Come back when it’s finished

There was a very interesting question posed by HS2 Select Committee Member, Ian Mearns MP, to David Lowe, Principal County Ecologist for Warwickshire County Council, whilst the latter was giving the evidence that I discussed in my blog Usel ES s, part 3 (posted 27 Nov 2014).

  1. MR MEARNS: Mr Lowe, I am just wondering whether there is any evidence that you are aware of about the impact of the construction phase on wildlife movements. You could have virtually a whole generation of some species which will just not have access to that sort of connectivity that you are talking about. Is there any longitudinal study on those impacts and whether the wildlife in a particular area just goes off in a totally different direction?

Mr Lowe responded that this was something that worried him also. Although Mr Lowe did not seem able to provide Mr Mearns with the details of any particular studies into the subject – and my own Internet searches have failed to turn much up also – Mr Lowe was able to offer the assurance that there “are mechanisms to deal with ecological connectivity during [the construction] stage, and they are different to what the final outcome is going to be”. He cited “artificial green hedgerows”, as an example of such structures, but confessed to not really knowing what these were.

It was obvious from what he said that Mr Lowe saw his task as monitoring the habitat connectivity aspects of whatever HS2 Ltd proposes throughout the construction period as well as for the finished article. He identified the Local Environmental Management Plans (LEMPs) as central to this task, but said that he had “great worries with [the LEMPs] at the moment”. He didn’t, however, appear to regard the task as impossible:

“… if you manage your operation carefully and you know where those connective features are, and if you know where your green bridges and substantial structures and overpasses are going to be in the future, you can then manage that whole landscape as you construct, to try to, if you could, teach the bats to go in a different direction.”

But I guess that he will have to persuade HS2 Ltd to agree to recognise the contribution that his GIS resource can make to this process if this optimism is not to be proved unfounded.

The promoter’s lead counsel, Tim Mould QC, also tried to help out Mr Mearns with his query, assuring him that this matter was “something that is already foreshadowed” in the HS2 documentation. He directed him to Section 9 of the Code of Construction Practice (CoCP), which Mr Mould confidently asserted “sets out provisions for ecological management and specific measures to reduce impacts, including dealing with the inescapable effects of construction on established foraging and commuting routes”.

Now I have looked carefully at Section 9 of the CoCP, currently in draft, and can find only one reference to animal movements and that reference is to the erection of fences and barriers to “control” (i.e. prohibit, presumably) such movements, and so quite the opposite of the sense of Mr Mearns’ question. Since Section 9 runs to only just over three pages, I think that it is unlikely that I have overlooked Mr Mould’s “foreshadowing”.

Since this interchange came before Peter Miller, Head of Environment and Planning for HS2 Ltd, assumed his seat as a witness, we were not treated to the benefit of his views on this topic.

It is clearly important that, before any existing wildlife corridors are severed by construction activities, any compensation planting that is intended to replace those corridors is in place and is reasonably functional. This indicates that the time taken for some planting to reach sufficient maturity to be accepted by wildlife as safe habitat must be taken into account when planning environmental impact amelioration. The need for this is, perhaps, most obvious in the case of newly planted trees, where it can take many years for a field of whips in polypropylene tubes to turn into anything approaching a woodland.

So, where it is feasible, such planting should be one of the first activities undertaken. However, in many locations this will not be feasible, as planting will be on land that is otherwise required for construction purposes or on earthworks that will only be complete once the major excavation work has been finished, and this is a big problem, surely. I guess that this will be where Mr Lowe’s artificial green hedgerows, or something similar, will need to come into play.

As Mr Mearns postulated, without careful planning it is unlikely that the local wildlife will hang around long enough to get the benefit of all of the planned new planting.

Important Note: The document from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

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