Trees and HS2 have hit the headlines again at the weekend. We’ve been in touch with Steve Rodrick, of the Chilterns Conservation Board, who kindly updated an article we originally published two years ago.
In 2011, the government tried to create some green credentials for HS2, by announcing a plan to plant 2 million trees along the 180km length of the railway (London to Birmingham). In January 2013, the Sunday Times reports “more than 4m trees are to be planted along the planned HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the north of England in an effort to help it blend in with the countryside.”
Stop HS2 have been in touch with Steve Rodrick to find out what a tree scheme like this would really be like. Steve is Chief Officer of the Chilterns Conservation Board.We discussed what effects the plantation scheme would have on all the areas which the proposed rail route would pass through.
This latest announcement suggests there is some sort of landscape plan for HS2, so they are in a position to calculate the area and number of trees to be planted. No such plan exists; so it would not be unfair to suggest this figure has been plucked out of thin air.
If the Department for Transport is so concerned to minimise the impact on the landscape it would not have chosen this route. It would also have made sure the line was in a tunnel as it passes through the supposedly protected Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
If the line does go ahead on the proposed alignment then plenty of tree planting will be needed in the right places, but it will not provide mitigation against noise and for much of the year will it provide screening either. And let’s not forget that, despite claims to the contrary by the previous Secretary of State for Transport, it is not possible to move or replace ancient woodland. Once lost it is lost forever. HS2 will be responsible for the loss of more ancient woodland than any other single development for a very long time.
Steve said “The public may envisage decent sized trees being planted. The vast majority of those any where near the line will only be shrubs – species like hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel which 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, such as an oak or beech 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.
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.
And there will be need to be planting on both sides of the line.
When it comes to choosing the sites, many of the trees will be put on corners of fields split by the line, and alongside access roads to the railway, not as part of a landscaping scheme. Further, the plantations will need to complement the local landscape. Steve said “Right tree on the right site. In some places lots of new trees in an otherwise relatively tree-less landscape may not be the right thing to do. We must avoid thinking all trees are good. It’s more complicated than that.”
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.”
And, lets not forget, we can’t replace the ancient woodlands, defined as being at least 400 years old. Finemere Woods, an area of ancient woodland in North Buckinghamshire, will be directly affected by HS2. 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.”
It’s also clear from what has happened along HS1 in Kent, that 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.
Four million trees makes a good green headline. But once again, the reality isn’t so pretty.
This original article was published in 2011 – see it here.