HS2 Ordered to Cease Work at Jones Hill Wood

Justice Lang has ordered HS2 Ltd to stop all felling work at Jones Hill Wood, following the issuing of licences by Natural England to disturb the protected barbastelle bats which live there. Work could not recommence until after the outcome of a Judicial Review application brought by Mark Keir, which could now be heard on the 24th of May at the earliest. To donate to the ongoing court costs, visit the Jones Hill Woof Earth Protectors Crowdjustice page.

Following the ruling, Mark Keir said he was:

“Incredibly happy and relieved that we have really brought to attention the deficiencies of Natural England, as they are failing to take steps through rigorous compliance checks to ensure the mitigation is being done properly. During the time that HS2 Ltd have been clearing Jones Hill Wood time, a heartbreaking amount of this irreplaceable habitat has been destroyed and rare bats are put at risk.”

The ruling is actually stricter than was first believed. It was first thought that all licenced work should shop, but she actually stated all work should cease in and around the area to which licences issued by Natural England relate:

“The Interested Parties [HS2 Ltd and the Murphy/Fusion joint venture] are forthwith restrained from carrying out works or other activities at Jones’ Hill Wood, Buckinghamshire, in the Licensed Area, as defined in Licence WML-OR58, issued by Natural England on 30 March 2021, until the determination of this claim or further order.”

In granting an injunction to stop work until after a hearing to take place on 24th May at the earliest, Justice Lang said:

“In my judgment, the status quo should be maintained, so that the rare species of bats protected by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 are not disturbed until the determination of the claim, to safeguard against the risk of significant environmental damage, which cannot be compensated for by a monetary remedy if the Claimant succeeds in the claim”

The full order can be viewed here. As Mark Keir is one of the woodland protectors living at Jones Hill Wood, he was able to enjoy the added bonus of actually serving HS2 Ltd with the papers ordering that they stopped work immediately.

Speaking of the nub of the case, with words very reminiscent of the way HS2 Ltd insist that transloctation of ancient woodland soils will work despite there being no evidence to demonstrate it will, Rob Mileto the Principal Consultant at EcoTech stated:

“The compensation measures proposed for a barbastelle maternity roost are unproven. Natural England are taking an unwarranted leap of faith with one of Britain’s rarest bats.”

Just to point out how suspect this is, the Jones Hill Woods Earth Defenders have pointed out that:

“The mitigation at this stage includes the installation of bat boxes, which – incredibly – HS2 has installed in close proximity to heavy floodlights, which can threaten bats’ survival through entombment and starvation.”

Lisa Foster, partner at Richard Buxton Solicitors, said she was “pleased and relieved” that the judge had granted an order suspending works under the licence:

“The important principle raised in the case is that high ecological protections matter when destroying ecologically important habitat, even in the context of nationally significant infrastructure. This case will give the court the opportunity to determine if Natural England failed in its regulatory duty,”

“The real tragedy and block to strong legal protection is a weak regulator. Natural England has the powers to enforce the law and in our view for the reasons set out in the grounds of the claim, they have failed to do so in respect of Jones’ Hill Wood. In not doing so they leave the public no choice but to step in and take on the cause through judicial review proceedings. Without legal proceedings this licence decision sets the bar for derogations licences where there are important rare protected species like the barbastelle bat too low and will create a terrible precedent for future actions of HS2 and others.”

Stop HS2 founder Joe Rukin added:

“A massive well done to all involved. Even people who support this ridiculous project should welcome the acknowledgement by the judiciary that HS2 Ltd have to act within the laws concerning the protection of wildlife and the environment. HS2 Ltd have been getting away with unchecked ecocide and rampant treemageddon since day one, with Natural England wilfully enabling their illegal extermination of protected wildlife. After this ruling Natural England have to take a long hard look at themselves, as a judge has clearly agreed that there is not enough evidence to demonstrate that the licences they issued HS2 Ltd with were issued legally after a genuine assessment of habitats.”

“This will cause HS2 Ltd massive problems, as even if they to win the hearing, by the time May the 24th or later comes along they will have missed their window to chop down these parts of Jones Hill Wood and would probably now have to wait until October, as bat breeding season starts in May and even Natural England can’t issue licences to disturb active maternity roosts.”

After the announcement, local campaigner Jim Conboy of the HS2 Amersham Action Group made this simple report from Jones’ Hill Wood:

“No more chainsaws. I could hear the birds singing.”

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