Will anyone tell Justine about the bats?

This information was published by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) in early October, before Justine Greening’s appointment as Secretary of State for Transport.

The Government’s controversial HS2 (high speed rail) proposal could be stopped in its tracks by a significant colony of rare and highly protected Bechstein’s bats, and it seems nobody told Philip Hammond – will they tell Justine Greening?

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust has obtained copies of emails between Natural England (the Government’s wildlife advisors), and HS2 Ltd about the colony of Bechstein’s bats in Bernwood Forest, Buckinghamshire.

These reveal that on 7 June, Natural England advised HS2 Ltd: ‘There is potential for Bechstein’s to be a showstopper, but it could be that it won’t be a problem or that it might require redesign of the scheme…but we simply don’t know with the survey information which is currently available. Therefore we urge HS2 to undertake surveys (ASAP) in order to understand the likelihood of impacts.’

Seven weeks after HS2 Ltd was advised to get the bat survey work done as soon as possible, David Lidington MP wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport asking what action the Department had taken ‘to assess the effect that HS2 would have on this rare wildlife species.’

Philip Hammond’s reply on 30 August states: ‘No assessments have yet been undertaken on the effects of the HS2 proposal on Bechstein’s bats in the Bernwood Forest, as this issue is very much at a local level.’

Matt Jackson, Head of Conservation Policy at Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, who initiated the Freedom of Information request, comments:

“The Secretary of State’s reply to David Lidington shows that advice from Natural England to HS2 Ltd is not being passed to him.”

The Wildlife Trust took legal advice about the bat colony and sent it to the Department of Transport through the formal HS2 consultation process in July.

Matt Jackson points out: “The legal advice highlights the need for the Secretary of State to be certain that the HS2 development will not have a significant effect on the bats before he is able to make a decision whether or not to proceed with HS2.

“We are very worried because it looks as though vital information about the Bechstein’s bat colony is simply not getting through to the Secretary of State – who is ultimately deciding whether or not HS2 goes ahead.

“At a time when the Department for Transport is actively encouraging railway companies to compete for HS2 contracts – even though a decision has not yet been made – it seems that the Secretary of State is being kept in the dark about the significance of the Bechstein’s bat colony.”

Bechstein’s bats are a European Protected Species and UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. They have the highest possible level of statutory wildlife protection in the UK.

The North Bucks Bat Group, which is taking part in a four-year survey of Bechstein’s, observed at least 65 bats emerging at dusk from their roost inside a tree in woodland west of the HS2 route. Tiny radio tracking devices on female Bechstein’s enabled the bat detectors to record them crossing the proposed HS2 route into woodland which the route will go through.

Bechstein’s bats are known to occur in 10 woods within the Bernwood Forest area of Buckinghamshire, including the Wildlife Trust’s Finemere Wood nature reserve. This colony could be the most significant population in England, and better than many of the existing Special Areas of Conservation where Bechstein’s bats are known to breed.

18 comments to “Will anyone tell Justine about the bats?”
  1. Hi Penny
    As I said, the actual advice to HS2 in given in the NE response.
    I also managed, through a contact, to get a copy of the advice given by the Bat Conservation Trust and it says similar story – their key focus is on minimising impact mitigation – using localised tree planting and ‘landscape scale’ habitat creation/enhancement etc.

    Regarding your comment on it “delaying an EIA”. Well,no, not really.
    According to the DFT timetable for EIA, this is fairly reasonable to achieve. Basically, new field work and research would take about 1 year. If this new detailed information can be supplemented by the existing survey work undertaken and information gained by the local bat group and BCT over the past 12-18 months then there would be more than enough suitable data to satisfy requirements for Appropriate Assessment/EIA

    • As opposed to the advice in the emails they sent to HS2 Ltd. Natural England clearly thought the bats issue was sufficiently important to be included in the consultation response.

      If the necessary new field work will take a year like you say, it’s worth HS2 Ltd getting started sooner rather then later.

  2. I don’t think that a colony of Bats is going to be a deciding factor in deciding whether to proceed with HS2 or not. It might/will increase costs – but that is about it.

  3. Im not sure if this really is an issue for HS2 though?
    These bats have the same level protection as great crested newts and badgers.
    And also doormice of which the Kent HS1 railroad went through lots of habitat of?

    • All bats are European protected species; Bechstein’s bat and the barbastelle are Annex II species, for which Natura 2000 sites (SACs) have been declared. I believe it has greater protection than all bats bar one. I have heard, though can’t confirm, that in Germany a motorway had to be relocated to protect the Bechstein’s.

      Wiki: Annex II species requiring designation of Special Areas of Conservation…..The directive led to the setting up of a network of Special Areas of Conservation, which together with the existing Special Protection Areas form a network of protected sites across the European Union called Natura 2000.[1][2] Article 17 of the directive requires EU Member States to report on the state of their protected areas every six years. The first complete set of country data was reported in 2007.

      This is a useful link http://adlib.everysite.co.uk/adlib/defra/content.aspx?doc=4247&id=4250 . Its the defra species diversity actionplan specific to bechstein’s.

      • They have same protection of all bats species in the UK. An SAC is a different matter (that is a site).

        I’m sure the route would be going across many bat species flightpaths (as you say they are all equally protected) – so it’s basically the same story for bats all along the route.

        The example you mention in Germany is not one of a motorway being moved but one of a new motorway which went straight through a woodland with this species in it. If you search the internet you’ll find reference to it. The species is very common across Europe – but not UK.

        Basically, research was undertaken afterwards to look at how the new road impacted on the bats and this showed that they didn’t like to go across the busy new motorway. The constant traffic flow was acting as a barrier to movement.

