Cutting out the old wood, part 4

(… continued from Cutting out the old wood, part 3, posted on 18 Dec 2016).

In its report on the HS2 no net loss (NNL) calculation, Natural England (NE) refers to the compensation ratio of 30:1 by area for lost ancient woodland suggested by the Woodland Trust. NE expresses the opinion that “a commitment to such a ratio would be a clear statement by HS2 Ltd that it recognises the critical importance of ancient woodland and the scale of newly created woodland provided would leave a positive legacy for the natural environment and communities along its route” (see footnote 1). In spite of having some reservations about the lack of “evidential base” and the quality of some of the ancient woodland being destroyed, NE feels that HS2 Ltd should be “more ambitious in its aspirations to compensate effectively for unavoidable losses of ancient woodland” and makes a recommendation that follows the Woodland Trust’s suggestion (see footnote 2):

“For a project of this scale, it is the judgement of Natural England that HS2 Ltd should aim to create 30 hectares of new woodland for every hectare lost, where ancient woodland is to be replaced by new woods.”

In the evidence-in-chief that he gave to the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee on behalf of the Woodland Trust Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Advisor at the Trust, referred to the NE recommendation and noted that assurances that the Promoter had given to the Trust on biodiversity loss were subject to the caveat “as far as reasonably practical”. He noted that it had been confirmed that this caveat “allows cost to be taken into account” and complained that “the promoter is still trying to trade off the loss of ancient woodland against costs” (see footnote 3). That he has some justification for this charge will become evident when I report on his cross-examination in part 5.

According to Mr Barnes HS2 Ltd was “already proposing to plant about 150 hectares to compensate for the loss of ancient woodland”, and these loses amount to about 30 hectares (see footnote 4). That yields a compensation ratio of 5:1, which is broadly in line with the NE estimate that I quoted in part 3 of 5.25:1.

HS2 Ltd is proposing to employ compulsory purchase powers to obtain the land required for this compensation planting, and has, accordingly, included this land within the provisions of the hybrid Bill; such land is referred to as “within the Bill limits”. As well as placing limits on the area of land available for compensation planting, this policy has been criticised from a number of quarters for the additional demands for land that it makes from farmers and other land owners already hit by the loss of the land required for the actual construction of the railway. Also it is very likely that land close to the railway will not deliver the optimum benefits for biodiversity.

Mr Barnes also reported that the NE report had spurred HS2 Ltd to find “another 50 hectares” of land within the Bill limits that can be used for compensatory planting: but this still only brings the possible compensation ratio up to around 7:1, which is way short of the 30:1 recommended by NE, and even fails to meet the 9:1 that HS2 Ltd’s own metric indicates is necessary on even the most optimistic scenario (see footnotes 4 and 5). In order to compensate for the 30 lost hectares of ancient woodland at a 30:1 ratio, HS2 Ltd needs to find a total of 900 hectares, 700 hectares more than it has currently allocated for the purpose.

So where is all the additional land that appears to be required to come from? Mr Barnes had a suggestion for the Committee’s consideration on this score. He showed, as his exhibit A691(11), a map of Warwickshire showing the outcome of the Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull biodiversity offsetting pilot scheme. He explained that the coloured dots on this map “represent landowners who’ve either registered as an offset provider with the Environment Bank [green dots] or with AB Sustain [yellow dots]”. Under the scheme these landowners receive, under voluntary agreements, grants to improve and maintain the biodiversity of areas of their landholdings to offset environmental damage caused by development elsewhere. The map also identifies areas, in the form of one-kilometre squares, which Warwickshire County Council has designated as either strategic (light green) or semi-strategic (dark green) woodland enhancement areas – Mr Barnes explained that the input from the County Council has enabled the compensation to be planned at “a landscape scale where the benefits are maximised” consistent “with the Lawton approach” (see footnote 6).

The role of the Environment Bank and AB Sustain is to facilitate the process by acting as brokers between developers looking for offsetting sites and landowners seeking opportunities to provide those sites. The potential that the sites that are available have to meet the additional compensation requirements of the 30:1 compensation ratio recommended by NE is clear from the map of the Phase 1 route reproduced below, which was included in Mr Barnes’ Proof of Evidence document (see footnote 7). This map illustrates how the sites already registered for the Warwickshire scheme (shown as green dots) could be added to along the HS2 route (shown as a dark blue line) by “potential offset locations” (shown as blue and yellow dots).

Source: Environment Bank, reproduced in Woodland Trust Proof of Evidence to Lords HS2 Select Committee

Source: Environment Bank, reproduced in Woodland Trust Proof of Evidence to Lords HS2 Select Committee

Mr Barnes also referred the Lords Select Committee to a letter reproduced in his Proof of Evidence document (see footnote 6). This letter, identified as exhibit A692(43), had been sent in 2014 jointly by the Environment Bank and AB Sustain seeking a meeting “to explore whether [the two organisations] can help [HS2 Ltd] in delivering the environmental compensation for HS2”. According to Mr Barnes, “HS2 Ltd haven’t pursued this” offer.

(To be continued …)

PS: I will not be posting a special Christmas blog this year, so I want to take this opportunity of wishing you all the very best for the festive season and the coming New Year.

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 10.15 in the report Review of the High Speed 2 No Net Loss in Biodiversity Metric, Natural England, November 2016.
  2. See paragraph 23 in the Executive Summary of Review of the High Speed 2 No Net Loss in Biodiversity Metric.
  3. See paragraph 311 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  4. See paragraph 317 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  5. See Table 10.1 on page 49 of Review of the High Speed 2 No Net Loss in Biodiversity Metric.
  6. See paragraph 316 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  7. The map appears as Appendix 4 on page 42 of Proof of Evidence on Nature Conservation & Ecology pertaining to Ancient Woodland and Ancient Trees affected by HS2 Phase 1, Barnes, R on behalf of the Woodland Trust, November 2016 and is displayed on exhibit A692(42).

Acknowledgement: Exhibits A691(11), A692(42) and A692(43) have been extracted from the bundle of evidence submitted to the Lords HS2 Select Committee by the Woodland Trust. At the time that this blog was first posted the Woodland Trust exhibits were not available on the website of the Lords HS2 Select Committee, and I am indebted to the Trust for making them available to me.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by alistair mcvean on December 22, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Thank you for all the work that your postings must have required. They seem to be the only way I am able to keep track of what is happening. Of course HS2 have now moved into the Gt Missenden area with their ground-assessing rigs and generators. Already making a nuisance of themselves.

    Alistair McVean

    Reply

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