HS2 could lead to the local extinction of one of the UK’s rarest mammals, according to a new expert review.
Researchers from the University of Leeds were asked by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to review the approach taken by HS2 Ltd, and investigate the impacts of mitigation proposals on colonies of the Bechstein’s bat, a protected species, in Bernwood Forest.
They concluded that, without significant changes, the proposals would put the bats at risk of local extinction instead of protecting them.
The review was carried out by Dr Anna Berthinussen and Professor John Altringham of the University of Leeds, both experts in how transport projects can affect bats.
They were particularly critical of ‘mitigation measures’ outlined in HS2 Ltd’s Environmental Statement, which included short bridges and underpasses, and an 800m long barrier to prevent bats colliding with trains.
The review states: “There is no evidence to suggest that any of the mitigation proposals … will be effective, and they may do more harm than good.”
Matt Jackson, head of conservation strategy and policy at BBOWT, said: “Bechstein’s bats are one of our rarest mammals and they are legally protected.
“The bats would be affected in various ways by the HS2 proposals, including direct collision with trains, but most significantly because the high speed rail line dissects their territory creating a barrier to their movement between woodlands on either side of the line.
“Natural England will only grant licences for the building of HS2 if there is evidence that protected species will not be wiped out, but the scientific review suggests this is precisely what will happen unless major changes are made.”
HS2 Ltd spokesman Ben Ruse said: “HS2 Ltd will continue to manage the environmental mitigation as sympathetically as possible. Bats are a protected species by law and therefore any activity which may affect them will be approved by Natural England. In Buckinghamshire we have carried out extensive field survey to help minimise the impact of the High speed rail. We are proposing to build a series of green bridges and underpasses to protect flight paths of Bats. This will help to maintain a healthy population.
“Adjacent to Sheephouse Wood in Buckinghamshire, where there would otherwise be a risk of collision with the bats, a structure forming a physical barrier to bats will be provided. This will ensure that the bats can pass safely from Sheephouse Wood to feeding areas on the opposite side of the railway.
“Also new tree planting and habitat creation nearby will link up existing areas of woodland and grassland, providing a network of varied habitats which would benefit many different species such as badgers, butterflies and a range of birds around this area.
“Wherever practicable, the proposed scheme for HS2 has been designed to minimise potential impacts on people and properties as well as important environmental features such as protected habitats, historic sites and rivers. We will continue to manage the environmental impact of HS2.”