For a limited time only

Back in 2011 I reported (A walk in the woods, posted 3 Apr 2011) on the first in a series of guided spring walks around South Cubbington Wood organised by the Cubbington Action Group against HS2 (CAG). Every year since a similar series of walks has been held to give those interested the opportunity to see the spring flowers in the wood and the veteran pear tree in blossom; so that means, I calculate, that this year is the seventh series.

The format hasn’t really changed over the seven series. CAG provides at least two guides, who loiter outside the King’s Head pub in Cubbington at the appointed hour, rain or shine. Whatever the number of takers – and we have seen as few as one and as many as fifty – the walk goes ahead.

More often than not, the guides have been CAG stalwart, Rosemary, and me, and we have developed a good cop/bad cop double act for the briefings delivered to the participants at intervals during the walk; Rosemary describing all of the natural wonders that can be seen now, and me foreshadowing the Armageddon that will come with HS2. I must admit that, in the early days, the burning anger that I feel when describing the impacts that HS2 will have on the wood and the beautiful countryside that surrounds it, caused me to treat every occasion to address the walkers as an opportunity to denounce HS2 Ltd and its project. Now, in these post Royal Assent times, with swords sheathed and co-operation rather than confrontation being the watchword, I have learnt to be more relaxed. I try to stick to presenting the facts and allow my audience to ask the inevitable “why?” questions that come, and leave them to draw their own conclusions about whether things should be different.

With so many walks over the seven years, I do find myself trotting out the same old phrases, but it is not unusual for questions and comments from those listening to take proceedings up new lines of discussion to keep matters fresh. As some walkers have come back for more than one walk, I have also tried to introduce new topics into my repertoire from time to time.

Inevitably, much of the information that I recite when guiding walks has been gleaned from the research that I have undertaken for my blogs, and new topics suggest themselves by the same route. So, for example, this year I have added talking about biodiversity offsetting to my standard fayre, following on from my recent blog series on this topic (see footnote 1).

This year the billing for the walks included the warning “construction is due to begin later this year”, emphasising that this year’s walks were likely to be the last chance to see the wood and tree in their spring best. This was based upon the timeplan in the Environmental Statement, which shows the construction of the Cubbington cutting scheduled to start in this current quarter, but then followed by nine quarters of inactivity leading to three quarters of construction spanning 2019 and 2020 (see footnote 2).

I attended the meeting held at the end of March that Joe Rukin refers to in a recent blog on the Stop HS2 website and feel obliged to comment that the explanation given by HS2 Ltd at that meeting that the first phase of construction would be enabling works is consistent with the two-phased approach shown in the timeplan for the Cubbington cutting. However, I also feel that Joe makes a convincing case that HS2 Ltd is encountering slippage in the early programme, at least: slippage that the organisation is not prepared to acknowledge, perhaps in the hope that it will be able to make up lost ground as the programme rolls out. Notwithstanding, it appears to me that we can expect the wood to be substantially untouched by spring 2018, and it may even survive to spring 2019 if the programme is still encountering delays by then. What we don’t know, of course, is whether we will be able to access the wood to see the spring flowers in 2018 and 2019, because I think that we can expect that HS2 Ltd will have exercised its compulsory purchase powers on the land that it needs for construction well before spring 2018.

For those of you who have an interest in comparing the progress of the seasons, year by year, I think that it is fair to classify the spring of 2017 as a bumper one for both wood anemones and bluebells.

The anemones were already present in abundance at the time of our first walk on 27th March, but the flowers were closed up due to overcast conditions. On 1st April we were treated, in bright sunshine, to probably the best display that I have seen in recent years, with the flowers fully open, and the same was true for our third walk held on 9th April. On 17th April there were still plenty of wood anemone flowers, but they were again closed due to a lack of sunshine, but this marked the start of the inevitable decline, and by our last walk on 6th May there was just the odd flower remaining.

Image: Frances Wilmot

The first bluebell blooms were in evidence on our 9th April walk, and numbers built up during April, but we didn’t really see peak quantities until our last walk on 6th May.

Image: Frances Wilmot

The veteran pear tree appeared to pass through its stages of development very rapidly this year. When we visited it on 1st April, the blossom was just beginning to break, and was well in evidence, but not at its peak, a week later (9th April). By our next visit, on 17th April, the tree was well into leaf, hiding what blossom remained.

Footnotes:

  1. The blogs in the series that specially cover offsetting are Compensation culture, part 6 (posted 8 Mar 2017), Compensation culture, part 7 (posted 12 Mar 2017) and Compensation culture, part 8 (posted 16 Mar 2017).
  2. See Figure 5 in the publication London-West Midlands Environmental Statement Volume 2: Community Forum Area Report, CFA17 Offchurch and Cubbington, HS2 Ltd, November 2013.

 

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