Down in the forest something stirred

Now that the public consultation on HS2 has closed, we can stop thinking about what we each wanted to say on our own behalf and take a look at what others said in their submissions. My interest is naturally with organisations that are somehow involved with the environment and so I have been taking a look at one or two websites to see if consultation responses are available to read. One of the first that I came across was by the Forestry Commission England, which is interesting because it describes itself as “the government department responsible for protecting and expanding England’s forests and woodlands and increasing their value to society and the environment”. You can read this response for yourself  here.

Now it being a department of the Government I did not expect any outright condemnation of the HS2 proposals from this body and I found this to be true. The Forestry Commission makes no statement either of support or of opposition to the HS2 proposal. It concerns only two aspects of the proposal: “the likely impacts of HS2 on forests, woodlands and trees” and “principles to be considered during planning of mitigation of the likely impacts”.

On impacts the Forestry Commission identifies four specific concerns: the impact on ancient woodland, the protection of veteran trees, wild deer being struck by trains and the threat to bat populations. On the first two of these the Forestry Commission refers to paragraph 10 of Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation (which may be downloaded here).

This document is published by the Government’s own Department for Communities and Local Government; in the introduction to the document its purpose is stated to be to set out “planning policies on protection of biodiversity and geological conservation through the planning system”.

Paragraph 10 of PPS9 states:

Ancient woodland is a valuable biodiversity resource both for its diversity of species and for its longevity as woodland. Once lost it cannot be recreated. Local planning authorities should identify any areas of ancient woodland in their areas that do not have statutory protection (e.g. as a SSSI). They should not grant planning permission for any development that would result in its loss or deterioration unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location outweigh the loss of the woodland habitat. Aged or ‘veteran’ trees found outside ancient woodland are also particularly valuable for biodiversity and their loss should be avoided. Planning authorities should encourage the conservation of such trees as part of development proposals.

The Forestry Commission complains that, although referred to, paragraph 10 “is not considered” in the Appraisal of Sustainability for HS2. The Commission also states that veteran trees “are not covered” in the AoS.

Whilst I agree with the comment about veteran trees, the Forestry Commission is wrong in its comment about ancient woodlands; the folks there didn’t look hard enough in the Appraisal of Sustainability, as a comment about what PPS9 has to say on this topic can be found hidden away in Appendix 5.2, in paragraph 2.3.5 on page 28. This paragraph quotes verbatim the first four sentences of paragraph 10 of PPS9 and adds the comment that ancient woodland “is an important and effectively irreplaceable wildlife habitat”.

Regular readers of this blog page will know that I share this view in spades. I have mentioned the importance of this habitat in no less than six of my blogs. I have also reported the concerns of the Woodland Trust about the destruction of this special habitat that HS2 will cause.

So if the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Forestry Commission, HS2 Ltd, the Woodland Trust, and even my humble self all agree that ancient woodland should be preserved, why on earth is the Government promoting, in HS2, a project that will destroy hectares of it?

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