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HS2 and the environment

Find out how HS2 is protecting and enhancing woodlands, habitats and wildlife as we plan and build the railway.

HS2 is protecting many different species of bats.

For journalists and researchers, the sections below provide facts about how HS2 is mitigating the environmental impact of the project, and delivering many miles of ecological and landscape investments alongside the construction of the new railway.

Even before HS2 starts operating, there are countless environmental projects and innovations occurring up and down the route to protect, preserve and enhance Britain’s precious natural environment.

Read our press release about how HS2 is the UK’s biggest environment project.

HS2 and protecting wildlife

Biodiversity and habitat surveys
HS2 continues to undertake one of the largest ecological surveys in the UK. Some of the UK’s most experienced and leading ecological consultants are working with us, and our work is supported with technical input and advice from specialist ecologists, including recognised experts on species such as barn owls.

In addition, the baseline for assessing the impacts to biodiversity has been generated in part through survey data obtained from years of surveys undertaken by localised ecology specialists and species recording groups. Our information is also supplemented through the data we obtain from organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and Natural England.

Creation of new wildlife habitats

Over 33 square kilometres of new woodland and wildlife habitats will be created, as part of our plan to create a Green Corridor of richer, more diverse and better-connected landscapes along the railway. Our new woodland and hedgerow planting and habitat creation will be an increase of around 30% compared to what’s there now. In Warwickshire for example, we’re creating bigger, better and more joined up habitats, with new planting designed to provide better connection to other existing features and habitats.

We have already created over 60 new wildlife habitats between Hillingdon and North Warwickshire, including diverse grassland, ponds and native tree and shrub planting, to support a broad number of species including newts, reptiles, badgers, birds, and bats. An example of this is Finham Brook in Warwickshire, where six new ponds have been created for great crested newts to breed in, extensive grassland has been planted to support local wildlife, and over 6,200 new trees have been planted featuring native species to the area such as oak, hazel, hawthorn and holly.

We’re delivering an unprecedented programme of tree planting and habitat creation alongside the new railway – with up to 7 million new trees and shrubs being planted between London and Birmingham alone. Crowders Nurseries, a family run SME in Lincolnshire, was awarded an HS2 contract in 2016 and is growing over 40 different species of tree including species that are native to each area. Over 430,000 new trees have already been planted along the route. Far from being a barrier to wildlife, HS2 will be criss-crossed by access routes with 140 bridges and underpasses on Phase One, including 16 specially designed ‘green bridges’ covered in planting and 25 miles of tunnel.

Affected wildlife sites on the whole HS2 route:

  • 204 Classified Local Wildlife Sites (not 693 as claimed by the Wildlife Trusts), of which 61 are on Phase One.
  • 14 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) including two on Phase One and none on Phase 2a.
  • 12 Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) including one on Phase One and two on Phase 2a.

We are creating mitigation sites that more than compensate for losses, including specially constructed, hibernacula bat houses, owl boxes and standing bat monoliths. There are no significant impacts on Nature Improvement Areas and HS2 does not cross core parts of any of these areas.

HS2 and wildlife licences

All HS2 works are designed to minimise disturbance to wildlife, in accordance with the HS2 Phase One Code of Construction Practice and all relevant wildlife legislation. All our ecological work is carried out in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations, and is guided by the HS2 Phase One Act of Parliament and its Environmental Minimum Requirements.

We are required to obtain the appropriate licenses from Natural England before undertaking any works that affect protected wildlife species. A licence application sets out why the works are needed, how they will be undertaken and how impacts on wildlife species will be mitigated. Species protected by the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2017 (as amended), the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 may require wildlife licences.

Examples of activities required to construct HS2 that need a wildlife license are felling of trees used by bats for maternity roosts, removal of badger setts following exclusion of badgers, and the removal of habitat, including ponds, which are inhabited by great crested newts.

HS2 holds organisational licences for work affecting great crested newts and badgers which are renewed every two years, and which cover the entire Phase One route. We also hold a licence covering an important assemblage of bats within Bernwood Forest in Buckinghamshire. These licences have all been reviewed and approved for use by Natural England.

