Ecologists have expressed major concerns over the effect the new HS2 Rail Line connecting London and the North Of England will have on the environment. Specifically, the idea to relocate entire ecosystems to make way for the rail line is fundamentally flawed.
The company behind the new rapid train line is cutting down trees to make way for its construction. HS2 believe that the best strategy is to excavate all of the woodland soils and relocate them to other places. However ecological experts have stated that no evidence exists to say this actually works, and it is merely a ‘smokescreen’.
Elements of ancient woodland are being translocated to adjacent fields. Translocation has typically been defined as moving a specific plant or animal for the purposes of conserving wildlife species, however more recently this definition has been used to allow the relocation of entire ecosystems, purely because they are in the way of human developments. Firstly, the ‘donor site’ is analysed and mapped. The majority of trees are then cut down, followed by the soils being dug up and moved using trucks to a nearby ‘receiver site;. Once this has been completed, Coppice Stools, saplings and bulbs are replanted. Ponds, reptile banks and bat boxes may then be installed.
The theory is the wood will live on in its new location, just in a slightly different form. However, no robust evidence exists to say this would work, or that there is an established method of measuring the success of the move.
There have also been other controversial talking points that the HS2 translocation scheme has caused. An ancient award-winning pear tree, the “Cubbington Pear” was voted the best tree in England in 2015, but was cut down to make way for the rail line. HS2 stated that the tree would live on in the form of saplings grown from cuttings, but this has outraged locals. Backlash was also caused when some ancient Staffordshire woodland was felled for the project too early, with concerns raised by the Woodland Trust that felling trees at this time of year could exacerbate the damage caused to ecosystems.
Given all the potential concerns, there has been some promise in similar translocation projects previously. Six months on from the felling & relocation of the Broadwells Wood site, the stump of a sweet chestnut has sent up a single shoot, dozens of living saplings and bluebell bulbs have began to grow, and some bees have moved into a hole into a dead tree. We can only hope that the remaining ecosystem relocations will prove to be a success!