According to Horticulture Week, HS2 Ltd has announced their shortlist of growers for “plant material” for “planting around the rail track.”
What’s interesting is the type of plant material being asked for – described as “more than one million native trees and shrubs for phase one in 2017. Among the one million plants there are only 340 trees taller than the required 3m but 80,000 plants higher than 1m.”
While a million “trees and shrubs” sounds a lot, back in 2011 the Department for Transport were announcing there would be 2 million trees along Phase 1.
We warned at the time that it might not be what it seemed, with Steve Rodrick of the Chilterns Conservation Board telling us that “The public may envisage decent sized trees being planted. The vast majority (over 95%) would be less than 3 feet tall.”
This prediction seems to be bourn out by the relative numbers in the contract. And as Steve subsequently told us many of the potential shrubs do not grow very tall anyway: species like hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel typically do not grow more than 15 feet.
He explained what the plantations would look like. Most of these so-called trees will actually be densely planted shrubs, planted at one metre spacing. But typically for every 10 trees planted only 1 or 2 will grow to maturity. So tree and shrub planting is often as dense as 10,000 to the hectare (a hectare is about the size of a rugby field). By the time they reach maturity these numbers can be down to 100 – 200 per hectare. If you can picture 60 trees spread over a football field, that gives you an idea of what the planting will look like after a few years.
Tall trees – like oaks and ash – will need to be planted at least 50 feet from the tracks, to avoid the risk of trees or branches falling onto the line itself, or the associated wires and gantries. Large leaved species can’t be planted because they have the wrong type of leaves.
We discussed whether native trees should be used – Steve’s view was “Right species in the right a place. Native only near ancient woods, for example. In other places conifers and non native species might be better choices. Native species won’t provide much screening for 5 months a year.”
Equally important is the loss of the ancient woodlands, defined as being at least 400 years old. Like the Woodland Trust said “it is important that this isn’t seen as a token gesture in what could potentially see the loss and fragmentation of existing woodland habitats, which are of far higher conservation value and in some cases irreplaceable.”
But we w should also be warned by what has happened along HS1 in Kent where the maintenance of many plantations has been poor with dilapidated fences, litter and fly tipping common and many dead and dying trees- nothing like the thriving sylvan scene promised.