A few days ago, the government tried to create some green credentials for Hs2, by announcing a plan at the weekend to plant 2 million trees along the 180km length of the railway.
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.
Steve said “The public may envisage decent sized trees being planted. The vast majority (over 95%) would be less than 3 feet tall.”
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.
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.”
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 250 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.”
Two million trees makes a good green headline. But once again, the reality isn’t so pretty.