Good news for voles, part 2

(… continued from Good news for voles, part 1, posted on 5 Apr 2017).

The Barn Owl Trust didn’t petition against the HS2 Phase 1 hybrid Bill, but its case was expertly, if unofficially, pleaded by a self-appointed advocate in the person of Mr D Richard Wolfe, a resident of Ballinger, a hamlet near to Great Missenden. At his appearance before the Commons Select Committee he found an ally in Committee Member Sir Peter Bottomley MP. As was often the case, Sir Peter had done his homework, and both he and Mr Wolfe were employing the same Barn Owl Trust document as a reference source: Sir Peter referred to this document as “David Ramsden’s study on barn owls and major roads” (see footnote 1).

Mr Wolfe disputed the apparent view of HS2 Ltd that the destruction of barn owls due to HS2 will be limited to those that nest within 1.5 km of the track. On the basis of “extensive research” conducted by the Barn Owl Trust, he was able to inform the Committee that whilst breeding barn owls “forage mainly within 2 kilometres” of the nest, “in winter, they commute up to 4 kilometres from their former nest site”. He added that the “worst of it is that the average dispersal distance of a juvenile barn owl leaving the nest is 12 kilometres and this is when, studies show, the most mortality occurs” (see footnote 2).

Sir Peter clearly got this point, remarking (see footnote 3):

“David Ramsden’s study on barn owls and major roads clearly shows that you’re unlikely to have barn owls living within one point something kilometres, but the population beyond that is likely to be significantly depleted. Having boxes, say within 2 kilometres, is going to give you a large chance of getting some of those as well.”

Mr Wolfe was also fairly dismissive of the proposal in the Environmental Statement “to provide barn owl nesting boxes in areas greater than 1.5km from the route” (see footnote 4). He described this proposal as “not a mitigation measure at all, but rather is an ill-informed idea for compensation at the macro population level, the objective being to increase the population elsewhere to make up for the population that is going to be killed along the line” (see footnote 5). He cited the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust position that there is “no evidence to support the assertion that the availability of nest sites … is a limiting factor [on population size] … as opposed to the availability of hunting habitat” (see footnote 6). He also referred to the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust concern that sites for nest boxes “are not secured and currently rely on the agreement of landowners beyond the limits of land potentially acquired, without any mechanism having been secured to ensure such agreement” (see footnote 7).

According to Mr Wolfe (see footnote 8):

“The only mitigation measure known to be effective for a fast road or railway line is to place trees or other barriers within three metres of the line, so there is no attractive verge, which are higher than the motor vehicles or trains running on it, forcing the barn owls to fly upward and out of the way.”

This accords with the recommendations of David Ramsden’s study (see footnote 9), and Sir Peter Bottomley, whilst recognising that there was “a problem about building three- or four-metre-high hedges alongside railways”, suggested that HS2 Ltd should “work through what would be regarded as a good idea” (see footnote 10). It was clear, however, that HS2 Ltd was clearly not in the camp that might consider this “a good idea”: the Promoter’s Counsel, Richard Turney, referred to the mitigation proposals that had been identified by Mr Wolfe as “not going to be ones that are going to be able to be delivered” (see footnote 11).

It did come out during the proceedings that HS2 Ltd had talked to the RSPB about barn owls and had offered an assurance that appears to have gained the acquiescence of that organisation on the matter, to its considerable shame, I feel (see footnote 12). Sir Peter Bottomley suggested that perhaps HS2 Ltd should be talking to the Barn Owl Trust as well as the RSPB. I can’t understand why HS2 Ltd needed this suggestion, as the Trust is such an obvious consultee, but at least Mr Turney was able to confirm that HS2 Ltd would do this and report back to the Committee (see footnote 13).

So I feel that Mr Wolfe’s efforts achieved at least one significant breakthrough, in bringing the Barn Owl Trust to the table.

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. See paragraph 475 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015. I take the document referred to by Sir Peter Bottomley to be the publication Ramsden D J, Barn Owls and Major Roads: results and recommendations from a 15-year research project, The Barn Owl Trust, 2003.
  2. See paragraph 447 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  3. See paragraph 475 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  4. See paragraph 8.1.58 in Volume 3: Route-wide effects of HS2 Phase One Environmental Statement, HS2 Ltd, November 2013.
  5. See paragraph 451 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  6. See paragraph 449 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  7. See paragraph 450 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  8. See paragraph 455 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  9. See recommendation 3 on page 5 of Barn Owls and Major Roads.
  10. See paragraph 476 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  11. See paragraph 471 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.
  12. See paragraph 472 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015. The assurance reads:
    “HS2 Limited will, prior to receiving Royal Assent, consult with the RSPB, together with other relevant organisations, to establish a plan to deploy barn owl nest boxes to support barn owl populations affected by the scheme.”
  13. See paragraph 479 of the transcript of the afternoon session of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee held on Wednesday 9thSeptember 2015.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Commons HS2 Phase 1 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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