Shall I go on?

The natural environment and wildlife, part 3

In my last blog (24 Jul) I introduced you to the paper What ecological effects might HS2 have on wildlife and wild places? written by Stephen Trotter, Chief Executive of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust. In this blog I will continue to report on some of the interesting points that Stephen has raised.

Stephen also considers the effects that the presence of the trackway, which he calls a “linear infrastructure”, will have on the surrounding habitat.

Linear infrastructure can provide opportunities for a range of problematic and aggressive species to invade and exploit newly exposed habitat opportunities along the route. Some of the species attracted may be desirable, but species composition can change as a result. For example, populations of weed plants may migrate along ballast and edges whilst birds of prey and carrion feeders may be attracted to areas beside linear infrastructure due to availability of kills. This can potentially result in changes in the presence and abundance of other species nearby. Some desirable species may be exposed to increased risk of mortality as they attempt to cross the route to exploit adjacent habitats (e.g. owls including barn owl, birds of prey).

He also identifies two further effects that are likely to be caused by the trackway. The first of these is run-off and leakage of nutrients, lime contamination, pesticides and pollutants on to the surrounding habitat.

The second is the potential of HS2 to influence local drainage patterns. This can occur either from run-off from elevated sections of track or by cuttings affecting existing surface or sub-surface drainage channels.

Stephen comments:

The impacts could cause the drying out of locally important wetland habitats and water courses or the flooding of currently dry habitats. These impacts could be at some distance from the route – especially where it crosses chalk, limestone or other permeable geology.

Like Simon Barnes, Stephen highlights the destruction of ancient woodland as a topic for particular concern:

Ancient woodland is already highly fragmented and is threatened by adverse management, overgrazing, non-native species, intensive land use, pollutant deposition and climate change in the wider landscape. It is essential that new development does not further impact upon the functional integrity of this irreplaceable biodiversity resource.

He is also concerned, like Simon, with the impact that HS2 will have on people’s enjoyment of the countryside:

HS2 is highly likely to act as a barrier to the movement of people across the countryside – with many rights of way and informal access networks being severed. Many of these routes provide an important and highly valued means by which local people can take exercise and access the local landscape, wildlife and the wild places on their doorstep. The opportunities for people to experience the natural beauty of wild places and enjoy, at first-hand, the excitement of an encounter with wildlife make an important contribution to the health and well-being of individuals and society.

So two men without any particular axe to grind, other than an extensive knowledge and love of the natural environment, are warning us that our government could be about to make a big mistake in environmental terms. I hope that our government is listening; I fear that it is not.

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