translocation Policy for Britain, Joint Nature Conservation Committee on behalf of The Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage, July 2003.
- See paragraph 306 of the publication Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, House of Lords Select committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, 15thDecember 2016. This paragraph also refers, incorrectly, to Mr Barnes being asked whether the Trust “regarded translocation as an unnecessary expense”, since the transcript records no such question being asked. For the precise form of words used in the question that was put to Mr Barnes, see paragraph 475 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rd November 2016.
- See paragraph 338 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
- See paragraph 336 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
- See paragraph 4.10 in the report Review of the High Speed 2 No Net Loss in Biodiversity Metric, Natural England, November 2016.
- See Chapter 4 in Review of the High Speed 2 No Net Loss in Biodiversity Metric.
- See paragraph 4.2 in Review of the High Speed 2 No Net Loss in Biodiversity Metric.
- See paragraph 397 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
- See paragraph 504 in the transcript of the morning session of the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
- See my blog A lesson in environmentalism, part 4 (posted 7 Oct 2013).
- See paragraphs 276 and 277 of the transcript of the morning session of the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Tuesday 20thJanuary 2015.
Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committees from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken are uncorrected transcripts of evidence, which are not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.