HS2 bosses 'undervaluing' loss of nature from project, wildlife trusts claim

HS2 Ltd is undervaluing the natural habitats affected by construction of the high-speed rail line, according to a coalition of wildlife charities.

The Wildlife Trusts accused the Government-owned company of using an accounting tool that is "untested, out of date and fundamentally flawed" to assess its impact on nature.

It published a report claiming there will be "at least 17% less nature present" after construction of Phase One between London and Birmingham, whereas HS2 Ltd "say there will only be a 2.6% nature loss".

Phase 2a between the West Midlands and Crewe will result in a 42% nature loss, compared with HS2 Ltd's prediction of 17%, the document stated.

HS2 Ltd said it does not believe the Wildlife Trusts' figures are "reliable".

The company is seeking no net loss of biodiversity for replaceable habitats during Phases One and 2a.

This relies on accurate assessments of land on the route in order to calculate the required amount of compensation, such as new trees and hedgerows being planted.

The Wildlife Trusts said there are major problems with the way HS2 Ltd has valued the habitats being lost, citing examples of watercourses, ponds and trees which it believes have been "missed out of the data".

Author of the report Dr Rachel Giles, evidence and planning manager at Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: "We've been shocked by the errors and discrepancies that our audit revealed.

"HS2 Ltd must stop using a deeply flawed method to calculate the value of nature affected by the construction of the route.

"It is astonishing that a flagship infrastructure project is able to use a metric which is untested and not fit for purpose.

"HS2 Ltd should urgently recalculate the total loss to nature, by re-evaluating existing biodiversity along the entire route whilst there is still time to change the scheme's design and delivery."

The Wildlife Trusts chief executive Craig Bennett said: "This new evidence is damning and reveals a host of inaccuracies that are built into HS2 Ltd's current approach.

"Our report exposes the absurdity of allowing HS2 Ltd to self-regulate without proper transparency and independent oversight.

"The company needs to be held to account by the Government for its failings."

Responding to the report, an HS2 Ltd spokesman said: "We don't recognise the figures from the report nor do we believe them to be reliable.

"The Wildlife Trusts have undertaken limited desk research and have not accessed huge areas of land for undertaking ecological survey, in contrast to the ecologists who have compiled HS2's data.

"Independent experts from Natural England have consulted on our methodology and it has been rigorously assessed by a team of professional ecologists, with the data shared with the independent Ecological Review Group.

"We're committed to reviewing our assessment methodology on an ongoing basis and intend to align more closely with the Government's biodiversity metric once it is published in the coming months.

"As well as delivering the country's largest environmental programme, planting seven million trees and creating over 33 square kilometre of new habitats on Phase One alone, we continue to minimise loss through design refinements, such as our recent 30% reduction of the impact on ancient woodlands on Phase One."

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