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HS2: High Court Rejects Bid To Stop Biggest Deforestation Since First World War

Stuart Spray considers the consequences of the High Court decision to reject Chris Packham’s judicial review and interim injunction on the railway project.

Protestors being evicted form tree houses at Crackley Wood on Friday 3 April 2020 Copyright Stop HS2.

Stuart Spray considers the consequences of the High Court decision to reject Chris Packham’s judicial review and interim injunction on the railway project.

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As the High Court’s decision to reject a judicial review and interim injunction by wildlife TV presenter and conservationist Chris Packham starts to sink in for anyone opposed to the project, for the hundreds of HS2 workers that travelled to the Crackley Wood compound yesterday, it’s the green light they needed to fire up the chainsaws.

Many ecologists, conservation workers and environmental campaigners will have woken up this morning still in shock. Yesterday, legal challenge against the Government’s decision to go ahead with HS2, along with the interim injunction, to halt all ongoing and proposed HS2 enabling and clearance works, was rejected by the High Court.

As the UK’s leading conservation Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) queued up to criticise HS2’s poor environmental standards over recent weeks, many hoped that Packham’s judicial review could be the beginning of the end for the largest deforestation project this country has seen since the First World War, with 693 local wildlife sites, 108 Ancient Woodlands and 33 legally protected Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in the firing line.

Broadwells Wood in Spring. This Wood will be felled this April. Copyright Jeff Wilson

Cutting Down Woods Today In Bird Breeding Season

But today’s stark reality is that the dawn chorus of bird song, which can usually be heard every morning in the cluster of ancient woodlands near Kenilworth, is being replaced by the roar of the engines from diggers, dump trucks and chainsaws.  

It has been confirmed today that despite the bird nesting season being in full swing, harvesters and chainsaws have moved in to Crackley Wood (pictured) and felling has commenced. Although it appears that ecologists are on site, no attempt to check for nests at height using the onsite cherry pickers has been observed from the StopHS2 protection camp nearby. StopHS2 campaigner Mat Bishop thinks that the only reason the felling was started this weekend was to “stick two fingers up” at the protesters.

In a passionate message to his 405,000 followers on Twitter, Chris Packham described the High Court’s decision as “hugely disappointing” and went on to compare cutting down ancient woodlands to destroying works of art and historic buildings saying: “How would you feel if said I was going to go out this weekend and burn down 200 to 400 Tudor houses across the UK. Those great architectural pieces of we consider to be national treasures?

“What if I was going to go into an art gallery and destroy 400 to 800 of the Nation’s favourite paintings? You wouldn’t like that, no one would like that, no one would tolerate that.

“And yet what’s going to happen this weekend, is people will fire up chainsaws and cut down trees that have been growing for hundreds of years. Some of the most beautiful organisms that we have in the UK. And living within them some of the most beautiful birds and plants. And they will be gone for ever. What a waste. What a terrible waste. Just for money and this vain, glorious, vanity project that’s going to pollute our planet.”

Conversation Groups Disagree With Decision

Unsurprisingly, a Department for Transport spokesperson commented: “We are pleased with today’s verdict,” adding that “We have tasked HS2 Ltd with delivering one of the UK’s most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects.”

The UK’s leading conservation agencies don’t agree. In the same week as the Woodland Trust accused HS2 of a ‘betrayal of trust’.

“To say we are disappointed by this outcome is an understatement”, says, Dr Darren Moorcroft, CEO. “This decision is catastrophic for these irreplaceable ancient woodland and the hundreds of species that call them home. Instead of bursting into life they will now be destroyed.”

“The flawed and invariably unsuccessful process of soil translocation will be carried out at completely the wrong time of year, flying in the face of professional standards and HS2’s original assurance that they’d do it when they should – when everything is dormant”, Moorcroft continued. “Nature and the environment are the big losers today,”

In January The Wildlife Trusts published a 34 page report highlighting the vast scale of the destruction and impact that HS2 will cause to nature. Also, it raised questions about the inadequate and inappropriate mitigation plans for habitat and species destruction which remain unaddressed by HS2 and the Government.

“The Wildlife Trusts have long argued that the vast scale of destruction to wildlife and wild places resulting from the construction of HS2 does not comply with the Government’s commitments to nature’s recovery,” explained Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of Campaigns and Policy, “And that we need to stop and rethink the whole HS2 programme. This decision could have provided the necessary pause button and given nature the temporary reprieve it desperately needs. Instead, nature sadly continues to pay too high a price for HS2.”

In early March, The RSPB accused HS2 of “holding nature in contempt” for contracting a pest control company to fly “trained” hawks in Broadwells Wood in an attempt to empty the woodland of birds before tree clearance. Although HS2 has stated on several occasions that its contractors are “keenly aware of the law around nesting birds”, RSBP continues to maintain that active bird’s nests will be destroyed if HS2 goes ahead with its plans to fell the woodland in the breeding season.

Chris Packham pays tribute to protesters

It appeared to be no coincidence that at the same time as the High Court judges were making their ruling, StopHS2 protesters were being forcibly removed from the tree houses they had occupied in Crackley Wood, for the past eight days. The six tired and hungry tree protestors, seen as heroes by many who oppose HS2, were driven off to Leamington Police Station.

Paying tribute to the protestors, Packham revealed that he was particularly disappointed “for those protestors that have been up those trees” saying “That is the front line of conservation these days.”

 “I so desperately wanted to see them going home to their families, to be safe this weekend”, Packham concluded: “Safe in the knowledge that those trees would still be there. And they can’t do that.”

Packham says he and his legal team from Leigh Day Law “remain defiant” and are considering an appeal.

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