HS2 Ltd and our contractors obtain licences for works affecting other protected species on a site-by-site basis. Download this Natural England note for further information on wildlife licences and HS2.

HS2 and nesting birds

HS2 Ltd contractors are keenly aware of the law around nesting birds, and during nesting season a suitably experienced ecologist is present during all habitat clearance work in order to spot nesting birds and stop work where necessary. When nesting birds are discovered, we put an exclusion zone around any tree which has an occupied nest in it. We will not carry out any work on those trees, or within the exclusion zone, until the fledglings have left the nest and this is confirmed by an ecologist. Felling trees during the nesting season is legal as long as nesting birds are not harmed.

HS2 and bats

Trees that have bat roosts or have bat roost potential are identified through extensive ecological surveys. In accordance with Natural England licences, we identify bat roosts ahead of any of work and put measures in place to minimise impacts such as providing alternative roost locations.

If identified, roosts are inspected by an experienced ecologist prior to bats hibernating and either closed off (where no bats are present), or a one-way excluder is fitted to the roost entrance, using methods approved by the licence. Once it is confirmed by an ecologist that the roost has no bats present, the tree can be felled.

HS2 and badger setts

HS2 undertakes comprehensive surveys for badgers and their setts. Any setts directly affected are closed under licence as agreed with Natural England. Other setts in the woodland that are not directly in the HS2 works are surveyed, identified and have exclusion zones around them, in line with the agreed method of working, to reduce the risk of disturbance. We provide artificial setts when alternative features are not available. All our ecology work, including around setts, is supervised by experienced ecologists to ensure all works comply with the correct procedures and reduce risk of harm to wildlife.

Watch this video about how HS2 is protecting badgers by creating new setts away from the route but within their range.

HS2 and barn owls

Our Barn Owl Action Plan for Phase One contains measures to provide additional nest sites and habitat for the species. We are working with farmer owners and landowners along the route to find new locations for barn owls, and there are already 21 new locations with barn owls established.

Ancient woodland strategy

In line with conservation bodies, HS2 recognises the importance of ancient woodlands and has designed the railway to avoid these habitats wherever possible.

There are 52,000 ancient woodland sites in England. Our published assessments are that 43 will be affected by HS2’s route between London and Crewe. 80% of the total area of the 43 ancient woodlands will remain intact and untouched by HS2. Where an ancient woodland is described as affected, in many cases this means a small section of an overall woodland is affected. For example, on Phase One of the route, 32 ancient woodlands are described as affected but in 19 of these the total area of loss is less than 1 hectare (ha).

HS2’s Ancient Woodland Strategies for both Phase One and 2a, provide details of impacts and compensation measures. For Phase One, where 29.4ha of woodland across 32 ancient woodlands will be affected, the measures include 112.5ha of new woodland creation, enhancement of 30ha of existing woodlands, and translocation of up to 27.5ha of ancient woodland soils.

Ancient woodland compensation measures

Soil salvage
As part of our overall package of measures to compensate for the loss of ancient woodland, we are salvaging woodland soils to new receptor sites which will create new habitats for flora and fauna. The first ancient woodland soil salvage has been undertaken at Broadwells Wood, Birches Wood and Crackley Wood, where 55 coppice stools and 345 saplings have been replanted. New techniques have been introduced to replicate the woodland canopy, which will provide data and insight for future activity. Using this best practice approach provides a better use of these important soil resources that have developed over many hundreds of years compared to, for example, approaches such as the disposal of this material to landfill.



Supporting woodland projects

In addition to our extensive tree planting programme, a separate fund has been established to help local landowners create new native, broadleaf woodlands and restore existing ancient woodland sites. Through the HS2 Woodland Fund, a total of £7m is supporting projects on Phase One and Phase 2a. The first £1.2m has been allocated as part of a grant scheme managed on our behalf by the Forestry Commission, supporting 25 woodland projects that will deliver approximately 103 hectares of new woodland and restore a further 63 hectares of ancient woodland.

Along the route HS2 is creating new badger setts and habitats.