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HS2 got its nature numbers wrong, says campaign group

Hedgerow image © Joy Russell

According to The Wildlife Trusts’ own analysis, HS2 ecologists used a flawed metric and there were ‘significant mapping errors and poor digitisation’.

The campaign group has written to government asking for a re-evaluation of nature loss and compensation on the scheme.

 The 42-page report, HS2 double jeopardy: how the UK’s largest infrastructure project undervalued nature and overvalued its compensation measures*, asserts that HS2 Ltd has undervalued natural habitats and the wildlife that is being destroyed by the construction along the route – while simultaneously overvaluing the impact of its nature compensation measures.

It calculates that Phase One, covering 140 miles of track between London and the West Midlands, will cause at least 7.9 times more nature loss than accounted for by HS2 Ltd.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust interrogated HS2 Ltd’s mapping and assessment of existing nature along the route and found a catalogue of errors. For example, within HS2’s pre-construction footprint, many habitats such as field trees, ponds, watercourses and hedgerows are misrepresented, undervalued or in some cases not accounted for at all.  New hedges planted for HS2 are given a higher value that matrue hedgerows that are being destroyed, for example.

This underestimation on the impacts to nature means that HS2 Ltd should be providing far more nature compensation than it thinks is necessary, the report says.

HS2 Ltd has made a commitment to No Net Loss of biodiversity for replaceable habitats. But without an accurate picture of what it is destroying, it cannot replace like for like, it argues.

The report, published today, asserts that HS2 Ltd’s No Net Loss metric – its accounting tool for assessing impacts on nature – is “untested, out of date and fundamentally flawed”. The Wildlife Trusts’ calculations for Phase One show that there will be at least 17% less nature present after construction than there was before building started. HS2 Ltd’s figures say there will only be a 2.6 % nature loss. 

For Phase 2a, it found that there will be at least 42% less nature present after construction than there was before building started. HS2 Ltd’s figures say there will only be a 17.01% nature loss. 

Dr Rachel Giles, evidence and planning manager at Cheshire Wildlife Trust and author of the report, said: “We’ve been shocked by the errors and discrepancies that our audit revealed. HS2 Ltd must stop using a deeply flawed method to calculate the value of nature affected by the construction of the route. It is astonishing that a flagship infrastructure project is able to use a metric which is untested and not fit for purpose.

 “HS2 Ltd should urgently recalculate the total loss to nature, by re-evaluating existing biodiversity along the entire route whilst there is still time to change the scheme’s design and delivery.”

 Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, added: “This new evidence is damning and reveals a host of inaccuracies that are built into HS2 Ltd’s current approach. Our report exposes the absurdity of allowing HS2 Ltd to self-regulate without proper transparency and independent oversight. The company needs to be held to account by the government for its failings.

“HS2 Ltd must correct its mapping and errors in its figures and make all its new data publicly available. This vast infrastructure project is taking a wrecking-ball to wildlife and communities are in despair at losing the wild places – the woods, meadows and wetlands that they love – they will never get these back. So HS2 Ltd must repair nature in a way that’s commensurate with the magnitude of the damage being caused.

“The scale of errors means HS2 Ltd needs to provide far more nature compensation than it’s currently offering because it has seriously underestimated the impacts to biodiversity. We want to see a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain along every phase of the route. This is surely the absolute bare minimum that HS2 Ltd should be offering after all the destruction and heartbreak it has caused.”

An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said: “We don’t recognise the figures from the report nor do we believe them to be reliable. The Wildlife Trusts have undertaken limited desk research and have not accessed huge areas of land for undertaking ecological survey, in contrast to the ecologists who have compiled HS2’s data. Independent experts from Natural England have consulted on our methodology and it has been rigorously assessed by a team of professional ecologists, with the data shared with the independent ecological review group. We’re committed to reviewing our assessment methodology on an ongoing basis and intend to align more closely with the government’s biodiversity metric once it is published in the coming months.

“As well as delivering the country’s largest environmental programme, planting seven million trees and creating over 33 sq kms of new habitats on Phase One alone, we continue to minimise loss through design refinements, such as our recent 30% reduction of the impact on ancient woodlands on Phase One.”

A spokesperson for the High Speed Rail Group said: “The entire construction and the first 150 years of the HS2 operation amounts to one month’s carbon emissions from road transport. We sympathise with the Wildlife Trusts’ desire to protect trees which is why HS2 Ltd is planting seven million of them on the Phase One route alone. Anyone who cares about the environment and climate change, needs to focus on the bigger picture. Tackling the climate emergency means modal shift to rail, and that means we need HS2.”

* The report can be downloaded from

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