A group of Wildlife Trusts and other organisations took the unprecedented action of writing to the European Commission claiming that the UK Government chose the High Speed Rail (HS2) route between London and Birmingham without taking proper account of its environmental impacts.
The Government did not carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) which would have required a thorough investigation of the environmental impacts of the HS2 route and viable alternatives. As a result, the process used by HS2 Ltd ignored vital information about the potential impacts of HS2 on nature reserves, protected species and important wildlife sites.
Philippa Lyons, Chief Executive of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) explains why the Trust is taking this action: “The Government believed it wasn’t necessary to carry out an SEA. As a result they didn’t know about the nature reserves the route cuts through, or the precious woodland habitats of Bernwood Forest in Buckinghamshire, where the very rare Bechstein’s bats were discovered by a local bat group.
“The Wildlife Trust has never before been driven to complain to the European Commission, but the refusal of this Government to take proper account of wildlife issues when deciding on HS2 is beyond belief. Even now it is refusing to take our advice and carry out proper environmental assessments for Phase 2 of the HS2 route.”
As well as BBOWT, the other Wildlife Trusts sending the letter include Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire and Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust, as well as Buglife, and a variety of other groups.
“The European Commission will not investigate our complaint while the UK courts are examining the same issues,” says Philippa Lyons. “But by submitting the complaint now, these important issues are on the Commissioner’s desk ready for immediate investigation. If the UK courts either refuse to examine them or decide they do not contravene UK legislation, the EC will be able to investigate them instead.”
The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust highlighted the impacts of the HS2 proposed route on wildlife in its response to the Government’s consultation during 2011. Thousands of responses raised similar concerns, with the vast majority calling on the Government to think again about HS2, but these were ignored by the Secretary of State when the route was announced in January this year.