        • If I was a bat (with access to the family records for at least the last 50 years) I might be able to tell you how we used to cope with trains -not so many as you suggest, but spouting plumes of toxic smoke and hot steam as they laboured uphill with their heavy trains of coal and fish and milk and the rattling empty trucks returning, of the trains full of people stopping at each town and village, slamming doors and shrill whistles- and the roaring expresses, all this day and night for nearly seventy years… if I was a bat
          – but I’m not, so we’ll have to guess.
          The thing is, though, that we do have the knack to adapt and to survive- unless we are hunted and shot to extinction as happened to the red kite and buzzard now re established, and feeding along the verges of the (people free) motorways and railway lines.
          Speaking of which, did you notice the German autobahn was just like our own beloved motorways and major bypass roads, about twice the width of any twin track railway?

        • Thank you for all the info Simon – I assume a 250mph train every two mins would make life even more difficult for the 10 Bechstein’s sites so far identified in and around the ancient Bernwood Forest in N Bucks …..

          • @lelli0

            I’m not so sure that railways and autobahns are that comparable though?

            There are several pieces of research that show the species flying regularly across high speed rail lines in Europe. They tend to fly high in these scenarios so avoiding activity. I know the Bechstein’s in north Bucks fly across the existing railway line there too. But this isn’t a busy line anymore at all. However it used to be very busy in the past so the Bernwood Bechstein’s have existed alongside railways for generations.

            I’ve checked the DFT website and apparently the future maximum ability of the HS2 is 18 trains per hour each way during peak times only (currently 4.00pm to 7.00pm). So, on that basis, yes trains could be as frequent as every 2 mins at peak times – but for much of the year this doesn’t coincide with bat activity. DFT reckon the train service wouldn’t operate during the night – so that is favourable in terms of Bechstein’s peak activity.

            I suppose also that, in the worst case scenario of frequent trains during a peak period during early dusk in Autumn, this would mean a 2 minute window of having no trains. This is a reasonable window and may still allow bat activity – unlike the autobahn scenario with its constant traffic disturbance with no let-up. From what I understood they seem to have got over the issue with the autobahn by elevating a tunnel over the road by which the bats were happy to use to fly along to cross the road.

            • @Simon “So, on that basis, yes trains could be as frequent as every 2 mins at peak times – but for much of the year this doesn’t coincide with bat activity”

              That’s a bit of a disingenuous way of putting it. The trains will be running all year, the bats won’t be mating all year. So maybe the trains won’t be disturbing bats all year round, they will be disturbing people all year round. Because lets face it, even if the bats don’t live in the same areas as people, those trains will be going past where people live in different parts of the route.

              When the railway was open before, it won’t ever have had 36 trains running an hour, like it will with HS2. (18 in each direction). So it will be a lot busier with HS2 then before hand

            • Simon your arguements don’t have much logic. HS2 will be much higher than an autobahn. It’s proposed HS2 runs from 6.00am to 12.00 midnight. Dusk and dawn are prime activity times for bats. Whatever time of year apart from mid summer mornings they will be affected. I just hope they all get watches and calenders for Christmas.
              The colonies have survived and grown in an area devoid of disturbance. If this were not the case, this particular breed of bats would be common and hence not protected.

            • @eros.
              Im not arguing anything…Im stating my opinion as a professional ecologist!
              Your entry of Oct 26th is not at all factual and you clearly know little about bat ecology.
              What I am saying is that locals people’s hopes should not be raised with the idea that this bat species will stop HS2, It is not fair to people to make such a statement.

            • I’ve just noticed that Natural England’s ACTUAL OFFICIAL advice to HS2 (i.e. their response to the consultation) is available for all to see on the Natural England website.

              This is a 7 page document with a simple reference to Bechstein’s bats forming just 2 sentences in the whole document. So hardly the “Show Stopper” statement claimed.

              Natural England correctly state in their advice that it is important that ALL protected species along the route should have appropriate assessment and mitigation strategies as part of the EIA.

            • Simon, if you reread the article, you will see that Natural England’s “showstopper” comment on the bats came from a series of emails between themselves and HS2 Ltd.

              Natural England’s HS2 consultation response – http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/NE%20response%20-%20HS2%20consultation%20V11a%20140711_tcm6-27635.pdf – used Bechstein’s bats as their example of a protected species which needed to be surveyed.

              Just spotted the sentance “The area likely to be affected by the proposal should be thoroughly surveyed by competent ecologists at appropriate times of year for relevant species and the survey results, impact assessments and appropriate accompanying mitigation strategies included as part of the EIA.” So it would appear that delaying the survey risks delaying the EIA, with a subsequent knock-on effect on the timetable for HS2.

  4. I made HS2 Ltd aware of the bats in about May at one of the first roadshows. I’m sure it wasn’t even Euston. I’ve had numerous conversations about them since, as have BBOWT (the local Wild Life Trust).
    The Bechstein’s bats have to be surveyed for 3 years to register as a breeding colony and to be eligable for EU protection. We’ve done year one and the surveyors are really switched on. The head of HS2 Ltd Environment said he hasn’t ‘dealt’ with bats before.
    There was a colony of Bechstein’s in Stuttgart which was moved, but I don’t know how they faired. I also heard of a colony that died as a result of being moved. Does anyone know where/when this was?
    The problem HS2 Ltd have id they nest in ancient woodland (their current site is 1,000 years old) and they need a couple of sites located fairly close. They live in one and breed in another.

  5. When i wrote to ms Greening i did mention bats.I did not know details but i had just read that special bridges had been built, for the A11
    road widening at a cost of £500,000.That this would increase costs considerably. Lets hope she is supplied with all the details.

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